The Supreme Court, in its first-ever intervention towards bringing peace to the violence-wracked Kashmir Valley, said on Friday that Kashmiri students should stop throwing stones at security forces and "return to colleges and schools" as a preliminary to talks.
A bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justices D Y Chandrachud and Sanjay Kisan Kaul offered to set the stage for talks between the various stakeholders and influential public voices in Kashmir and the Centre.
But it noted that as a "first step forward", petitioner Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association should persuade these stakeholders to file undertakings in the court that they will abstain from violence.
"Education is empowerment, and only education will deliver them from widespread unemployment and anger spilling out on the streets," Justice S K Kaul told the JKHCBA.
Suggestions to initiate talks came after the Bench perused the JKHCBA affidavit, which included photographs of injured children, funeral processions and alleged excesses committed by the Army in the Valley.
"Both sides need to take two steps back and address core issues. You cannot clap without both hands," Justice Kaul observed.
"If you keep throwing stones and close schools, how will talks work out? You first talk. But if you are suggesting secession, nothing will happen. Talks should be within the framework of the Constitution," Chief Justice Khehar added.
Khehar asked the association to respond to issues raised by the Centre, which defended the use of pellet guns to quell stone-pelting mobs in the Valley, and said that the lawyers' body cannot take sides.
Authorities have been under attack from activists over the use of pellet guns that wreaked havoc during protests in Kashmir last year, blinding and injuring hundreds. The court had already asked the Centre to consider other "effective" means to control riotous mobs as it "concerns life and death".
The apex court sought the association's response after the Centre explained the circumstances under which security forces use measures like pellet guns.
Once undertakings to abstain from violence are filed - tentatively on 9 May - the court will ask the government to pull back security forces for at least 15 days as peace is negotiated.
The association countered that security forces entered schools and universities and beat up students. "If they beat up students, then students will be on the streets. Throwing stones is a reaction. The Centre has stopped talking to the people of Kashmir. People want uninterrupted, unconditional and sincere dialogue," the association's lawyer said.
Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared for the Centre, made it clear that the government would come to the negotiating table only if the recognised parties participate in the dialogue and not separatist elements.
Rohatgi said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti recently held a meeting to discuss the volatile situation in the Valley, and ways to ensure peace.
Rohatgi read out the part of the affidavit in which the association has raised questions about accession of Kashmir and giving a political colour to the matter by mentioning names of some separatist leaders who were under house arrest.
"The case of the bar here is different but he (lawyer for bar) talks about Geelani and separatists. What is this going on? Ten times he says release them," the A-G said.
The bench said that both the parties have to take a joint step, but the first step has to come from the lawyers' body that has approached the court.
The association was insisting that there should be a unilateral declaration of ceasefire, withdrawal of security forces, revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and an end to using pellet guns.