In a goodwill gesture before Eid-ul-Fitr, the Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to grant amnesty to the Kashmiri youth facing charges for their involvement in protests and stone-throwing over the years.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said in the Assembly that the home department has been told to prepare a list of the youth booked under various criminal charges. She said her government will study these cases and grant amnesty to those willing to shun the path of violence and lead normal lives. Mehbooba called these youth “misguided” and declared that many of them will be set free before Eid and the remaining cases considered on humanitarian grounds.
“Unlike previous government, it is not our hobby to jail people,” she told the Assembly. “But sometimes certain harsh steps are necessary to prevent law and order problems”.
The CM’s announcement of amnesty for the youth and packaging it as a gift for Eid, is significant. It shows a growing mutual confidence between PDP and BJP over former’s handling of the issues linked with security and separatism.
Even earlier Mehbooba had proposed general amnesty to militants if they submit to the Constitution and the rule of law, dangling it as “an option of home-coming for the local youth who have picked up guns”.
And more importantly, Mehbooba said this while chairing her first meeting of the Unified Headquarters, Jammu and Kashmir’s all powerful security body which comprises the Army, Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the J&K police, various state and Central intelligence agencies and senior government functionaries such as the chief secretary.
The surrender of top militant Tariq Pandit, a close associate of Hizbul Mujahideen’s Valley commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani, dealt a psychological blow to the outfit’s efforts to recruit more youth to its ranks. Pandit had been a regular in pictures posted on social media that showed Wani and his associates wielding weapons and wearing army fatigues.
From January 2015 to January 2016 alone, 799 persons were arrested in Valley on various charges and one person was held in Jammu. Srinagar topped with 337 arrests followed by Shopian with 122 arrests, Pulwama with 89 and Anantnag with 86. Lesser number of arrests were made from the other districts like Baramulla, Kulgam, Shopian etc.
Similarly, the government arrested 133 persons under PSA and other Acts in 2015. Eighty of them have been released or deported and 53 are still in custody. Only three of them are in custody outside state jails.
Jammu and Kashmir runs a network of 14 jails across the state with a capacity to hold 5,600 persons. Last year, the state government spent Rs 18.34 crore on the prisoners.
“Not many youth are in jail. But there are cases in courts against a large number of youth. And we are withdrawing them if the cases are not of serious nature,” Education Minister and the state government spokesman Naeem Akhtar told Catch.
Mehbooba is not alone in granting amnesty. In 2011, then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah granted general amnesty to around 1200 youth involved in stone throwing. The government said it would withdraw cases against all the youth arrested on charges of pelting stones during the 2011 unrest except those charged with arson and other heinous crimes. During the extended 2010 unrest, according to a J&K police statement, around 5000 persons had been arrested, with 258 of them being slapped with PSA.
However, not everybody is ready to take Mehbooba on her word. “Our experience is not good. Most of these youth have more than one FIR filed against them. Their cases are pending in the court. Though police has produced challans, it doesn’t often come up with evidence. So most of these cases would anyway have been thrown out by the courts,” Secretary Kashmir Bar Association advocate Bashir Siddique told Catch. He said two jailed youth from Maisuma with aliases Ashiquee and Mandela have more than 15 FIRs filed against each of them. “Will government withdraw cases against them? I doubt”.