The Bruised Childhood

Greater Kashmir

Innocent victims of landmines, unexploded ammunition shells, stray bullets and cross border firing on LoC

Wars do not have a definite end as their threat continues even after they cease. Their location changes, from battlegrounds to the lives of people – the new arena where there are no victories. There are only battles. Though these undefined battles attack lives irrespective of the age, sex or creed but the naïve sufferers sacrifice more than what a grown up would forfeit – they lose their innocence, faith and zeal in the journey of life and that too quite early. In our country, several children are battling near the Line of Control (LoC). Children who are considered to be the future of the nation stand maimed and mutilated by the armed conflict in the border regions of the northernmost state of India – Jammu and Kashmir.
Landmines, unexploded ammunition shells, stray bullets and cross border firing during counter insurgency operations make these innocent children their victim. Lives are lost in a click followed by a blast but if they are “unlucky” enough to face the atrocities of life only a limb or two is lost.
Fourteen years old Mohammad Younis of Dallan village has February 28, 2009 etched deep in his mind. As a matter of routine, this class VI student had taken the same route to home after attending school. While walking playfully the unsuspecting boy came upon insidious anti-personnel mine and within a click the device detonated. The explosion badly damaged his left foot besides causing injuries to other parts of the body. Over the years his injury has worsened for want of resources for treatment.
 “My father, Fakar Din is a psychiatric patient and is unable to earn. My elder brother, Ali Mohammad has been living separately since his marriage. My mother sold off the buffalo to arrange money for my treatment but to no avail. My injury has worsened instead of getting any better. It seems I will have to live with it all through my life,” shared the somber faced Younis who has stopped attending school as his movements have got restricted considerably due to acute pain in the foot. His eyesight is also deteriorating at a faster rate. With so much to worry, this child thinks of himself as a burden on his family.
Younis is one of several children facing a similar plight. Just in border district of Poonch, one comes across many such children who have been living with a sense of loss of childhood and education in the face of calamity of conflict and official apathy as not many of these limbless children have received prosthesis or proper medical treatment for their conflict-related injuries. They have been suffering psychological trauma in the absence of suitable medical treatment and proper rehabilitation.
As the security forces claim, anti-personnel landmines have been used in all India-Pakistan wars in 1947-48, 1965, 1971 and 1999 and also during the India-China War in 1962. But the villagers suspect that mines were heavily used to deter militants from crossing over to this side of border during the past two decades. Locating these mines is as difficult for the security personnel as it is for these villagers and children who, while playing in a field, collecting firewood or grazing their cattle, come upon small but insidious leftovers of a recent or long-past war. And unknowingly fall into the trap of misfortune.
It was early November 2009 when Shaheen Fatima (11) and her three siblings found an explosive device while playing close to their home at Noonabandi Village. Out of puerile curiosity, three of them Maroof (8), Arshad (3) and Zaheen (6) started fiddling with it without knowing what was coming. Within a few seconds the device went off leaving them critically injured on the spot. In the blast, Shaheen’s right eye was completely damaged and one hand had to be amputated whereas her sister Zaheen’s left eye suffered critical injury. Both Shaheen and Zaheen, according to their family, need urgent but expensive eye surgeries.
 “I aspired to be teacher but now I won’t be able to do so as I cannot read or write any more. I have stopped attending school,” says Shaheen with agony writ large on her face. Her family lives in a mud house perched atop a hillock. Presently, they are under heavy debt despite selling off their piece of agricultural land to meet medical expenditure of the children.
 “At the time of the incident Chief Minister Omar Abdullah visited my children at Government Hospital Jammu and promised immediate financial assistance. But we have not got even a single penny from the government till date. I have been running from one government department to another for completing official formalities for availing the relief but it seems an endless exercise,” says father of the children, Aslam Hussain showing scores of documents he has compiled over the period for getting relief from the state government.
 “I had to sell off the piece of land I owned at a throw away price at the time of the incident. Now I am under debt. I have to repay Rs 3 lakh which I borrowed for the treatment of my children. I am ruined in every way,” he says despairingly.
 “In the ongoing conflict, children are under fire. The survivors are not getting the kind of care they deserve. Their frantic pleas are falling on the deaf ears of the government,” says Nazam Din, a local child rights activist.
Fifteen year old Mukhtar Hussain of Kirnee Mendhar is another victim who bore the brunt of warfare in the mountainous border area. A student of class VIII, Mukhtar has been traumatized since he got injured by a shell fired from across the border, a few years ago. He was playing with his four years old cousin, Mohammad Qasim in the courtyard at the time of incident. While he was critically injured, Qasim died on the spot.
 “I was hit by a splinter in my abdomen. Since then I am having problem while passing urine. Doctors say I need immediate surgery but my father (a labourer) cannot afford it,” he says.
Land mines injuries have more catastrophic effects on small bodies of children. Children who survive explosions are likely to be much more severely injured than adults, and often permanently disabled. To add to the agony is the miserable situation of the district hospital at Poonch which is not at all equipped to treat the survivors of conflict. The hospital is understaffed and has a poor medical infrastructure. Consequently, the patients are referred to Jammu which is 250 km from here that takes about ten hours to cover.
“Since the children grow very fast, their wounds may require repeated amputation and a new artificial limb as often as every six months. Also, the incidents of mine blasts happen quite frequently here. So there should be provisions for prosthesis at the local government hospital.  Besides, the government should rehabilitate all the victims of conflict. Just in Poonch district, at least thirty cases have come to my notice and in none of the cases have the child victims or their families got any relief from the government,” rued Nazam.      
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