India’s decision to release thousands of youths who were arrested on suspicion of throwing stones at security forces during demonstrations in Indian Kashmir could help suspects find employment and lead to peace in the disputed Himalayan region, analysts said Thursday.
Authorities in insurgency-ravaged Jammu and Kashmir state last week began withdrawing charges against 4,500 first-time offenders who were accused of pelting security forces with stones during anti-India protests since 2010, a police official said.
“I hope those who have been acquitted focus on re-building their careers in fields of their ability and choice, instead of indulging in violence and anti-national activities,” north Kashmir’s Deputy Inspector General V.K. Birdi told BenarNews.
He said more than 650 Kashmiri youths had been released so far under the government’s amnesty program.
“The idea behind dropping charges against these misguided youths is to gain the cooperation and confidence of Kashmiri people, which is essential for bringing peace to the region,” he said.
Indian Kashmir’s Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, announced the amnesty program last month, just days before Dineshwar Sharma, New Delhi’s special peace representative in Kashmir, visited the violence-torn region to initiate a dialogue aimed at ending a separatist insurgency that has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the late 1980s.
“Withdrawal of charges against these youths will allow them a chance to rebuild their lives, instead of languishing behind bars. It indicates that the government is keen to bring back misguided Kashmiris to the mainstream,” Ajai Sahni of the New Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management told BenarNews.
“But the government should closely monitor the situation on the ground whether or not to drop charges against habitual stone-pelters,” he said.
Noor Baba, a Srinagar-based political analyst, said the amnesty program would prove beneficial to the government, which is desperate to gain the confidence of Kashmiris.
“The government should consider amnesty to all such youths, both first-time and habitual offenders if there is a considerable improvement in the law-and-order situation. At the same time, it should ensure that jobs are created for such youths to keep them engaged and away from violence,” Baba told BenarNews.
Rock throwing or stone pelting at Indian security forces and police is frequent in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a criminal offense that often leads to suspects being charged with various offenses, ranging from assault to attempted murder, depending on circumstances.
Kashmiri separatists have openly refused to engage in a dialogue with the government until New Delhi accepts the Muslim-majority region as a disputed territory. Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan and is divided between the two sides by a de facto border called the Line of Control (LoC).
Irshad Ahmad, 23, who was accused of committing violence against security forces during protests last year in Ganderbal district, said he was thankful to the government for allowing him “another chance at life.”
Ahmad was among 176 people accused of stone-pelting who were acquitted over the weekend.
He said he applied for a job as a bank guard just one day after he was freed.
“I want to lead a simple, honest life. I don’t want to get involved in violence again. I was instigated and misguided into believing that Indian forces are trying to harm the Kashmiris and that we should fight them,” Ahmad, a school dropout, told BenarNews.
“I hope I will get the job, as my character certificate that has been issued to me by the police confirms that I have never been involved in any criminal offense,” he said.
Nazir Ahmad, 21, another Ganderbal resident who was acquitted, said the government’s move had paved the way for misguided youngsters like himself to rebuild their lives.
“Character verification from the police is mandatory for any government job and even if you want to take advantage of the government’s welfare scheme. My acquittal means I can start my life afresh,” said Nazir, who was arrested for stone-pelting in July 2016.
“For more than a year I was begging the court to show me some leniency, as that was the first time I was involved in stone-pelting. I am relieved I have finally been spared,” he told BenarNews.