Border children in times of conflict and Corona

Raveena Kousar
World is suffering from COVID-19 pandemic and Governments all over world are leaving no stone unturned to fight against this war. COVID19 was declared as a public health emergency by the World Health Organisation. The most effective action known against COVID19 is social distancing and consequence of this entire world is under lockdown to save human life. Lockdown has affected whole world economically, socially and psychologically. Amid this pandemic, border villages of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) along Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) are facing ceasefire violations by Pakistan. Unfortunately, people in border conflict areas of Jammu and Kashmir has already faced lockdown type of situation several times in their life, even during this tough time, they were not debarred. People in these areas are continuously facing heavy shelling and living under the shadow of death and fear. Numerous heart wrenching incidents are seen in these areas during this hard time where several people lost their lives, houses and livestock (the only source of their survival). The most terrible incident that went viral was the image of an injured mother holding her dead son in the embrace. This news of brutality spread like a wildfire and it created an atmosphere of fear in these areas and other adjoining areas. Later, this news was reported and highlighted by various national and local newspapers. On the same day, news of intense mortar shelling and firing on the LoC in several areas of district Poonch causing injuries to two civilians and damage to several houses, was also reported. Moreover, an eight-year-old child and two other persons were also killed in the cross-border firing. After this incident, India issued a strong demarche to Pakistan over the killings of civilians by Pakistani troops in a ceasefire violation along the border of J&K. It was expected that things would normalize in the border areas but nothing has happened. Even in this holy month of Ramzan, one college student Mohd Gulfraz (21) from the village Chirangri, Tehsil Mankote, of district Poonch died on the spot due to shelling. His parents and other family members were present over there when their young son was dying! May be the establishment will forget that terrible incident, but his parents will suffer from this shock in their entire life. Still the incidents of firing continued in border villages of the Jammu and Kashmir. In short, coronavirus has not deterred cross border firing as this pandemic has hit both India and Pakistan. In this pandemic, restrictions are imposed on routine activities and social distancing is followed to prevent the spread of COVID19. Every individual is feeling stressed and worried about falling ill, losing livelihoods, unavailability of work, helplessness, boredom, loneliness and depression due to isolation. People are feeling hopeless to protect their loved ones and fearfull to lose their loved ones.
When we look at the situation of people living in the areas which are affected by ceasefire violation, their threat is twofold. Coronavirus may give some chance of survival, but the indiscriminate firing and shelling takes just a blink of an eye to kill a person or destroy everything he or she has. Heavy shelling and firing has created chaos in people’s lives. They are uncertain about their life. They are restricted to their home, but no one knows when their home will be hit by a mortar shell. In such a chaotic situation, are they able to cook or have food? Just imagine the situation of those who lost their loved ones and their homes. How they are managing their life? This experience is not new to them and they are living in such a situation for quite long. But at this virus (Covid 19) attack when everyone is supposed to keep a physical distance from each other, shelling has created another problem for them. Earlier they had a choice to shift to their relatives’ home or to the relief camps. But now they cannot go to their relatives homes and are afraid of attack of Coronavirus in the relief camps.
Historically, J&K border has been a conflict-stricken region since independence of India and Pakistan. J&K has witnessed conflict, migration and instability at its borders since 1947. With new boundaries drawn i.e., the ceasefire line (1949) which was converted into Line of Control (1972), phenomenon of extended violence came into existence and which became a routine and an inescapable part of daily life. The Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control (LoC) and International border in J&K came into force in November 2003. The CFA of 2003 was the fourth ceasefire that India and Pakistan agreed to since 1947: the first was at the end of the 1947 Kashmir war; second agreement ended in the 1965 war; third one in December 1971; and, finally, the Ceasefire Agreement of 2003. The first three were war termination ceasefires, but the 2003 CFA was to end a particularly tense period in India-Pakistan relations that witnessed several thousands of Ceasefire violations on an annual basis on the LoC and IB/WB(Working Boundary) in India and Pakistan. Still the incidents of ceasefire violation are increasing year by year (1368 in 2017 and 2442 in 2018). In 2019, 3,200 instances of ceasefire violations recorded by Pakistan in J&K and highest ever in last 16 years.
