A five-member group of citizens visited Kashmir between 25 and 27 October, under the leadership of senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha. On Tuesday, this group submitted its report to the Union Home Ministry, mentioning some causes for the ongoing unrest in the Valley, and giving suggestions for the state as well as the Central government.
The group had met several separatist leaders, including including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, members of local commerce and industry, Kashmiri Pandits, the Chief Minister and the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir.
Significantly, the report mentioned the willingness of separatist leaders Geelani and Mirwaiz to 'unconditional talks'.
"However it was not within the competence of this group of concerned citizens to suggest when or if such a dialogue process should be started," the report mentioned.
Reasons for the agitation
The report stressed on some of the reasons behind the ongoing agitation. One reason for the anger among the youth, it stated, was the 'excessive use of force by the security forces'.
"The violence which began with the funeral procession of slain militant Burhan Wani has so far resulted in the death of nearly a hundred people. The question that most Kashmiris are asking is: why were unarmed people going to offer last prayers for Burhan Wani fired at?" the report stated.
Suggestions for J&K govt to improve situation
- Start the process of reopening schools, and, as a precursor to this, release forthwith all first-time offender school children and minors arrested under the Public Safety Act.
- Consider postponing school examinations to a later date, instead of insisting on holding them from 15 November. Children who have been in jail have not probably had access to textbooks and other teaching material. They should be given sufficient time to prepare for exams.
- Repeat offenders amongst minors must be shifted out of adult jails and put up in temporarily designated juvenile detention centres, and given psychological counselling.
- Compensation must be announced for the next of kin of the civilians killed, and for those wounded in action by police or other security forces. This money may be transferred as direct benefit transfer to designated accounts, to prevent extortion and rent-seeking from the suffering families by the state bureaucracy.
- Rehabilitation packages must be announced to ensure the lifetime income needs of those permanently blinded by pellet guns.
Suggestions for Centre
- Ban pellet guns with immediate effect as a crowd control weapon. This will have a salutary impact on Kashmiris. This is not something that should be left to committees or to the security forces.
- Work with the media not to escalate the situation in Kashmir. Educate media owners about the sensitive nature of the Kashmir issue, and not add fuel to the fire in search of viewers and revenue.
- Dispel the perception that Kashmir and Kashmiris are mere tools to be used for electoral purposes.
- In its interactions with Kashmiris, the Centre might reiterate the approach enunciated by the Hon'ble PM that Kashmiris are Indians.
- The government must move quickly to give facilities of migrants to Pandits continuing to reside in the Kashmir division of J&K.
Hopeful of a positive outcome
Sushobha Barve from the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, who was a member of this team, was quite hopeful about the recent exercise.
"I have been working in Kashmir for several years now. People approached us as soon as the first spell of violence started - about what were our ideas, about what we were doing to calm the situation down. So we decided to meet as many stakeholders in the Valley as we could, and I'm happy to note that nobody refused to talk to us. People opened up to us and frankly discussed their issues."
Catch asked Barve about the group's meeting with Geelani, and how they persuaded him to talk. Geelani has always put a condition that India must agree that Kashmir is a political dispute.
"When we spoke to him, we said that his decision to put conditions to talk was harsh. He listened to us and the second time we met him, he was more agreeable to the idea," Barve said.
But what if the Central government doesn't agree to any of the recommendations made by the group? How positive was the group about cooperation by the Central and state governments?
Barve said the state government was already moving in the direction of suggestions made by the group.
"When we met Mehbooba Mufti, we suggested that she release political prisoners, and to be sure, Mirwaiz and Yasin Malik were released. They've been also allowed to meet each other. We also proposed that minors put behind bars should be released; the process of releasing them has begun. Mehbooba also announced the review of all those who have been arrested for the first time. So we are moving towards a progressively congenial environment," she added.
Calls for continuance of the shutdown
However, the road ahead will not be easy.
On Tuesday, as Geelani, Mirwaiz and Malik were holding a day-long meeting with civil society groups at Geelani's residence in Srinagar's Hyderpora, a large group of people outside were shouting pro-Azadi slogans and calling for the continuance of the shutdown, which is already 124 days old.
The slogans also held an implicit warning against any separatist leader who might seek to rethink the protest roster in force since the killing of Wani on 8 July.
"Bharat ka jo yaar hai, gaddar hai, gaddar hai (India's friend is a traitor)," the gathering shouted, in an apparent reference to Malik and Mirwaiz, who are thought to have started a process to review the 'resistance strategy' so far.
The leaders' recent release from police custody makes them even more prone to this public perception, more so with today's meeting taking place in its immediate wake.
This is why Malik felt the need to come out midway through the meeting and reassure the gathering outside that they weren't making any radical departures from the strategy.
At the end of the meeting, the Hurriyat issued a statement, which basically said nothing other than that all the 'stakeholders' had authorised the 'joint resistance leadership' to take decisions on their behalf.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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