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The Kashmir conflict, which killed at least 35,000 people since 1989, has sired a generation of children lost to hate and fear. They grow up in the no man's land between politics and war. This series focuses on them, the children of an unfortunate conflict.


For Orphans in Kashmir, 'Now There is Nothing'
About This Series

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In bloody Kashmir, where you live with death every single day, tragedies like Mohammad's attract little acknowledgment or assistance from the authorities.

The state government's standard dole for those wounded in militancy-related incidents is anything between Rs 1,000 and Rs 75,000, depending on the extent of injury.

Accordingly, the authorities let Mohammad exchange his broken life for their maximum, Rs 75,000. That amount did not even meet the eight-year-old's medical expenses for the initial months.

Mohammad is no isolated case, no exception to the rule. Though an extreme end of the spectrum, he symbolises the fate all Kashmiri children brave every day -- a fate many of them share, in varying degrees of misfortune.

Neither the state's social welfare department nor the Council for Rehabilitation of Widows, Orphans, Handicapped and Old Persons (Victims of Militancy), which the central and state governments created in 1996, can tell you the number of children the conflict has crippled yet.

The Council commissioned a full-fledged survey of militancy victims only in November 2001. Its Executive Director Dr G M Untoo, who is in charge of that exercise involving schoolteachers and volunteers, said he hoped to conclude it by April 2002.

The delay in arriving at this statistic is not surprising in Kashmir. The crippled state administration, till last year, was not sure of its population.11

And so, like in so many aspects of life in the valley, all you have are estimates. Ranging from a 'hundreds' to a 'few thousands' and more.

Divisional Commissioner Khurshid Ganai, administrator of the Kashmir province12 places the number of children disabled in the Kashmir conflict at between 5,000 and 6,000.

"I expect about 60 per cent of the total maimed to be still under 18," he said. "That means, every district in the valley would have 1,000 or so maimed children."

"A few thousands," Dr Untoo said, "not more."

Lawyer and social activist Abdul Rashid Hanjoora, who heads the Jammu and Kashmir Yatheem Trust, one of the non-profit welfare organisations functioning in the valley, arrives at a more conservative figure.

"It should be a few hundreds," he said. "Maybe between 600, 700."

The good news is that, even by Khurshid's higher estimate, the disabled children in Kashmir form only a tiny fraction of the world's total, which, according to a UNICEF report was between 'four and five million' in 1995.

The reason Kashmir watchers offer for this low number is that the conflict has seen very few landmines. "Despite the fact that our posts are attacked, we do not lay landmines in Kashmir," said a member of the Indian Army's counterinsurgency operation. "And unlike in many other conflict areas including Sri Lanka, Bosnia and Afghanistan, neither do the militants. They rely heavily on improvised explosive devices, which can be detonated remotely at military convoys and other specific targets."

Thus, incidents of children straying over mines and setting of blasts happen very rarely, if ever; disablement mainly occurs when they are caught in a crossfire, as Mohammad was, or happen to be around when an improvised explosive device explodes.

The bad news is that in recent times, especially the past year, the complexion of violence in the Kashmir valley has changed from insurgency to terrorism. No more are attacks precise, targeted at the Indian military alone -- rather they are 'indiscriminate,' the army's counterinsurgents said.

They pointed out two instances in which improvised explosive device blasts ended up killing three and injuring more than 10 schoolchildren. In both cases the targets, army personnel, escaped unhurt. The first was in Anantnag, southern Kashmir, in October 2001, the second in the border Kupwara district on March 20, 2002.

"In recent years most of the local militants have been replaced by foreign mercenaries," said a military officer. "To them civilian casualties do not matter. Their focus is on carrying out terror attacks to keep the Kashmir pot boiling, never mind the collateral damage."

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This article is part of Chindu Sreedharan's study on the Impact of Militancy on the Children of Kashmir, as a National Foundation for India Fellow for 2000-2001.

Page Design: Rajesh Karkera

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