13,000 boys lifted during Kashmir lockdown, women team reveal

‘Indian Army pounces on young boys as if they hate their very sight. When fathers go to rescue children they are made to deposit money between 20,000 to 60,000.’

New Delhi, September 25 (KMS): Leaders of Indian women’s organisations who visited occupied Kashmir earlier this month released a fact-finding report, detailing appalling conditions in the Muslim-majority valley.

The five women leaders including Dr Syeda Hameed of the Muslim Women’s Forum, Pragatisheel Mahila Samiti’s Poonam Kaushik, and Annie Raja, Kawaljeet Kaur, and Pankhuri Zaheer from the National Federation of Indian Women’s (NFIW) visited occupied Kashmir from September 17-21, 2019.

Speaking at the Delhi Press Club, the five brave women shared their experiences and observations with the media and concerned citizens after visiting Kashmir under lockdown for the past 51 days.

“When we reached there, it was like walking into a cloud of depression,” Dr Syeda Hameed and Annie Raja explained, terming their findings an eyewitness account.

“By many verified accounts, we are talking about almost 13,000 young people having disappeared in the past 51 days,” they said, noting that they visited Srinagar and several villages in the districts of Shopian, Pulwama, and Bandipora.

The report details the grief of one of the many people the women spoke to and notes that the Indian Army “pounces on young boys; it seems they hate their very sight. When fathers go to rescue their children they are made to deposit money, anywhere between 20,000 to 60,000.”

“So palpable is their hatred for Kashmiri youth that when there is the dreaded knock on the door of a home, an old man is sent to open it. ‘We hope and pray they will spare a buzurg [elderly]. But their slaps land on all faces,” it said, quoting a local.

It speaks of mothers waiting for their teenage sons, their last memory embedded in their hearts, “they dare not give up hope but they know it will be a long wait before they see their tortured bodies or their corpses… if they do”.

Lights, the report mentions, “had to be turned off around 8pm, after Maghrib prayers” and a violation of that curfew attracts Indian “army men angered by this breach” who take away any men in the house, regardless of their age.

Another local told the women that “barking dogs mean an imminent visit by army”. The man said: “I can’t switch on the phone for light so I can take my little girl to the toilet.”

The women explained in their report that there was no public transportation and due to a lack of ambulances, there were several cases of overdue deliveries or women delivering babies prematurely due to the stress and fear.

“It feels like the government is strangling us and then sadistically asking us to speak at the same time,” a local girl told the women, who wrote: “Young women complained they were harassed by army, including removal of their niqab.”

The women leaders, who noted the Kashmiri folks’ “amazing amount of resilience” reiterated that nothing about the situation is normal.

“All those claiming that the situation is slowly returning to normalcy are making false claims based on distorted facts,” they wrote.

Among their demands, the women have asked for the withdrawal of Indian Army and paramilitary forces, cancellation of all cases and first information reports, release of those detained, an inquiry to be conducted over the widespread violence, and compensation to families whose loved ones lost lives because of non-availability of transportation and absence of communication.

They further demanded that all communication lines — including internet and mobile networks — in Kashmir must immediately be restored, Articles 370 and 35A be implemented again, future decisions for Kashmir be taken by dialogue with the Kashmiris, army personnel be removed, and a time-bound inquiry committee be constituted to look into the excesses committed by the Indian army.

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