Srinagar: The families of juveniles being detained by the Jammu and Kashmir Police in Srinagar have alleged that authorities are not only picking up their children but are also making them pay for the meals that are served to their wards while in custody.
At least five families in a Srinagar locality claimed that police personnel in civilian clothes are picking up children, aged 14 to 16 years, bundling them into private vehicles before driving them to police stations.
The police, the families alleged, are driving around the residential neighbourhoods of Srinagar in the private vehicles to scout for juveniles roaming around their homes.
Three of the juveniles ThePrint spoke to after they were let off said not only were they detained for over a week but also thrashed during their time in the police lock-ups.
The police, however, have so far maintained that they have been picking up the juveniles, ever since the Modi government’s 5 August decision to scrap J&K’s special status, to maintain law and order in the newly-created union territory.
Police has also claimed that the minors are released on the same day they are detained and are only questioned.
Haseeb Mughal, senior superintendent of police (SSP), Srinagar, denied most of the allegations levelled against the force. He, however, admitted that police are picking up youngsters in the 14-24 age group but added that in 99 per cent of the cases, they are let off after brief questioning.
“The detentions are happening in areas where there were reports of stone pelting. The minors are immediately released after basic questioning by police,” Mughal said. “An informal community bond is signed by the relatives, families or neighbours who ensure that the youth are not swayed away by mischievous elements to stoke trouble.”
SC monitoring case
The development comes in the wake of the Supreme Court on 5 November directing the Jammu and Kashmir Juvenile Justice Committee, comprising four J&K High Court judges, to submit a fresh report on the allegations of minors being detained in the Valley. The committee has been given time till 3 December.
In its report submitted on 1 October, the committee had stated that 144 children had been detained in Kashmir since 5 August. The Supreme Court had on 20 September sought the report after a PIL regarding detention of minors was filed in the court.
The apex court bench headed by Justice N.V. Ramana, however, agreed with the submission made by senior advocate Huzega Ahmadi that the committee had simply forwarded the reports of the J&K police without any independent application of mind. The police in its report had said that it had released 142 minors it had detained and sent two to juvenile homes in Srinagar.
The J&K Police has so far not officially acknowledged how many more minors it had detained post 1 October.
Families dispute police claim, minors allege torture
The families of those detained dispute the police version.
ThePrint spoke to the relatives of three minors and of another youth in his 20s who were all detained from a single locality on the outskirts of Srinagar. The families claimed that their children were detained by three policemen in plain clothes and bundled into a Maruti Zen right from outside their homes.
One of the minors told ThePrint that he had left home on a cycle to fetch meat from a nearby shop when he was stopped by the three policemen. “They slapped me three to four times before forcing me to sit in the car. They then stopped at three other places to pick up three other boys. One of them was my cousin,” the minor said. He added his friends brought the empty cycle back home.
After independently verifying his date of birth , this correspondent found that the minor boy turned 14 on 3 October. His father, a shopkeeper by profession, said it was after a woman who had witnessed the detentions informed the families about the incident that they went straight to the police station requesting local officers to release their children.
“They did not release them. They said the children were picked up as they might indulge in stone pelting,” the father said. “My son has never indulged in stone pelting and has never been named in a case. It was only after a week of requesting and begging that they let my child go.”
The brother of another minor detained on the same day said that it was only after he and nine others submitted a photocopy of their Aadhar cards and lodged their names as “guarantees” that the minors were released.
“The police said that if even one of the minor boys throws a single stone all of those who had given their names as guarantors at the time of their release will be held accountable,” the brother said. He added that his 15-year-old brother was eating outside a a shop when the Zen stopped right in front of him.
Inside the lock-up, the minors claimed, they were allegedly beaten by police. “The first day they beat us using a cable wire. They kept on asking us to give more names of boys throwing stones,” said one of the minors. “The remaining days they didn’t hit us. We would sit all day in the cell. It was cold and dark in their.”
His father alleged that police sought Rs 100 a day, which they said would be used to fetch meals for the detained youth. The youth were detained in lock-ups along with other adult detainees, the families claimed. Contrary to police claims, the families said they were all detained for more than a day.
The families’ claims are backed by the rights advocacy group Amnesty International, which claimed that most of the minors were often not formally detained.
“Instead, youth from different villages were being picked by the army and police and detained for four to eight days without formal charges and then released on signing a bond or an undertaking by the community heads stating that they will not indulge in stone pelting or protests,” Nazia Erum, Amnesty India’s media and advocacy manager said in an email. “Detentions without any kind of documentation and recourse to justice completely overlook human rights guarantees and perpetuate fear in people.”