In November 2017, India’s central government revealed that it would be offering amnesty to all “first time offenders” who were booked for pelting stones. This could essentially mean that over 4,500 young men from the Jammu and Kashmir region would not be tried for any crimes.
India currently administers over 43% of Kashmir. There are multiple insurgent forces in the region that have been locked in conflict with the Indian Army for decades. A disputed election in 1987 became the stimulus that led to the rise of many of the modern insurgent groups. India has claimed that Pakistan aids in much of the insurgency but the latter has denied those charges. Reports have also emerged about the human rights abuses that allegedly take place in the Kashmir valley and neighboring regions, which are being carried out by the Indian Army. In the recent years, the violence has increased even further in Kashmir. This was largely triggered when influential militant Burhan Wani was killed in 2016.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is a central agency established by the Indian Government to combat terror in India. It acts as the Central Counter Terrorism Law Enforcement Agency.
During the protests the Kashmir valley remained under 53 days of consecutive curfew. In that period, Jammu and Kashmir Police and Indian paramilitary forces used pellet guns, tear gas shells, rubber bullets, as well as assault rifles, resulting in the deaths of more than 90 civilians. Several first time offenders were also booked for pelting the law enforcement with stones. Over 11,500 cases against stone pelters were registered in the unrest last year.
In November 2017, India’s central government noted that it would be offering amnesty to all “first time offenders” who were booked for pelting stones. This could essentially mean that over 4,500 young men from the Jammu and Kashmir region would not be tried for any crimes.
"These boys should be considered as ones who haven't committed any big crime and picked the wrong path under pressure, fear or greed. Whatever policy the Center formulates, will be implemented," Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh told NDTV.
"It was a mistake to indulge in stone pelting. I have been caught. Now I will never repeat this mistake even if others indulge in such kind of activity," said Irfan, a school dropout, who was arrested and is now in police custody.
The amnesty for first time stone-pelters has been described by many as a major goodwill gesture by the Indian government. The announcement has come during a particularly peaceful period for the valley amid reports that there has been a sharp decline in the cases of stone pelting.
However, not all critics are convinced that this move by the government would guarantee peace for long. "This announcement of amnesty is a drama," Shafaqat Hussain, a lawyer who has been fighting human rights cases in Kashmir for two decades, told Al Jazeera.
"I have handled thousands of such cases and in my experience, most of these young people have been booked in multiple cases in multiple police stations. Even minors are not spared, they have been booked in many cases," he said.
Our assessment is the amnesty offered will ensure the freedom of thousands of young men from the Kashmir valley and surrounding regions. However, critics have argued that the this is no more than a political stunt to garner goodwill from the region’s residents. Only time will tell if stone pelting will continue to decline in the Kashmir valley.