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Signs of hope in Kashmir

india Updated: Sep 27, 2010 23:30 IST
Toufiq Rashid
Toufiq Rashid
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The police in Srinagar on Sunday released an 18-year-old youth who had posted a list of officers with details about their jobs and home addresses on a social networking site.

He was let off because it transpired that the list was simply forwarded to him from an unidentified user. No case was registered against the youth.

Police officers who did not want to be named said this act chimed with the spirit of the central directive of going easy on the “youth” and releasing stone-throwers.

Welcome to New Delhi’s eight-point package to defuse tension in trouble-torn Kashmir, which has been enveloped in curfew since violence started with a vengeance on June 11. The unrest has so far consumed 109 lives, mostly teenagers and young men.

This step may or may not work, but has generated both hope and cynicism. It is believed that if the decisions are implemented, the government can regain the political space it has lost in recent months.

Long-term progress, however, is important. “This has to be followed by a larger political initiative, but whether it brings relief to the people remains to be seen,” said Nayeem Akhtar, spokesman of the opposition People’s Democratic Party.

The fact that the Centre has put the onus of bringing peace on the state is seen as a positive development.

The state has been asked to work out a phased withdrawal of the Disturbed Areas Act (another restrictive law), release some political prisoners, and open schools. The Centre, on its part, will appoint interlocutors to speak to the people and separatists.

“The Centre has asked the state to act. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah needs to gear up and address the issues,” said Gul Wani, who teaches political science at the University of Kashmir.

Students are optimistic.

“The step has given people an ideological advantage,” said Arif Bashir (27), a student of journalism who is making films.

“For the first time, the people of Kashmir are being taken seriously. It has given the notion that India does care after all,” he added.

releasing stone-throwers

Though not many of those arrested have been released, a directive from New Delhi to review all the cases has brought hope. Officials say 40 have been booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA), though unofficially it’s many more.

Jibran, a B.Com student in Srinagar, expects his brother Burhan Bashir (20), a first-year college student, will be released. “He has been shifted to a jail in Rajouri,” Jibran said.

Bibi Jaan (80) met the delegation of parliamentarians in Srinagar to plead for the release of her grandson, a carpenter arrested on his way home after a stone-throwing incident.

“Maybe they will release him now,” Bibi Jaan told HT.

The police say a decision will be taken soon. “We are having a meeting of the unified command (police and paramilitary) and will take a decision there,” said Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda.

The announcement relating to interlocutors and their continuous engagement bodes well. “This can help create a situation for the dialogue process but we hope interlocutors are people with a political background,” said Wani.

However, the announcement of compensation without any mention of “justice” or “punishment” has been a dampener. The family of Tufail Mattoo (17), the schoolboy who was the first victim in the current unrest, has rejected the compensation offer.

Hardline factor

Separatists are holding out, however.

Hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who has emerged as the leading face of the present cycle of street violence, has rejected the offer outright and announced a 10-day protest.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the moderate voice in Kashmir, has given no positive signal, either. The past failures in talks have added to this air of distrust.

The Mirwaiz group is saying the announcements are “disappointing”.

“It again shows India’s reluctance to address the political aspirations of the people of J&K … they have been agitating for the past six decades and making all kinds of sacrifices,” its press release said.

Posts on social networking sites and some youth on the roads do warn against a “possible sell-out”. Mohammad Zaid (26), a stone thrower who has four cases pending against him, says there will be no let-up till “azadi” is achieved.

“It will be a shame if we sell the blood of our brothers for money.”

But for some, normalcy needs to be given a chance.

“India could have done much more. But let us be positive and I hope sanity prevails on all sides,” said Shugufta Khan, whose nephew was killed during a protest last month.