Accounts of four minors contradict the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s claims on illegal detentions

According to a 25 September report, the Jammu and Kashmir Police claimed that since 5 August, the police forces had detained 144 minors, and released each of them within a day of their arrest. Ground reports, however, dispute the security forces’ claim. Sanna Irshad Mattoo
22 November, 2019

A little after midnight on 6 August, the Jammu and Kashmir Police raided the house of a 17-year-old youth in the Batamaloo area of Srinagar. His mother told me that the police laid a cordon around the house “as if they had to arrest a wanted militant.” The teenager, who is a seventh-standard dropout, recounted that it was around 1.30 am and the “policeman had covered their faces.” He said that he “was in deep sleep and one of the cops yelled at me and woke me up.” The police personnel “kicked and punched” the disoriented teenager and bundled him into a police vehicle. Three days later, the police picked up another 17-year-old boy, who lives in the Bazar area of Batamaloo, in a similar midnight raid.

Both these teenagers are among the scores of minors who were picked up from their homes after 5 August when the centre read down Article 370 of the Constitution to abrogate Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, and downgraded it from a state to a union territory. While the central government has consistently claimed that the situation is peaceful in the erstwhile state, thousands of people including pro-India politicians and separatists have been detained or arrested in the land-locked Kashmir Valley, according to media reports.

The media coverage also brought to light several instances where minors were detained by the police, kept in police lock-ups for extended periods, and subjected to abuse and torture while in custody. While the police denied all charges of illegal detention of minors, the police action has been in clear violation of the Jammu and Kashmir Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2013 which mandates that if a minor is arrested, they have to be produced before the state’s juvenile court within 24 hours. The court decides whether they are to be transferred to juvenile homes, and the act categorically states that minors cannot be housed in police stations.

Apart from the two 17-year-olds, I spoke to two other 16-year-old minors who were detained by the police illegally and confined in police stations for days before being released. All four of them said they were never produced before any court or sent to juvenile homes. The 17-year-old youth who was detained on 6 August told me that on the night he was picked up, there were six other minors in the police vehicle who had been hauled out of their houses in similar raids. According to him, the police was on an arrest spree that night and would take the detained minors along with them to conduct raids. “I was detained for 37 days inside Batamaloo police station and I am unable to describe what I went through all these days,” he told me and added, “I will never forget those days.” He said that when the police detained him, his mother tried to resist and police told her to remain silent “else they will kill me.”

The first minor is the sole bread-earner of his family. The police picked him up after identifying him from a stone-pelting protest that it had apparently recorded. The teenager and his mother insisted, however, that he was not involved in stone-pelting. She said that her son was a spectator and that was why he figured on the police camera. The boy said he kept repeating this to the police and told them “you can see in the video clip, I was just there as a spectator” but the police did not listen to him. “Instead, they kept me behind bars for 37 days,” he said.

His mother told me that whenever they met him during his incarceration, he would cry and ask, “Mother, why am I here? Many a time he banged his head against the wall of the lock-up.”

According to him, there were around fifteen other minors with him inside the lock-up. Around three weeks after his arrest, 11 of them, including him, were shifted to a jail at the Karan Nagar police station around two kilometres from the Batamaloo police station. The Karan Nagar police station is in an area called Kak Sarai and locals usually refer to it as the Kak Sarai police station. “We were kept inside a small cell. It was dark all around with hardly any light. There was blocked latrine adjacent which was stinking. We all got ill,” he said. He said that the 11 minors were shifted back to the Batamaloo station after their families protested for three days. According to him, even his father, who suffers from a mental ailment, was detained for two days when he came to meet him.

The teenager was finally released on 11 September but he is still not entirely free. Every morning, he has to go to the local police station for “attendance” as the police registered a first information report against him. He has been booked under various sections of the Ranbir Penal Code—instituted in 1932, it was the main criminal code applicable in the erstwhile state under the aegis of Article 370—which deal with rioting, endangering the life of others, voluntary obstruction of public servants from discharging duties and wrongful restraint, among others.

The 17-year-old from the Bazar area of Batamaloo, who was detained on 9 August, had a similar story. He told me that the security forces laid a three-layer cordon outside his house. The tenth-standard student said he woke up to the noise of police vehicles outside his house. Before he could understand anything, a cop jumped over the wall and opened the main gate of his house. “Then they broke the window of the ground floor and entered the house,” he added. “I thought they have laid the cordon and there might be an encounter but they entered inside our house and suddenly I could see at least half a dozen cops inside my room,” he said. “Imagine hundreds of police men detaining you in the dead of the night as if I was a criminal.” He was also taken to the Batamaloo police station. He told me that he was not allowed to meet his parents and, like the other 17-year-old detained in the Batamaloo police station, his father too was detained for two days when he came to meet him.

The second 17-year-old too was taken to the Karan Nagar police station. He recalled the days spent in detention as the “worst experience of my life. We were not able to stand in the cell. And at the nights, we used to cry because we felt suffocated inside the prison.” He was released on 12 September, but he too has to go for “attendance” everyday to the local police station. He has three FIRs registered against him under similar charges as the other minor from Batamaloo. Notably, the police report against him states that he was arrested on 10 August and released on the same day, a claim which he refuted. He told me that now “whenever there is a law and order situation in the city, police detain him.” He said that even after his release he was picked up once again and had to spend a night at the Batamaloo police station. He did not remember the exact date he was picked up for the second time.

One of the 16-year-olds I spoke to lives barely two kilometres from the minor from the Bazar area of Batamaloo. He was detained on 16 August. “I would be honest. He was pelting stones but he is suffering from a disease and it’s impossible to keep him inside the house only,” his grandmother told me. She said that after his detention, the family rushed to the Batamaloo police station. “We fell at the shoes of the SHO”—the station house officer—“and pleaded that he is a kid and is not well. We also showed them the medical certificates but he was unmoved,” she said. The family told me that it only after the boy fell unconscious inside the lock-up that the police released him on 22 August. The boy told me that a cop inside the police lock-up “ruthlessly beat him.” He added, “I was even asked to open my trouser. A cop also bit my left shoulder.” Another young adult who was also in the same lock-up as the 16-year-old told me that the teenager’s condition had become so bad that “he was not able to stand on his legs.” The 16-year-old also has an FIR against him and has been booked under similar charges as the 17-year-old boys, with the same daily attendance at the police station. His police report says that he was arrested on 20 August and released on the same day.

The arrest and detention of another 16-year-old, from the Natipora area of Srinagar, was similar. The family said that the boy was arrested in the beginning of September and kept in police custody for 12 days. But according a police report at the Sadder police station, the boy was picked up on 30 August and released on the same day. According to his mother, the boy from Natipora suffers from a mental illness and has other health issues. “The police know that he wasn’t mentally sound but still he was detained and kept behind the bars for 12 days at Chanapora police station.” The mother said that she pleaded with the local police officer that her son should be allowed to go as he has mental health issues. “His mind is of a 10-year-old child. Sometimes he goes with bus conductors, sometimes with stone-pelters, sometimes he acts as Bollywood actors,” she said. According to her, her son was beaten by the police and by other stone-pelters who accused him of being a police informer.

The detention of minors as a pressure tactic is not new to the Valley. In 2018, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society—a federation of human-rights organisations and activists—released a report titled “Terrorized: Impact of Violence on the Children of Jammu and Kashmir.” The report assessed the extent of violence against children in Jammu and Kashmir between 2003 and 2017. It alleged that children in the state have been “victims” of the law, with successive governments accused of “detaining minors illegally and under the repressive Public Safety Act (PSA).” The PSA is a law which allows an individual to be taken into preventive custody for two years without any charges or a trial. According to the report, children in Kashmir have been treated at par with adults by the law, and there are no “legal and normative processes or practices protecting children’s rights in Jammu and Kashmir – as those laid out in JK Juvenile Justice Act, 2013 are not followed by the state functionaries.”

Mir Urfi, a lawyer at the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, told me that in the cases of juveniles, the police never follow the age-determining factor. “Here, they violate his first right of being a minor,” she told me. “When a juvenile is caught, the police try to project him as major or about 18 in the First Information Report so that they can detain him under PSA,” she said. According to the juvenile justice act, a minor cannot be kept inside police lock-up with other criminals. However, Urfi pointed out that “the Kashmir Valley has only one juvenile home for 10 districts and you can imagine the pressure.” She said that when a minor is housed in the general police lock-up for months without any remand, they get exposed to criminality and it impacts their psyche. “His parents are humiliated in front of him. This also affects him. His deterrent capacity gets over,” she said. “There are cases where minors have been detained for months without any FIR or preventive custody. They were arrested and then released after some days. So the police are violating the Juvenile Justice Act and nobody takes suo moto cognizance of this,” she said.

As the reports of children being detained illegally by police emerged from the Valley, two child-rights activists, Enakshi Ganguli and Shanta Sinha, filed a public-interest litigation on 14 September in the Supreme Court asking the apex court to take action. Sinha was the first chairperson of the National Commission for Child Rights. On 20 September, the court sought a report from the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, based on the allegations in the PIL. The high court in turn constituted a Juvenile Justice Committee, comprised of four sitting judges of the high court, to look into the allegations. On 1 October, the JJC submitted its report to the Supreme Court.

The JJC report, however, has come under severe criticism for relying exclusively on the state police and state administration for all inputs, without conducting any independent investigation of its own. According to a report submitted by the chief of police of JKP to the JJC on 25 September, the state police had detained 144 children since 5 August. In its report, the JJC quoted the police chief that “no child has been kept or taken into illegal detention by police authorities,” and that juveniles were “strictly dealt in accordance under the Juvenile Justice Act.” It further parroted the police’s stance that detained children were released from custody on the same day as their detention. The police report had also dismissed all media reports of illegal detention of minors as “generated with the intention to malign police and to create the story which may have element of sensationalism” and that “the facts in the media reports were imagined from thin air.”

On 16 October, in response to the JJC report, Ganguli again approached the Supreme Court and filed an affidavit which said, “The JJC committee merely forwards the contents and conclusions of the Report submitted to it by the Director General of Police, without recording any finding of its own.” An analysis of the police’s report by the news website The Wire highlighted how “at several points, the very news reports that it seeks to debunk are corroborated by the police in its report.” Responding to Ganguli’s appeal, on 5 November, the apex court accepted her contention that the JJC “had not fully applied its mind to the issue,” and directed the committee to file a fresh report for the next hearing on 3 December.

When I contacted Swayam Prakash Pani, the Inspector General of Police (Kashmir zone), he refuted all allegations—from the illegal detention of the minors to ill treatment of the detained minors by the police. He said all the juveniles were dealt as per the law of the land. “There is no question of detaining any juvenile for two months. This is absurd,” Pani told me. He added that “those who are saying that they were detained for months they can contest it in court. Who’s stopping them?” He further said that there is a juvenile home in Srinagar and Juvenile Justice Boards in every district of the Valley. He told me that “the cases of all the juveniles are being monitored by the juvenile officer at every district and the JJB boards decide whether the child needs to be sending to juvenile home that is up to him.” According to Pani, at the Jammu and Kashmir Police, “we follow proper procedure.”