Conflict affects every individual of the society. But children are more vulnerable than adults as they are still in the process of physical, mental, emotional, moral and intellectual development, and are dependent on adults for care and protection. Childhood is the most crucial stage of human development. Children living along the border experience conflicts on regular basis which jeopardizes their childhood and their future. In such geopolitical and social situation, the rights of the children i.e. the right to life, right to be with family and community, right to education, right to health and right to be nurtured and protected are grossly violated. Exposure to extreme violence makes it hard for people to plan for future. It has become an impediment for teachers to teach and for children to learn. This has jeopardized the overall development of a child. Every year, villages along border areas are affected by the cross-border firing, leading to severe disruption in normal life. The children who are continuously hit by the cross- border firing, they also share a part in future of this great nation. What they will do in future, if they will not be able to get quality education, due to adverse circumstances.
These incidences of violation have badly hit the lives and livelihood of the residents and also hampered the education process of children studying in these areas. Moreover, the educational infrastructure also has been destroyed so many times, the existing condition of schools in these areas and other associated facilities are not up to the mark, which eventually directly or indirectly hamper the educational process of children. The prevailing condition often instills fear, insecurity and lack of confidence among the children and community members at large.
Families often express their inabilities to ensure enough care and protection; teachers express dissatisfaction as they are unable to impart quality education. There is a feeling of victimization among them over the ongoing situation. Largely the expression is about indifferent attitude of the government towards the critical life and death situation of the people in these-conflict affected zones. No doubt that government is trying their best to make things normal in border areas through their diplomatic process, but the anger and fear of local citizens is greater than these all efforts, because sufferings are very personal and one who suffers knows the pain. Constitutionally, every child in India has a right to life, right to education, right to safe and secure environment irrespective of the place or context, including in the time of emergencies. In contrast, the children in border areas are not able to enjoy their rights in full extent.
India is a welfare nation and democratic country committed to ensure equality and justice. In contrary the people in this conflict affected zone are not given desired additional attention in form of welfare schemes.The facilities like relief camps, construction of bunker heavy presence of military to deal with emergencies, considering the basic survival requirement of the people are not enough for ensuring the wellbeing of the children and common people. For example, in relief camp there is no separate facility for the children to play or study. Similarly, bunkers are only to be safe from the incidences of firing. In such conditions the childhood is being caged with multiple barriers due to prevailing condition and added factors of living near to the conflict affected border. The prevailing condition includes poverty, lack of infrastructural facilities, poor quality of education and inadequate opportunities for the children. Living to the conflict affected border added the stress factors like fear, threatening environment, mobility restrictions and persistence unpredictable volatile condition. Under such circumstances, government is expected to be highly proactive in facilitating welfare measure and conducive educational atmosphere for the school going children. Underpinning the need of safety, protecting the rights of the children, facilitating the education are crucial for healthy development of the children. Therefore, strengthening public infrastructure, safety features of the houses, community living, and community resilience building are important steps that need to be taken into consideration. In addition to this, there is the need of hour for taking seriously the lives of locals living in border areas in general and the future of children in particular, that the Government of India extend its peace agreement with neighbouring nation as India always remain top in the list of peace-loving nations. Moreover, the psychological turmoil due to border conflict is quite well evident in this region and the atmosphere of nurturing is at stake both in school and home. The persistent incidences of conflict ruptured the caring and protective environment in the community as well as in the family. Maintaining a living without fear and threat is almost utopian that constantly hampers the psychological and social development of the children living in the areas affected by border conflict. Therefore, psychosocial interventions and resilience building should be promoted by engaging the children in activities which inspire them to express their views, overcome stress reactions, develop abilities to deal with challenges, encourage group participation, and strengthen social networks and relationships. These can help them to deal with their feelings as well as able to concentrate on their studies.
(The author is Ph.D. Research Scholar, Department of Social Work
in Central University of Rajasthan)