Brothers in Arms
Militants focus on recruiting minor boys to keep the pot boiling in Kashmir
By Inayat Jehangir
Srinagar: A new but disturbing trend has emerged in the ongoing militancy in Jammu and Kashmir as militants and their over ground workers are now focusing on recruiting minor boys into their ranks to keep the pot of violence boiling in the border state, which is in clear contravention to international norms on recruitment of children below the age of 18 years in direct combat.

Although isolated cases of minor children being used for grenade throwing have come up all along the 20-year-old insurgency in the state, the alarm bells were set ringing among the security agencies when two groups of boys under the age of 15 years were nabbed by police while on their way to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) for receiving training in handling arms and ammunition.

Eight boys, all aged 15 years, hailing from Shopian in South Kashmir were nabbed from Parimpora area of the city in the last week of January while they were on their way to PoK for arms training. Two secondary school students from Kishtwar town on the
other side of Pir Panjal range were nabbed in the second week of May with similar intentions.

The latest incident involves six boys — all hailing from a non-descript village in Pattan Tehsil of Baramulla district — who were detained by police with the help of local residents at Regipora village in Kupwara district near the Line of Control (LoC).
Abdul Rashid Sheikh, Mohammad Yaqoob Bhat, Mohammad Saleem Shiekh, Omar Sultan Mir, Ishtiyaq Ahmad Tantray and Shariq Showkat Mir — innocence written all over their faces — had decided to take on the might of the Indian Army, perhaps drawn towards militancy by the romanticism involved in wielding a gun and the power that comes with it.

The boys, aged between 11 and 13 years, left home on a Sunday morning on May 2, on the pretext of enjoying their regular day of cricket in the local ground at Pattan. There was nothing unusual in their behaviour and their parents did not find anything amiss. However, the kids had been planning their adventure to PoK for more than a week and took a bus to Sopore, 25 kilometres from their homes. Not even aware of the route to be taken to Kupwara, where they were scheduled to meet their handler, the boys boarded a bus to Chogal in Handwara from Sopore. They had to change another bus to reach Kupwara.

As luck would have, these juveniles reached their destination — the mosque at Regipora – so late, that their handler left the rendezvous point, probably thinking that the boys would not turn up. Hoping that they would meet their contact person the following day, the boys decided to stay at the mosque but the Imam was quick to notice that they seemed to be out of place and informed police.

Most of the subversive or criminal activities are borne out of the desire to be rich overnight but that could not have been the reason for the boys to take this path. All of them belong to well off families with large land holdings. In a place, where there is no potable water, some families own dish TV.

Considering the tender age of the boys, the police authorities handed them back to their families after counseling them and seeking the undertaking from their parents. While police maintain that the boys have taken some names involved in motivating them, the boys during their interaction with FORCE maintained that it was an adventure they undertook on their own.
Abdul Rashid Shiekh, the youngest of the six boys but the chirpiest of the lot as well, says it was the pressure of the studies and constant beating from the school teachers which forced them to find an escape route.

Rashid is one of the most talked about boys in the village these days as he has reportedly told the police that their aim was not to fight the cops but to take on the army.
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