For close to 15 years now, successive state governments in Kashmir have been demanding the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir. The Centre never acceded to their repeated pleas. Today, New Delhi has blood on its hands. Youth and children armed with stones are clashing with soldiers and getting killed, maimed and blinded. The Centre does not know where to look. Hark the words of Omar Abdullah, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and one of the sanest, most anchored individuals amidst the tragic tempest of Kashmir 2016. Over the past few years, Abdullah has been repeatedly saying that New Delhi looks at what is ailing Kashmir only when it is burning. I do not hold Abdullah responsible for the youth rage that filled the streets of Kashmir in 2008 or 2010. I do not hold Mufti Mohammad Sayeed or Mehbooba Mufti responsible for the outpouring of fury in Kashmir this year. The mandate of the political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir has been limited to governance alone. For better or worse, they did what they could. The onus for the inaction on Kashmir lies with the Centre. It was a policy freeze that did not allow the Centre to think beyond North Block. The North Block houses the powerful home ministry that holds the reins in Kashmir. It is foolish to totally blame Pakistan for what happens in my country, my family. It is for me to take ownership of what happens in my family. It is for me to keep my flock together with love and care. Forget the wily, wicked neighbour. We need to talk to our own people, the Kashmiris. We did not do it. Across mainland India, my opinion will elicit hate rants. Whataboutery will aim to muzzle me. I can see the accusations flying fast and thick. What about Article 370? What about the forced Pandit exodus? What about the armed militancy that Kashmir chose against India? Why are you an apologist for terror? These hate rants will take us nowhere. And I am not an apologist for terror. Nature heals our wound bit by bit. The social, political and emotional wounds of Kashmir will be healed the same way. Bit by bit. I am an admirer and supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his vision for India. Perhaps, in the coming decades, what the prime minister said on Kashmir will be proved right. But in these times when Kashmir is bleeding and burning, I ponder over what Prime Minister Modi said at a rally in Srinagar in November 2015. Addressing the carefully arranged crowd, as the then chief minister Mufti Sayeed looked on, Modi said, “I don’t need advice or analysis from anyone in this world on Kashmir.” To his credit, the prime minister had also said that he wanted to work tirelessly for Kashmir’s development, and “bring back the days when Kashmir was everyone’s dream destination.” Amidst a thunderous applause, Modi announced a package of Rs 80,000 crore for the development of Jammu and Kashmir. And yet, in less than a year, Kashmir has gone up in flames. Why? Amidst all the media reportage on Kashmir since Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed, a single sentence has remained with me more than any other. Irfan Ahmed Malik, a 15-year-old lad of Pulwama, was killed during a mob agitation against security forces a few days ago. What his father, Manzoor Ahmed Malik, told the Hindustan Times has been ringing in my ears. “Why is India occupying our land? Why do men in uniform, who are not even from Kashmir, walk into our homes and demand proof of our identification? We want azadi from oppression.” It is this azadi, this simple freedom from the oppressive army presence that India did not grant Kashmir. Is it wrong for a people to demand freedom from the heavy militarisation of their land? Gradual removal of the army’s presence from Kashmir has not been demanded by the state government of Jammu and Kashmir alone. Over the past decade, India’s top strategic analysts advocated that the army writ over the cities, towns and villages of Kashmir must be done away with. They cautioned that the army should be moved to the borders, and stationed only in the most sensitive zones. In December 2013, Shekhar Gupta, then editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, wrote the most impassioned plea for removal of the army from Kashmir. “The deepest, most painful scars are emotional. The healing touch for them has to be emotional too. It can’t be a few more leaves out of your cheque book, nor any further tightening of the spiral of curfews and executions.” Gupta’s plea was backed with reason. At the peak of the Kashmir insurgency, India lost up to 500 soldiers a year. The graph declined so dramatically and progressively since 2003 that in 2012 only 17 men from the security forces lost their lives in and around the Kashmir Valley. Civilian casualties declined accordingly. With such relative peace and normalcy on the ground, there was scope for partial thinning of army presence in Kashmir, and at least some symbolic dilution of the AFSPA. We did not do it. The army refused to allow AFSPA to be revoked in Kashmir. For 10 ten years. Which country are we living in, Gupta mocked. The obvious reference was to Pakistan, where the army holds veto powers on critical government decisions. In December 2013, one of India’s top strategic affairs experts wrote that Kashmir was a crucial inflection point. It was crying out for a new set of peacetime and political ideas. Gupta warned that such a significant change on the ground had to reflect in our policy on Kashmir, and towards Kashmiris. “If the people of Kashmir have given us back peace and tranquility, they deserve a thank you note. Why then should Kashmir remain frozen now? Why should the Kashmiris be condemned to even less aspiration than their fellow Indians in Chhattisgarh?” Gupta questioned. Gupta’s column, “Disarming Kashmir,” led to a flurry in the North Block. On ground, no change happened. No one in New Delhi was interested in discussing a policy change on Kashmir. The buck was passed through cold chains of bureaucracy, and through politicians who lacked the vision to think new. No one wanted to take ownership of any fresh initiative on Kashmir. Everybody loved the status quo. Nobody wanted to be fried if anything went wrong with a new policy on Kashmir. Now, Kashmir is frying us. It is frying our conscience. Boys who nursed dreams and ambitions for a good life now set out with stones every morning to confront armed soldiers. On July 22, Shiv Sainiks clashed with Muslims in Phagwara, Punjab. The Shiv Sainiks were protesting the suspension of the Amarnath yatra. Never mind that in the mainstream media and also social media platforms, Hindu pilgrims have been thanking Kashmiri Muslims for helping them during the Amarnath yatra, and saving them during mishaps. Jammu and Kashmir Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh, a BJP leader, admitted that there were no attacks on minorities or pilgrims during the Amarnath yatra. Kashmiris are warm, gracious people who did not hate India. But we always saw them only through the prism of the partition. We held them responsible for the forced exile of Kashmiri Pandits from their homeland. The ordinary Kashmiri was not responsible for the militant violence that swept across his land. The silent majority was a scared spectator to this violence. The Kashmiri boys and youth who are fighting the Indian army are not the ones whose hands are bloodied. We are the ones who are blinding, maiming and killing these children with “non-lethal pellet guns.” Despite peace returning to the Valley for years, we have failed to embrace the Kashmiris and win back their trust. We are now paying the price for this monumental lapse in blood. The children dying on the streets of Kashmir are our children, whom we condemned to live under the shadow of the soldier’s gun. As a political analyst has correctly noted, using force over decades has only led to less and less legitimacy of Indian claims on Kashmir. (A version of this op-ed appeared online on Daily O, India on July 26, 2016) The writer is co-organiser of Kashmir Literary Fest, Pahalgam Media Summit, Jammu Literary Fest; is political columnist for Rising Kashmir, a leading Kashmir daily.