Children of conflict

ANINDITA DAS sums up the conversation on guns, grenades and children

On the 24th of May, the conversation series of Thumbprint took place in association with UTSAH (Universal Team for Social Action and Help), an NGO working for child rights. The topic of conversation being “Guns, Grenades and Children”, an extensive range of discussion threw light on the situation of the children in the insurgency infested areas. Miguel Das Queah, the Chairperson of UTSAH began the conversation with the opening remarks talking about the recent Bodoland violence which affected a significant number of children.

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Father Luckose, who has been associated with the rehabilitation of children under his organisation Snehalaya, says “the Juvenile Justice System call for the assistance of children in need for care and protection. The Nellie massacre of 1983, took lives of about 1800 people. The worst suffers were the innumerable children, some of whom died, many were orphaned and a most of them were traumatised”. He further remarked that those children are the adults of today, with the mindset of insecurity and violence. The political parties though came forward to help, it was merely for their own selfish interests. Mother Teresa was out of the country at that time. Refugee camps were established for the victims. To meet the needs of the affected children, two SOS Villages in Assam were established- one in Hojai, another in Bhakatpara. About 750 children were taken care in the two villages.

Later on the Bhakatpara SOS Village had to be closed down though it was doing well. It was because the militants started demanding money, exhibiting their insensitive attitude towards children. During the periods of 1983- 84, 1993-94, 1996-2000 2.5 lakhs refugee camps were established. Numbers of children in the camps were malnourished, almost in dying condition, and in fact many died too. “They also got into the grip of fear psychosis. To speak from the point of view of the rights of children, the United Nations Conventions of the Rights of Children says that the Government should take all feasible measures for the care and protection of children” he said. Father Luckose further mentioned in appreciation about the initiative taken by the Assam Police under the leadership of Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta to rehabilitate 800 children of militants. Moreover, he holds the view that community based action should take place, keeping in mind the fact that the children like to be surrounded by people who are familiar to them to cope with the separation anxiety.” The survival of those children is at risk. Any kind of violence leaves on in the mind of the children”, he said.

Angira Mimani, Associate Professor of Royal Group of Institutions, and the moderator of the conversation, said “the most pathetic fact with the children is that they are armed. Migel, carrying on with the fact further added that UTSAH has been working so far with the community based approach in the insurgency affected areas of Kokrajhar and Baksa.  Lots of children are being trafficked and CID has been working very hard to deal with the problem. Teresa Rehman, the Managing editor of Thumbprint shared her experience while reporting from hard core conflict zones.  Once she was told by a youngster that their life is like a lottery in such places as they hardly know whether they would return home once they are out.  It thus throws light on hoe Insurgency makes a huge effect on the psyche of a child which is a grave matter to ponder upon. Psychiatrist Shamiul Akhtar Borbora  in this context informed that in such children three kinds of problems are generally noticed- i) Behavioural problem, as 50% of them suffer from depression ii) Anxiety and depression iii) Post- traumatic stress disorder, in which the brain gets affected and requires psychological treatment and long term medication. Filmmaker Maulee Senapati has been working in Assam and other North-Eastern states and while covering stories in Sibsagar he realised that most of the stories he covered had been untold so far as the people have no one to share. Once a woman remarked after narrating her story “a stone has been removed from my heart”. The social institutions like Namghar are mere entities. Whereas the scenario in Nagaland appeared slightly different to him as the social fabric there is more integrated. The community participation is the strength in that place. The children in the midst of grim situations in the insurgency prone areas see their father tortured by army, aggravating their psychological trauma.

Miranda Kadom Ingtipi, while talking about her first hand experience in the CID says that in personal level within the organisation made her realise that the situation of Assam is more complex. “The monetary mechanism needs to be stronger in order to rehabilitate the children of the insurgency affected areas, or they become vulnerable to many crimes including trafficking. Many children were rescued from South India, hailing from Manipur and Assam. It needs to be prevented” she said. There must be active co ordination of follow up. The breaking up of families affects the children and though rescued and rehabilitated, they miss their family.  Gautam K. Bordoloi added that it is imperative to get into the roots of the problem. Children in the region constantly viewing violence and they have become mentally disturbed. The scenario is unimaginable. Things have not improved. He further said that creating a network of people is necessary and even sitting at home lot can be done making use of the social networking media. Miguel in this regarded pointed out the fact that child rights is not a gift, it is an obligation, and we must work towards it. Nurul Laskar, Executive Editor atEastern Chronicle expressed his resentment over the fact that crime after crime against children is taking place. In Dhemaji bomb blast so many children were killed but no one was punished for the crime. “Everyone remained the silent spectators. The mindset should be fixed in the social circle that we must raise our voice. Silence of the civil society is justifying and legitimising crime.”

Writer and columnist Indrani Raimedhi intimated about the rise of child soldiers in places like Taliban and Congo. “The children are either abducted to do so or they voluntarily join to escape poverty or with revenge motive. The young girls serve as porters, cooks or sexual slaves. The children are also used as suicide bombers by the groups such as LTTE in Sri Lanka. It is easy to hire children as they are unaware of the concept of death, information can be gathered going to the villages where the children are cocaine induced to use them for various crimes” she remarked.

The conversation ended with a very positive note with everyone agreeing to the fact that we must keep contributing towards the welfare of children in our own little ways. It is specifically for the children in the insurgency affected areas that flying camps should be set up, reformation in the jails should also be made and organisations need to work in coordination of the local communities for better outcome. But the fact remains that it is primarily the duty of the Government to adopt a rights based approach. It can work in association with lawyers and journalists.

Anindita Das

Anindita Das

Anindita Das is currently pursuing her PhD from the Department of English, Gauhati University. She contentedly follows her heart by being a content writer and dabbles at poetry which is her passion. While music soothes her soul, she travels and reads to unwind herself. Another favourite pastime she indulges in is cooking her way into anybody’s heart.