Editorial

The children of Kashmir's decades-long conflict

Fighting between Indian forces and separatist rebels has left thousands of children bereaved and traumatised.

Ten-year-old Insha looks out of the window of her house in the village of Dialgam in Anantnag district, about 55km south of Srinagar city. Insha's father was killed in a grenade attack in Anantnag town in 2015. "No one can fill the void left by my father, even though we were poor, he used to take care of all of us," Insha says. [Sameer Mushtaq/Al Jazeera] Indian-administered Kashmir - Suhaib, a five-year-old boy, is unaware of the tragedy that befell him two years ago.

His father Aijaz Ahmad Thoker was killed by Indian forces in 2016 while returning home during protests following a prayer service for the slain rebel commander, Burhan Muzaffar Wani.

Thoker's was the first killing in Kashmir following Wani's death.

"My son has no idea about the death of his father. He's too innocent to understand what death means," said Asifa, Suhaib's mother.

"Whenever he asks about his father, I dodge (the issue) by saying he has gone to perform Hajj (the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca)."

According to Save the Children, the conflict is responsible for 37 percent of Indian-administered Kashmir's 200,000 orphans. As a result of the fighting, orphanages are appearing across the valley.

Kashmir is a Himalayan territory divided between Indian and Pakistani control, with both countries claiming the territory in full. The two states have fought three wars, of which two were exclusively over Kashmir.

An armed rebellion against Indian rule began in 1989 and has claimed thousands of lives.

Another 8,000 Kashmiris have been subjected to enforced disappearances and their fate cannot be confirmed.

Fierce gunfights between rebels and Indian forces are almost a daily occurrence and children often bear the brunt.

"Inside orphanages children are continuously at risk of vicarious traumatisation," said psychiatrist Dr Arshid Hussain.

"They see world through the prism of orphanages ... these children should be raised with their extended families and be enrolled in normal schools."

Umer Farooq, 22, offers prayers at the grave of his father in Bijbehara town, about 44km south of Srinagar city. Farooq's father, a rebel, was killed in 1996 in a gunfight with the Indian army. "My mother has toiled day and night to meet our living and study expenses," Farooq said. [Sameer Mushtaq/Al Jazeera] A child shows off bullet casings he has collected at the site of a gunfight. Children sell the used bullets to copper smelters. [Sameer Mushtaq/Al Jazeera] Suhaib and Iffaq sit inside the living room of their house, warming their hands around a fire pot. Their father was killed last summer during protests following the killing of popular rebel commander Burhan Wani. [Sameer Mushtaq/Al Jazeera] Nine-year-old Zohra poses for a photo on her birthday inside her home in Srinagar. Her father, a police officer, was shot dead by gunmen while on duty in Anantnag town. [Sameer Mushtaq/Al Jazeera] Children chant anti-India slogans during the funeral of a rebel in southern Kashmir. [Sameer Mushtaq/Al Jazeera] Sugra Sarjan and Aazaan Sarjan inside their house in Shopian district. Their father Sarjan Barkati was imprisoned in 2016 after videos of his anti-India speeches went viral on social media. His actions earned him the nickname Azadi Chacha (Freedom Uncle). [Sameer Mushtaq/Al Jazeera] Five-year-old Id Ahil covers his face to avoid being photographed at his house. His father, an Indian army trooper, was killed in a rebel ambush last year. [Sameer Mushtaq/Al Jazeera] Children watch the funeral procession of a slain rebel. [Sameer Mushtaq/Al Jazeera] Children walk past pro-independence graffiti in Anantnag during a shutdown. [Sameer Mushtaq/Al Jazeera] Shazia's father is among 8,000 Kashmiris who have been forcibly disappeared. "Life is incomplete without my father. At times, I miss him very much," the 16-year-old said. [Sameer Mushtaq/Al Jazeera] Children attend funeral prayers for a rebel fighter in Aripal Tral in Pulwam district. [Sameer Mushtaq/Al Jazeera]