There are at least five things that should come out form this agitation. These are the things that most political parties here agree on.
1. A stop to the killings, arrest, torture, and forced disappearances that we have seen for 21 years.
2. A repeal of all draconian laws that have allowed the armed forces to act with impunity and with no accountability.
3. Demilitarisation of the entire erstwhile princely state of J&K. I am aware of the concerns of both India and Pakistan in this environment of hostility, fears that have prevented either of them from withdrawing substantially from areas in J&K. This mistrust can only be got over with by a phased withdrawal on both sides, starting with the withdrawal of Indian forces from all civilian areas in Kashmir and Doda.
4. Release of all political prisoners, and all those arrested under PSA.
5. Engaging in an unconditional dialogue with the separatist leadership in Kashmir, whose programmes the people of Kashmir have been diligently following without fail for three months, at tremendous cost to their livelihoods.
There are some steps that different stakeholders need to take.
New Delhi should announce a cease-fire. Hand over all crowd control and civilian areas to J&K police. Announce that a major change in the status of J&K can be negotiated, that all options may not be on the table, but most of them are. Start withdrawal of armed forces from populated areas in Kashmir immediately. A certain minimum deterrent to be kept to protect the Line of Control.
The state government should release all prisoners. Exercise restraint in dealing with crowds. Allow marches to take place, and not violently engage with protestors. Allow peaceful negotiations between separatists and New Delhi.
The separatists need to prepare a road-map for the future of Kashmir. Put it before the people, through the medium of local TV, internet, pamphlets, and conferences. Allow the people to study the road-map, comment and amend it, and then carry it forward in negotiations with New Delhi. The people of Kashmir should be told as to where this struggle is headed in actual terms. A final, complete definition of ‘Azadi’ is to be presented to the people.
The present situation is encouraging because it is the first time that such a sustained struggle has been waged by the people, without any break in unity of purpose. Kashmiris have displayed tremendous courage, fortitude, and perseverance in the face of tremendous odds, and at great cost to themselves. It is heartening to see how Kashmiri youth have not been attracted to violence, and are firmly laying their beliefs in non-violent methods, which are sure to meet with success in future. All sections of Kashmiri society have sacrificed something during this period, something they will never forget.
What is important now is the ability of the separatist leadership to push through a deal with New Delhi, one that will enable Kashmiris to live without the fear of the Indian soldier’s gun, and the Indian government’s constant interference. The deal should foster an atmosphere of peace, tolerance, and societal growth, that will capitalise on the gains that Kashmiri society has made in the last few months.
(The writer is a surgeon working with the Health Services.)