(Recalling youth from violence through confidence building measures is good but the question is why did the youth take to violence in the first place?)
The Chief Minister has announced amnesty for the first time stone pelters. The cases against these would be reviewed and withdrawn. The initiative is supposed to have been taken on the advice of the new Interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma who has recently started his second visit to Kashmir. He has probably realised that the greatest stakeholders are the alienated youth who at present constitute the bulk of the population. There have been many other suggestions from various quarters to turn round the alienated youth of Kashmir. The new generation of Kashmiris especially the ones born and brought up during the turmoil of nineties of the last century has mostly been volatile and irreconcilable. It is this generation which has seen the worst part of violence due to which it is fully restive and completely alienated. In fact, stone pelting started right from 2008 with the first agitation generated by the Amarnath land row. It reached a peak in 2010 when over a hundred boys were killed. Stone pelting was then likened to Palestinian Intifada!
The latest violent upheaval was the Burhan Tsunami of 2016. All these incidents which became a virtual tide were caused by total suppression of free expression guaranteed under the constitution. The government was not ready to tolerate any demonstration or procession regardless of the fact whether people demanded “Azadi” or even better power supply or even jobs. Curfew was continuously imposed without any relaxation, days on end. People were not even allowed to offer Friday prayers in local mosques not to talk of the Grand Mosque which remained locked up on umpteen Fridays! Somehow the authorities had a fear that every demonstration regardless of the issue at stake will turn into a March for “Azadi”! Well, even if such a thing would happen that would not take out Kashmir physically from India with a million strong fully entrenched army guarding it! Rather the peaceful marches if allowed would end up in a dialogue as happened in 1963 Holy Relic agitation. The agitation ended in a dialogue as a result of which Sheikh Abdullah was released.
No doubt the other side across the border is looking for any opportunity to rake up trouble on this side but that only happens when opportunities are provided to them as happened in 1965 after suppression of a student movement which had risen as a result of the holy relic agitation! In fact due to suppression of that movement including the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah on return from his foreign tour, not only a gulf was created between the people and the rulers but the two countries went to war which caused destruction all around. After the reinstallation of Sheikh Abdullah in 1975, there was a lull which again got disrupted in 1990 because of the underlying problem remaining unresolved! The main drawback has been always the attitude of authorities for managing the basic problem rather than solving it once and for all! Unless that is done, the Kashmir’s volcano will continue to simmer and erupt without warning off and on!
Why have the youth been so much alienated this timeagain and driven to extremes? Well, simply because they have been and are still being continuously harassed by various security agencies, paramilitary forces and even the special operations group of the local police. In fact, the intelligence agencies have indexed every Kashmiri especially the youth. Reportedly, boys are picked up, beaten and then released after few days, sometimes against consideration by their parents and relatives. It is alleged that the harassment of the youth has become a lucrative business for some security agencies including the police. The reason for Burhan Wani to pick up a gun was his continuous harassment by security forces. In fact, the beating given to him and his brother by the security forces was the last straw!
Amnesty is being given to first timers but does anybody care why there are second timers and the third timers? So the most important confidence building measure is to immediately stop harassment to the youth by all agencies and allow total freedom of expression. This can only be achieved when draconian powers given to security forces are withdrawn. As long as they enjoy the freedom to harass everyone without any accountability and as long as all their actions get a blanket cover of “National Security”, peace is not going to return to Kashmir!
An important confidence building measure requiring immediate actionthan giving Amnesty to first timers is to take care of political prisoners in various jails within J & K and outside. The Government should bring all Kashmiri political prisoners languishing in different jailsoutside Kashmirback to the valley. Allegedly, some of them are being beaten and ill-treated and some are not being provided medical treatment. These people seem to have been virtually forgotten and their families are going through worst kind of torture and hardship. Even if they are not released immediately merely bringing them back to Kashmir will give a big relief to them and their families. They are virtually being subjected to the “Kala Pani” treatment of the British days!Reportedly, there are about a thousand Kashmiris in various prisons at the moment. About 350 or so are in Jammu in various Jails like Kotbalwal, Reasi, Poonch, Rajouri and Udhampur. Around 50 or so are supposed to be in Tihar Jail, Delhi. Approximately, 300 are detained under Public Safety Act. Additionally reportedly over 200 boys are detained in various Police Stations of the valley. Giving relief to these people will also be an appreciable CBM for their families! Let us hope the Interlocutor keeps this in mind!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired) Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir