THE schools reopened in Jammu and Kashmir after three months of closure in view of virtually daily occurrence of stone pelting by mobs of youth at police. The attendance was about one-fifths of the normal but anyway it is a good beginning.
That about 20 per cent students and parents were courageous enough to challenge the writ of the separatist hardliner, Mr Syed Geelani who had asked them not to attend schools is a sign that points to the willingness of more of them to join in the coming days. Perhaps their resolve is going to be even stronger with the Geelani supporters throwing stones at government-organised buses in which students were travelling from home to school. What is notable is that colleges have also reopened. The private schools did not reopen but they are expected to do so in the coming days after they have watched normal classes going on in government schools.
Of course, the eagerness of the students to attend school and the willingness of the parents to let them does not imply that everything is calm and peaceful and the issues the people of the state have been raising have gone into the background. For the time being, the concern of the secondary and higher secondary students is the school board examinations that are scheduled to be held in October and November. The students and parents obviously disagree with Mr Geelani who warned them in the following words on Sunday: “No right-thinking person can deny the importance of education in society, but to think that they (government) are concerned about the future of our children is like a mad man’s dream.” But they are also watching how their basic issues are resolved.
The central and state governments have to undertake several measures to restore the confidence of the youth of the state in particular and people in general in themselves. When Geelani supporters pelted stones at school buses at Habak, Bemina and Nowgam on Monday, the Union Home Minister, Mr P Chidambaram observed: “How can any right-thinking person pelt stones at school buses?” Mr Chidambaram’s revulsion might sound phoney with the youth and people of the state who have witnessed police firing on youth protestors killing one of them every day on an average since June 11 when a 17-year-old student died from teargas shelling. It is very necessary for the leading members of the central cabinet including Mr Chidambaram to prove that they have genuine concern for the youth of the state.
There is no running away from the fact that a permanent peace cannot come to Kashmir without a settlement of the basic issues. The central government has now announced an eight-point formula which might create a favourable climate for talks with the representatives of the various sections. The announcement of the formula is expected to persuade youth and people to suspend their stone-pelting protests till the talks go on. Hardliners have rejected the formula, saying it is ‘sheer delaying tactics,’ but the initiative that has been taken with the visit of an all-party delegation to the state followed up with the eight-point formula needs to be continued regardless of what the hardliners think about it. The moderate separatist groups have taken the formula with a positive approach and that could trigger a series of fruitful dialogues between various sections and the central government.
That the eight-point formula has the approval of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS) and most of the political parties itself imparts sufficient credence to the seriousness of the formula. The central government has announced that a Group of Interlocutors will hold “sustained dialogue” with political parties, other organisations, students and civil society groups of Jammu and Kashmir and also review deployment of security forces in the Valley, especially in Srinagar. The central government has also advised the J&K government to release the students and youth who have been arrested or detained for stone pelting and similar violations of law during the recent unrest, and withdraw all charges against them. The state government would also review cases of all Public Safety Act (PSA) detainees and withdraw detention orders in appropriate cases. Whether the review of the Disturbed Areas notification was a prelude to any phased withdrawal of the contentious Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from certain areas of the valley is not clear, but surely the atmosphere created by the new government initiatives will open it for review.