It should have been a happy family reunion. However, the story of this 17-year-old Anantnag boy is anything but.
Given up by his underage parents as soon as he was born, growing up scarred by violence and mental health issues, married off at the age of 13, arrested two years ago for the alleged murder of his wife, herself a child, this teenage inmate at a Srinagar observation centre was sent to live with his father.
Three weeks later, officials involved in his rehabilitation told The Indian Express, the boy spends most of his time trying to find work, and praying. His homecoming, mandated by a court order, has everyone on edge.
His parents, who separated soon after his birth, are fearful. More so, because his alleged hostility towards fellow inmates at the observation home prompted the court to track them down.
The hope now, say officials, is that the juvenile’s life may finally turn the corner. But given the past, no one’s guessing what will happen next.
“The story begins in South Kashmir in 2003,” says Madasir Nazar, a J&K Police Sub-Inspector who traced the parents. That was the year the boy was born to an underage mother who abandoned him citing her poverty and impending divorce. But the boy’s father, then 18 and a daily wage labourer, convinced the maternal grandparents to raise the child.
The boy attended a local government school till the fifth grade before his grandparents got him to start manual labour and agree to marriage “to instil a sense of responsibility”. “They arranged for him to be married at 13 to a girl who was barely 12,” says Nazar.
The “forced arrangement” lasted just about a year. On June 4, 2018, according to police, “he first tried to strangulate the girl with his hands and then hacked her”. The boy was arrested the same day, and his grandparents were jailed as co-accused.
The teenager spent the next two years at a Juvenile home in Srinagar until the Juvenile Justice Board granted him bail in June last year on the condition that his father would submit an undertaking taking responsibility for his ward.
According to Principal Magistrate Fayaz Ahmad Qureshi, Juvenile Justice Board, Anantnag: “The version of the father is that he has no responsibility to look after or take care of him. Both the father and maternal uncle declined to furnish bail or accept the responsibility of the juvenile.”
The board then decided that the bail conditions be modified in accordance with the Juvenile Justice Act 2015, and the boy was handed over to a Child Care Institute in Srinagar.
“But he had frequent outbursts of violence. Despite being a child in conflict with the law, he was also a child in need of care. We tried everything to convince the parents, social, moral, religious and even legal, but they had apprehensions,” says Qureshi, adding that the boy was shifted to the observation centre in September 2019.
“His behaviour was still erratic and a cause of concern. He even injured some fellow inmates at the home. The judiciary intervened,” says Qureshi.
It was then that Nazar was tasked with the search. After enquiries, he found the parents in a forest near their village where “they had gone to collect firewood while taking livestock for grazing”.
“I brought his mother and father together, appealed to their humanity and reminded them of their responsibility. For hours, I tried to convince them that they should at least afford him a chance at reform,” says Nazar.
Finally, the police officer was able to bring the father, who has remarried, to the court on June 30. There, with a signature, he accepted his son, who had turned 17 just 54 days ago, back in his life.
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