On the outskirts of Srinagar lies an expansive but shabby-looking complex with beige colour walls beside the banks of a mountain stream. This is Kashmir’s only correctional facility for juvenile offenders.
There are at least 19 “offenders”, including two alleged stone throwers, inside this highly fortified compound, surrounded by concertina wires with round-the-clock police security.
The area beyond the razor wires is part of a touristic spot, usually thronged by picnickers to the nearby famed Mughal gardens of Harwan, some 20 km from Srinagar.
The kids — accused of various offences like rape, sodomy, murder, theft and drug-peddling — usually peep out from windows fitted with long iron grills.
If by chance, picnickers outside this famed spot happen to be schoolchildren playing on the pebbled banks of the brook that flows from the Dachhigam National Park, the plight of these juveniles can only be imagined, as also the sharp contrast. Questions are being raised over the efficacy of the facility manned by overworked and untrained officers who often resort to shortcuts to run it.
“They usually get irritated when they see children playing outside. They give vent to their anger and frustration by resorting to violence against each other,” an employee working at the facility told this correspondent.
“Some even try self-inflicting injuries,” said the employee, admitting that the complex has nothing “correctional” about it except in its name. The home has no recreation or sports facilities for the psycho-social care of these kids, as prescribed in the juvenile justice act of the state.
“We need facilities. These kids need counselling by trained professionals. We do not have that. We cannot reform them like this.”
The structure, which was established in 2011, seems to be falling apart due to leaking water pipes. “we fear it may crumble at any time”, the official said.
The facility doesn’t even have any transport facility. “Imagine some inmate taking ill during the night. We don’t know what to do but thank god that such a situation has not arisen so far.”
The state government passed the Juvenile Justice Act in 2013 after the 2008 agitation that saw hundreds of kids detained for taking part in violent protests. The act calls for corrective measures like establishing a Juvenile Justice Board, special police units, children protection units, observation homes, special homes and a panel to manage these facilities.
The measures, though, have not been implemented so far despite repeated court directions.
Farhana Latief, a Srinagar-based child activist and lawyer, said the facility at Harwan was “just another jail”.
She said instead of helping these kids to transform, the so-called home “frustrates and annoys them even more, making them angrier and more prone to crimes when they come out.”
She said such facilities “are not for punishments but for counselling and reformation. Unfortunately that is not happening here.”
Irshada Ayoub, who manages the facility with a long experience of serving in government-run orphanages and the Central Jail in Srinagar, said she had been “trying her best” to help these children to reform.
“It is not only the government which has a responsibility. The onus also lies on society,” Ayoub said.
Sarita Chauhan, secretary, Social Welfare Department, appeared to be aware of the lack of facilities, pledging to change things.
“The government is committed to providing every facility to the juvenile home. In the coming months you will see a lot of change happening there,” Chauhan said.
She said they were expecting more funds to develop the facility that has so far been home to some 680 juvenile offenders since 2011.