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Faiz Ahmad did not hug his father that day.
Psychiatrists say children exposed to chronic violence are more likely to be violent. To an extent, the militancy in Kashmir is fed by its young victims, who see the gun as the ultimate solution.
Photo: Ami Vitale/Getty Images
Abba had come home for lunch and the seven-year-old ate with him. But Abba was in a hurry to get back to his tailor's job in the village, so he ate quickly and got up before Faiz could finish his meal.
As Faiz was to leave for his uncle's house later, Abba spoke his usual words of caution.
Be careful. Reach there before dark.
For some reason, Abba added: Study well. You have to become a doctor.
And: If I remain alive, Inshallah, I will ensure you don't lack money for school.
Faiz wasn't too sure how one became a doctor. But he knew it was something big. The people of his village in Kupwara district always treated the doctorsaab with reverence.
He soon forgot about it, though. He was excited about the trip that evening.
The uncle lived six kilometres away, a short journey by a cramped mini-bus. It was a cold day in February and Faiz, with his pheran (overcoat) covering the khangri (a small fire-pot) he clutched close to his stomach for warmth, set out a little before 5 pm.
By 5.30 pm, he was with his cousins. They played, drank hot tea, played some more, ate dinner, slept.
Next morning, Faiz's mother arrived to take him home. Abba was dead.
In the next few days, Faiz came to understand his father did not die. He was killed.
Six armed men had come for Abba that night. They had visited before. The family knew them. They were militants.
They asked Abba to accompany them. He went, reluctantly.
"They took him to a farmland five-six kilometres away," said Faiz, "and they shot six bullets into him.
"That week my mother, three brothers and I made a pact. We knew the killers. We would kill them."
In conservative Kashmir, where breadwinning is mostly left to the male, Faiz is defined an orphan1, one of the 17,000 or so2 there.
He also belongs to a subgroup in that burgeoning population: children prone to violence, who see gun as the absolute solution, the ultimate source of power.
Opinion is undivided on the fact that gun culture is part of Kashmir's new generation. They grew up in the shadow of Kalashnikovs, and it is a rare child who cannot differentiate between an AK-47 and SLR.
Militants are the role models for many youngsters in Kashmir. Here, children at play on Eid day.
Photo: Ami Vitale/Gettty Images
For many of them government security forces are the villains and the militants, heroes. Cops and Robbers is not their popular game, Soldiers and Militants is.
A fallout is it is not just orphans like Faiz who believe in the justice of violence. There are many among Kashmir's 3.8 million children who swear by it.
Statistics on this are difficult to come by. The situation in the last 13 years has not been conducive for scientific studies -- even the census wasn't conducted till 2001 -- and, bar a few academic exercises, there have been no efforts in this direction.
Still, the dozen or so experts rediff.com spoke to -- sociologists, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists and observers -- say the trend could have engulfed an alarming number of children: even a miniscule percentage of its child population translates to thousands.
Not surprising in a land where most youngsters have lost a father or uncle or brother or cousin to militancy.
Page 10: 'Hindustan is very bad'
Editor's note: Faiz Ahmad is not the child's real name.
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This article is part of Chindu Sreedharan's study on the Impact of Militancy on the Children of Kashmir, as a National Foundation for India Fellow for 2000-2001.
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