Conflict

Kashmiri boy held for Jammu blast: ‘He’s a minor, meritorious’

As police claimed to make a quick breakthrough in the Jammu grenade attack after arresting a Kashmiri boy, his family members back home asserted that there’s some mistake and misunderstanding as their “juvenile son can’t go that far”.

It was close to 1:00 in the afternoon on Thursday, March 7, when the armed forces barged into Javed Bhat’s residence in south Kashmir, and he had no clue why. On inquiring, the officer told Bhat that his son has carried out a grenade attack in Jammu and is now under the custody of J&K police.

The officer’s words left Bhat shell-shocked. As the forces searched every belonging of his accused son, he only stood numb at one corner of the room.

Even when this reporter met Bhat at his residence a week after the incident, he had no answers, but only a long list of questions in-return – “Is the police sure it was my son who carried out that attack, or is he still being seen as a suspect? Why haven’t they released a clear CCTV footage proving his involvement? What if he is being framed for political gains? Will he be ever able to get out of this? He wanted to become a businessman, now, is his career over?”

But amidst a sea of queries, there was one question he particularly stressed on: “And when my son’s age is only 13, why do the police say he is 19 years old?”

According to the police, the grenade attack in which Bhat’s son is allegedly involved, claimed two lives and left at least 30 injured. The blast had taken place at a bus stand in Jammu, and in a matter of few hours, the state police claimed to have caught him at a check-post in Nagrota, some 20 kilometres away from the explosion site.

Cops inspecting the site of the blast in Jammu.

The medical results show the age of the accused to be around 19 years, however, Bhat claimed his son turned 13 only on March 10, three days after the attack.

“You don’t believe me, do you?” he asked.

The worried father then added: “No one does! I don’t know in what mental state my son must be right now. Not even once have I been allowed to talk to him. Our cell-phones are confiscated. Almost every day I’ve to report at the police station. All this really worries me; don’t know what my son is going through at the moment.”

“Anyway, please come with me,” he said, and walked towards his parked motorcycle, as his son’s happy-memories made him recall, once again: “He loves two-wheelers, but I never allowed him to ride because he is under-age. The day he comes back home, I’ll buy him a brand new motorcycle of his choice.”

Bhat was taking me to the school where he claimed his son studies – in Class 9.

On the way, riding over the narrow muddy village lane, he force-pulled the motorcycle brakes and stopped by an elderly villager. He greeted the man, and asked him: “Please tell this person how my son is known for spreading smiles? Isn’t he a nice human? Has he troubled any of the villagers like other kids do? Please tell him he cannot carry out a grenade attack?

And in reply, the passerby couldn’t help but only gesture back his sympathy to Bhat.

Throughout the rest of the journey that followed, Bhat did not speak anything. The restless father was so lost in his thoughts that he even happened to take the wrong route, only to realise when I patted his back after a brief silence that lasted more than ten minutes.

On finally reaching the school, Bhat took me to the Principal’s office to verify his son’s “background”.

The birth certificate issued by the school indeed says Bhat’s son is “a student of Class 9th…” His date of birth, as per school records, is “10-03-2006”.

Accused’s date of birth certificate.

“He is a dedicated and a meritorious student,” the principal of the school Basharat Ahmad Sheikh said. “He had also enrolled for our private winter coaching – which concluded on February 22. Since then, we haven’t seen any of our students including Mr. Bhat’s son.”

Moreover, according to the school records, the management has “hardly had any complaints about the student’s behaviour”.

As per his Class 8 mark sheet, issued by the school, Bhat’s 13-year-old son had scored 74.58 percent with a remark note – “Very good”.

The 8th standard marksheet of the accused.

Post the winter-coaching the students had a two-week vacation before the school re-opened. And so, Bhat’s son had been staying with his maternal grandmother and was there until he left for Jammu a day-or-two before the March 7 grenade attack that notes his involvement.

He’s now in RS Pora under the observation of Juvenile Justice Board – that has also rejected the medical report terming the accused as an “adult”.

Moreover, Childline India Foundation (CIF) – a child rights organisation – has noticed some glaring “legal violations” in this case.

“The information collected by our team clearly reveals the child is a minor,” Prerana Singh, one of the senior CIF members from Jammu office, told Free Press Kashmir. “There’ve been plenty of legal violations that have gone unnoticed.”

As per Prerana, the police violated the Juvenile Justice Act by publically revealing the identity of the minor and keeping him in custody for more than 24 hours.

The act clearly states: “As soon as a juvenile in conflict with law is apprehended by the police, he shall be placed under the charge of the special juvenile police unit or the designated police officer who shall produce the juvenile before the board without any loss of time, but within a period of 24 hours of his apprehension, excluding the time necessary for the journey, from the place where the juvenile was apprehended, to the board.”

According to the act, there’ve also been violations from the media organisations for having reported the juvenile’s name, address and school.

“Whether or not the minor was involved in the case is a different subject of discussion. Childline India will do everything to protect the rights of the accused if violated,” Prerana said.

But meanwhile, state police have stated that Bhat’s son has confessed that “he was paid Rs 50,000 by a Hizbul Mujaheedin commander from Kulgam, who had tasked him to carry out the grenade attack.”

The accused being presented in front of the media during a press conference.

However, back home, the helpless father is seen hoping against hope. “Ise chodd toh doge na, sahib? (Would you release him, sir)” asked Bhat, who, all this while, assumed the reporter was a government official doing an on-ground investigation.

On clarifying his misconception, he blankly stared back for a minute, and said: “Aap jo likhoge woh police tak pohcha dena, kya pataa shayad aapke zariye mera ladka wapas aajaye” (Whatever you write, send it to police. Maybe, then, my son might return home.)

 

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