There is a concerted effort by New Delhi and the Jammu and Kashmir government to initiate a positive narrative in the Valley marked by restraint and engagement, following the intense violence that has gripped the Valley since July 2016.
On Wednesday, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said that her government would withdraw cases against young Kashmiris involved in stone pelting for the first time, reported the Press Trust of India.
As a result of this decision, more than 4500 cases against young Kashmiris involved in stone-pelting will be withdrawn.
Since the unrest broke out last July, over 11,500 cases were registered against stone pelters. This was a decision taken following the recommendations of the Central government’s newly-appointed interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma.
“This is just the start of the dialogue in the valley. I made recommendations after interacting with people on my first visit, and they were considered by the government,” Sharma told The Print. “I am paying attention to what people demand, and accordingly I shall make further recommendations.”
Mufti asserted such measures are an indicator of the Indian government’s real commitment to creating a conducive environment for sustained dialogue.
“My government had initiated the process in May last year, but it was stalled due to the unrest,” she said on Twitter. “It is a ray of hope for these young boys and their families. This initiative will provide them with an opportunity to rebuild their lives,” she said in a subsequent tweet.
This decision could prevent many of first-time stone pelters from turning into hardened agitators, or even militants. Every militant was once a stone-pelter is a common refrain.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, a Kashmiri man who was once involved in pelting stones at Indian security forces, spoke of how many youngsters make the transition to militancy.
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“Many stone-pelters from my time are or have been in jail for long periods. They are subjected to bad treatment in jail and harassment outside by the Jammu & Kashmir Police. They end up running around police stations and courts for years. They can’t move on with life and reform themselves the way I did. This is how stone-pelters turn into militants,” he said.
One hopes that these young Kashmiris get a real shot at rebuilding their lives. The decision to withdraw cases against first-time stone pelters follows a series of news reports about militants giving up the gun and returning to the mainstream.
Even the Central Reserve Police Force has recently opened a helpline for local militants who wish to surrender.
Rooting out violent militants was never really a problem for Indian security forces. In fact, this year, reports indicate that 202 terrorists have been killed this year alone—the highest in years. The problem is always a lack of positive engagement with local Kashmiris.
After more than a year of brutal violence, both the State government and Centre have seemingly decided to change their tone. One hopes that they are able to sustain this positive engagement.