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.