October 1, 2019 / 3:01 PM / 16 days ago

Nine-year-old among nearly 150 children briefly held in Indian Kashmir - court probe

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Police in Indian Kashmir have detained 144 children, including a nine-year-old, since early August when the government revoked the disputed region’s special status and imposed a lockdown, according to a court-appointed committee’s report.

FILE PHOTO: An Indian policeman patrols a deserted road during restrictions after scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the Indian government, in Srinagar, August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

But all those arrested and lodged in police stations were released on the same day, police told the Jammu and Kashmir High Court’s four-member Juvenile Justice Committee, which had been asked by India’s Supreme Court to look into allegations of child detentions after a petition filed by two activists last month.

As of Sept. 25, only two children, both aged 17 years, were lodged in juvenile homes, said the committee’s Sept. 26 report, which was reviewed by Reuters on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has maintained an iron grip on Jammu and Kashmir - India’s only Muslim-majority state, which is also claimed by Pakistan - since August, deploying thousands of troops, restricting movement, and snapping communications.

Local authorities also rounded up thousands, including politicians, leaders of separatist groups, and other civil society members to prevent large protests from erupting over the decision to withdraw Kashmir’s autonomy.

The detention of children spans the whole of the Kashmir valley, from Sopore in the north to the southern district of Shopian, with a large number from the region’s main city of Srinagar, according to the justice committee’s report.

Some children are listed as having been taken under preventive detention, while others have been held for various criminal offences, including disturbing public tranquillity.

Among them is nine-year-old Sahil Ahmad Sheikh from Srinagar’s Batamaloo area, which has seen regular clashes between locals and security forces, who was detained on Aug. 8 and released on the same date, according to police data provided in the report.

Like Sheikh, most of those arrested by police were freed on the same day, except 17 children who spent longer periods, up to 24 days in one instance.

In a letter to the committee that was included in the report, Kashmir’s police chief said that the charges of illegal child detentions had no merit, but children found to be in violation of the law were being “strictly dealt” with.

“The state machinery has been constantly upholding the rule of law and not a single juvenile in conflict with law has been illegally detained,” police said.

Children had been lured into violent acts by “being used as shield by some vested interests,” police said, and some were involved in stone pelting, rioting and causing damage to public and private property, as per their investigation.

Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani

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