Kashmir: Chilling Stories Of The Children Of Conflict4 August 2010
Srinagar: The lifeless streets of Srinagar hum with uncertainty. There is a sense of a city waiting to exhale- in this poverty of activity, is there a hint that a fragile peace can stretch into another day? For weeks now, virtually every hour has forced a stock-taking of lives lost, buildings burnt in protests on these same streets. Curfews have been defied. On the outskirts of the city, today, that same anger gorged on police cars that were set on fire to protest against the series of civilian deaths here - 39 since June 11. Among those that now participate regularly in the protests, hundreds of women, teenage boys and even little children. A boy in a grey t-shirt hurtles his fist into the air in an alarming image of accelerated adulthood. For the adults among the protestors, death is a risk acknowledged and taken. The children are intertwined now with the conflict that simmers across the Valley. The stark reality of them serving as collateral damage emerges from hospitals. 19-year- old Munir Ahmed from Kupwara is battling injuries from two bullets. He's a higher secondary student who says little other than to whisper that he wants someday to become a teacher. He says yes, he was part of a stone-pelting crowd on a school day. 'What will the police say. We have stones, but they are shooting at us. What kind of justice is this?' says one of Munir's distraught relatives. Amir Ahsraf is different. He says he has never been part of any protest. After reading the Quran, he was leaving the local madrasa in his Bandipore village, when a bullet ripped open his leg and dislocated his hip. He begins to describe what unfolded that day as he was making his way home. 'I study in class 9. I've never been a part of a protest,' says Amir. Half-way through, he turns away faces the wall near his hospital bed. The wounds and the memory are raw. It was a teenager who, in many ways, was the inflection point for this crisis. Almost two months ago, 17-year-old Tufail Mattoo was walking home from school when a teargas shell burst open his skull. Since then, the protests in the streets have become fiercer. The youngest casualty has been a nine-year-old. Sameer Ahmed's family says he was beaten to death. The police says he died in a stampede created by a mob of protestors. Both narratives have the same cruel ending. Thousands poured into the streets for his funeral. The government has appealed again today to keep children away from protests. As participants, or as young residents of a city caught in an unforgiving present, it is these children if Kashmir who embody what is at stake.