“Come away, O human child!William Butler Yeats
To the waters and the wild
With a faerie, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
Aafreen, sits quietly in her garden. It’s really hard to miss her with her cute little smile and the curiosity in her eyes. She is awestruck at the armed forces doing regular patrolling in her village. She is confused between the two kinds of people roaming in the valley with guns. One wearing uniform and interacting with her and offering her chocolates, and the other who barged in her house last night and forced her mother on gunpoint to cook and ran away in 20 minutes.
She is confused!
She is confused because some people taught her that the one who scared her family at midnight to cook is a freedom fighter and the one offering her chocolates has illegally occupied her Kashmir. Even though she is confused but deep inside her heart she knows which side has responsibility with the guns and which side has terror with the guns.
This is not only Aafreen’s story but of every child in Kashmir. Kashmir has always been made to be in the grip of one or another kind of crisis. The dark clouds of uncertainty loom over the echoing mountains from last several decades. The prolonged foreign (Pakistan) sponsored conflict has transformed the beautiful valley into a devastating dystopia, forcing the whole community to fight a life and death battle against the threat of extinction from the tyrant tides of war.
Similarly, continuous violence has turned conventional morality upside down, engulfing pure and white, young and old, women and children alike. Here, children are cradled by conflict as such fear and trauma occupy their early emotional state. Their subsequent formative years are ruined by the false narrative of devastation and “AZADI”. They are not only terrified but also confused by various means. They are brainwashed with false narrative of history and the misconception of “AZADI”. Childhood is that period in life which everyone wants to re-visit or live eternally, because it is characterized by uncorrupted nature, purity and serenity. But children living in conflict riddled Kashmir do not enjoy instinctively idyllic and pleasant childhood days of vigour, energy and a free spirit, to roam and bloom in an unadulterated world of dreams and fairy tales. They are even forbidden to give ear to imaginary tales of fancy and fantasy, deemed to incite libido of resistance.
Children are suffocated by enduring suppression. An organized violence enforces them to surrender their whims and wishes, their charms and heavenly grace to solace unrecognized voices of bereavement, mourning and misfortune.
The false and tweaked narrative of history, convenient and personal interpretation of religion and the idolisation of terrorist as freedom fighters have done enough damage to one generation and the tried and tested method to cripple the bone marrow of a generation’s belief has become the success mantra for Pakistan.
In Kashmir, it has been a constant effort by terrorist outfits to depict life of children as a mark of woe! A mark of worry!
They were made to believe that their fate is akin to and resembles caged birds unable to set themselves free or stretch their wings in order to touch the sky, for accomplishment of sky of dreams. The main motive of running this propaganda is to make them literally limped creatures that can neither walk through the lane nor wade into lake. The fascination of social media in 2015 showed a drastically different modus operandi from that of the old terrorism in Kashmir. Until the pictures came out, there was little public discourse about local terrorism. In the past, terrorists remained in hiding and away from the limelight, either for the lack of access to media or to avoid being caught by security forces. The new crop of terrorists armed with the power of instant.
Fame through social media seems more eager to make a public display of their involvement in armed jihad. At the forefront of this new pattern in Kashmir terrorism was Burhan Wani. Throughout 2015 and the early months of 2016, Wani captured the public imagination in Kashmir through social-media pictures and videos that went viral in the state. The power of these images was so strong that the issue of terrorism not only established itself in the popular discourse but also marketed itself as a commodity, similar to how a new product in the market would entice consumers. However, while Burhan Wani’s poignant life story and foray into terrorism became a catalyst for fresh recruitments; an important aspect of the phenomenon he embodied escaped the attention of many: that Wani was a minor at the time of joining the ranks of Hizbul Mujahideen, akin to the “child soldiers” of the terrorism in the 1990s. After Wani, many young boys who had not reached adulthood at the time of recruitment joined various extremist outfits. During the unrest of 2016, triggered by Wani’s killing, a new dimension of the conflict emerged: more and more minor children were taking part in street protests and enforcing shutdowns. The terrorism groups used the juveniles as tools of propaganda and to recruit more young boys into their ranks. The children as always been seen as a tool by the anti-national sides.
But the question arises as how do we provide Kashmiri children a chance to live a happy childhood? The answer would be an affirmative Yes! In-fact, in Kashmir, children are forced to be cradled by conflict. The fierce waves of terror have violated their years of innocence. The forces of calm and combat have always encroached their childhood premises. They has been very tactfully made to grow up in the glowing bars of gun battles. The stones and swords muster their courage against the imminent shadows of disease and death. They are unjustly fixed together in the patches of conflict like the pieces of an unsolved puzzle. Various initiatives under Operation Sadhbhavana carried out by Indian Army makes an exclusive endeavour to reach out to the children and youth of the valley. The various National Integration Tours and educative campaigns are the founding stone of the beautiful monument of childhood for the valley. The main aim of such events is to provide what has been denied to a Kashmiri Child: “Exposure”. It has been a constant effort to ensure that the next generation is not brain washed but is made aware of the facts of the valley and then they take an informed decision about their future.
The endeavour for all the agencies working in Kashmir is to create a normalised environment for the children. Indian Army which has always operated on a morally high ground is making all efforts to reach out to the deprived children and the youth and believes that every child you encounter is a divine appointment. Slowly and steadily the winds of change has started blowing and it just a matter of time that the parents will realize and the children will be granted with all the things they have been deprived of-“Insha Allah”.
Every one of us in the valley should make it a genuine effort that Aafreen and many like her should not be put in such a dilemma at such young age to choose between right and wrong. She should be given wings to her imagination to craft beautiful stories and be the fairy for this heaven because “Gar firdaus bar-rue zaminast, hamiasto, hamiasto, hamiasto”.