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News Network International, November 01, 2001

100,000 orphans lost their fathers in Kashmir

SRINAGAR: In a charity hostel in Srinagar, young Kashmiri boys pray together. All of them are orphans, their parents have been killed during the ongoing struggle for the right of self-determination, which has resulted in savage Indian atrocities and genocide in the held territory.

They are just a handful of an estimated 100,000 children orphaned by the crisis - many of them forced to fend for themselves as child labourers.

Kashmiris say some eighty thousand people have been killed during the past eleven years.

In Srinagar - the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir - one organisation, the Yateem Trust, is trying to help children who have lost their fathers in the fighting. Fifty boys, some of them as young as six years old, have made their home in the trust's orphanage. All have lost their fathers, and many their mothers as well.

Politics is not discussed here. Some children lost their parents at the hands of the Indian security forces. But they all live together as one family.

Aijaz Ahmed Shah says his father went outdoors to go to the toilet and someone came and killed him. He doesn't know who or why.

The emphasis here is on education. The orphanage only takes boys, most of whom come from remote parts of the state, and this is their only chance of a better future.

Six-year-old Mansoor Ahmed Kumar says he wants to be a doctor when he grows up. He has only been in the orphanage three months, but describes the routine he has grown accustomed to. "We wake up early in the morning and first, we pray," he said. "Then we take tea, and at nine we go to school and come back and start studying again. That's all ..." Mansoor Ahmed Kumar's mother is still alive but she is too poor to take care of him.

He says he misses her but he has made friends in the orphanage. He is lucky to get a place in the home. The waiting list runs to thousands, and those in charge carry out their own investigations into the child's circumstances before they accept them.

Shaukat Mirza is one of the managers of the Yateem Trust. He says many of the children are quite disturbed when they arrive: "They come here to study. But they're frustrated. They think a lot about how and why their fathers, mothers and relatives were killed," he said.

"Some of them have actually seen their fathers getting killed. They think about these things. Even so, in their studies, they're quite good, and we try and give them what solace we can."

Some children are entitled to compensation from the government. But those whose fathers were suspected freedom fighters are not eligible and in practice, the Yateem Trust says it can take up to five years before the money comes through.

Abdul Hameed, who works in the orphanage, says the struggle to survive financially has led to an increase in child labour, but adds that it is beyond their ability to tackle the full extent of the problem.

"We have about 50 children in this hostel, but in the whole of Kashmir, there are about 10- 15,000 orphans who are in need of food, education and other basic things," he said. "We can only manage to look after 50. Of the rest, some are in a couple of hostels, but the majority are without any support."

Children here read Arabic script better than English. The emphasis is on religious education but there is no limit to how long the children stay. Normally it is until they get a job and can take their father's place in supporting what is left of their families.

Earlier, Abdul Rashiel Hanjoora, the general secretary of the Jammu and Kashmir Yateem trust which runs this hostel, had said the children are deeply traumatized.

"It is true that the children, due to this turmoil, are really frightened and have some psychological problems also. "They have seen their parents killed in front of them, so they feel very threatened," he says.

The violence has taken its toll on people here - inflicting damage which will take many years to repair. For the children orphaned by the conflict, football is much more real than peace - this conflict started long before they were born.

Kashmir Index