AMIR YOUSUF Wani, a jobless 20-year-old, is hoping to get a passport, maybe even a job abroad. Shabir Ahmad Ganai, a bus conductor, says he can finally focus on work and family. Danish Qayoom, a shop-owner, is relieved he can lead “a normal life like others”. And a college student from Pulwama is happy that his family will never come to know about the case against him.
On November 29, J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti ordered the withdrawal of first-time cases of stone-pelting against 4,327 youths to create “a positive and conciliatory atmosphere in the state”, which was rocked by unrest after the killing of militant Burhan Wani last year.
It’s barely been a fortnight, but the results are already showing.
“I agree, my son committed a mistake but he was just 17 then. He suffered a lot because of the case. I hope this amnesty will help him lead a normal life again,” says Amir’s mother Mehnaz Akhtar, speaking to The Indian Express at their home in Baramulla town’s Rangwar locality.
Aamir was in Class 9 at the Police Public School in Srinagar, when he was arrested and charged for pelting stones at security forces during a protest in Baramulla three years ago. He was expelled from school, and has been looking for a job ever since.
Aamir admits that he pelted stones “in fury… several times” after he was once “beaten by a policeman while watching a protest from the sidelines”. Today, he describes the amnesty, for which his name has been recommended, as “Godsend”.
“I was released from jail after 16 days but had to pay a heavy price. I was rusticated, couldn’t appear for the exams and lost a year of schooling. After completing Class 10, I applied for a passport so that I could look for a job abroad. But I could not clear the police verification because of the case,” says Aamir, whose father died when he was three years old.
J&K DGP S P Vaid, who headed a committee that recommended the withdrawal of cases, confirms that “the number of people who will benefit is around 4,300”. The initiative came days after the Centre’s J&K special representative, Dineshwar Sharma, visited the state for the second time in November and met a delegation of youths charged in stone-pelting cases.
Senior police officers in J&K say they have begun the process of identifying those who will be let off. “Every police station has been asked to send a list of stone-pelters who have only one case registered against them. These lists are being compiled at the district level for further action. We have been asked to look at all cases from 2010,” says a police officer.
According to a government prosecutor, who did not wish to be identified, the final call on these cases will be taken by the court. “The amnesty falls within the purview of the court. The government will recommend the cases to the court and in some instances, it has already been done. The court will look at individual cases,” says the official.
On the ground, this has meant renewed hope for hundreds. Last Sunday, police organised a one-day interaction — Ek Naya Aagaz or a new beginning — in Baramulla for 350 youths whose names have been recommended under the scheme.
At Khawaja Bagh in Baramulla, 23-year-old bus conductor Shabir Ahmad Ganai was charged for pelting stones during protests in 2010 over the abduction and fake encounter of three civilians at Machil and the death of Class 10 student Tufail Mattoo who was hit on the head by a teargas shell.
“That was the first and last time I was part of a stone-throwing protest. All these years, my focus was on the case, and I had to present myself in court every month. Now I have been told that the case will be withdrawn. If that happens, I can focus again on my work and family,” says Shabir, the son of a government employee.
In Srinagar’s Bhagwanpora, Danish Qayoom, who runs a furnishing shop, describes the stone-pelting case against him as “a sword hanging over the neck”. Police registered a case against Qayoom in 2016 for stone-pelting during the protests that followed the killing of Wani.
“I have suffered a lot because of this case. I had to shut my shop every time I had to attend court hearings. If it is withdrawn, I will be able to live a normal life like others, it would be the biggest relief,” he says.
For a 22-year-old college student in Pulwama, the relief has come at many levels – at not having to go to jail, and the possibility that his parents may never come to know about the case.
“I was charged in 2010, I was only 16 then. Those days, everyone was out on the streets throwing stones. After some months, I came to know that a case has been registered against me. My family knows that I was part of many protests, but they don’t know about the FIR. If the case is withdrawn, it will help me keep it a secret,” says the student, who has a younger sister and brother.
But what he has to add is a pointer to the challenges that lie ahead — for both sides.
“Nobody wants to pelt stones but sometimes the circumstances are so created (by security forces) that we are forced to pelt stones at them. I can’t be sure that I won’t pelt stones in the future. Sometimes, it happens at the spur of the moment,” he says.
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