Children being the most innocent and vulnerable, are our only link to the future. While we have no right to deprive them of a ‘normal’ and healthy future, it is our moral duty that we try our best to undo the damage that has been done – due to the conflict – for no fault of theirs. Though Borderless World Foundation intends to work in various areas, working for children in conflict areas and situations has been our prime focus.
In Jammu and Kashmir, scores of thousands of children have been affected by the conflict; thousands have dropped out of their childhood. They have suffered immensely as casualties in the ongoing turmoil as their very inherent rights to life, survival and development are threatened. In other words, their physical, psychological, social and economic well being has been affected almost beyond repair. They are attempting to bear the unbearable and understand the inexplicable, in a hostile environment. Girls, especially orphans, bear much more as they are the targets of cultural and moral policing and discrimination. bwf decided to work for the rehabilitation of these children as there were no homes or places of rehabilitation for girls, in J & K.
Let’s listen to one of them speak about her experience as a child in the valley-
“They approached our house. They came through the trees holding guns and approached our father who was sitting in the room. They demanded some tea. One of the mujahideen asked my father “When are we meeting next” my father replied “when Allah desires we shall meet” .But even as they were talking to him, one of them aimed his gun and shot our father dead. He slumped on the floor, blood oozing out and staining his shirt. My aunt carrying water screamed and she screamed for the last time as she was killed by a bullet that pierced through her eye. My mother and I ran out from the kitchen to where my father lay down saying his last prayers. I was scared then and I am scared now. I couldn’t sleep at night … I would start shivering and cling to my mother. I can’t forget that night”
Notice the choice of words. It is not just the vocabulary of the 12-year-old that is striking, or that it is littered with words like guns, blood, bullet, kill, and scared. It is the ease, the matter-of-fact manner in which these words are delivered that is telling. Nagma( name changed) studies at a medium-level school in Kupwara, a three-hour drive from Srinagar. But she could have been from anywhere. From a remote village in Kupwara, three hours from Srinagar, or from Sopore, the apple town, 50 km from the state capital. For there is no town or village in Kashmir that hasn’t been touched by violence; no child whose young mind has not been scarred.
Nagma is not the only midnight child. Nor is she the only child who has dropped out of childhood. This is the story of an entire generation lost to the conflict: a generation growing up amidst periodic hartals called by the separatists, and raids and search operations conducted by the security forces. Stepping out of the house is like entering the battle zone. There are bunkers outside their homes and close to their schools. The playground often lies next to a graveyard. And life comes to a halt after sunset, except within the four walls of the house. As the night creeps in, the only words they hear — either from family members or on TV — are of violence and more violence: 10 militants killed in an encounter; an attack on an army camp; six killed and 15 injured in a grenade attack.
They all come from broken homes, some from families where fathers and brothers have been killed, and widowed mothers are married off into new families. Some mothers have abandoned their children and leave them at their relatives’ mercy.
Monetary aid is not the only aid that the families, especially the children, need. What they require is help to deal with problems like recurring nightmares, difficulty in concentrating, depression, a lack of access to quality education, and a sense of hopelessness about the future. Most of all, they need someone to understand them.