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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 52, New Delhi, December 11, 2021

Kashmir Youth - an Aspirational and Anxious Social category | Gull Mohammad Wani

Saturday 11 December 2021

by Prof Gull Mohammad Wani *

When the crescent is Born,
It grows Every Night,
and is Full Moon by Fourteenth
You were a crescent My Boy
You went down at Fourteenth
—Ayaz Rasool Nazki (Kashmiri Poet)

After August 5, 2019 abrogation of the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir state the managers of the Indian state seemingly show their concern to mitigate the sufferings of the youth who constitute the most anxious category of the population. One such step is ’Mission Youth’ which entails that young generation’s perceptions must factor in government policy at all levels viz, education, health, economy etc". The administration intends the establishment of youth clubs at the Panchayat level and the commencement of two state-of-the-art coaching centers in Jammu and Kashmir to impart coaching for civil services and other competitive examinations under ’PARVAAZ’ - a livelihood generation scheme. The state also intends to establish fifty model community entrepreneur units by 2021-22. Our informal day-to-day interaction with youth in Kashmir suggests that a comprehensive plan is required for the engagement and employment of the youth. The youth bulge in our region is projected to persist for at least another three decades which can be an asset or a danger for the states and societies depending on how effectively we involve them in the task of reconciliation, reconstruction, and rehabilitation. The youth in Kashmir are regretful about the past, distrustful about the present, and hopeless about the future. The constitutional coup on August 5, 2019, followed by Covid 19 induced disruptions have increased youth unrest and their uncertainty about the future.

According to the government of India (Department of Youth Services and Sports) youth is the age group between the ages of 13 to 35 years. Some institutions consider youth age as between 18 to 33 which corresponds to minimum voting age in India. The United Nations General Assembly defines youth falling in the ages of 15 to 24 years. Social scientists however state that the definition of youth is expected to change from institution to institution and even governments keeping in consideration multiple developments occurring in society. The youth-related concerns and policies must evolve in the context of changes facing this core component of our population.

Background

Addressing a youth convention on march 7, 2017 the then Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mehboba Mufti "sought the support of the youth for peace so as to create more employment for them". Earlier, in a press conference former chief minister Omer Abdullah attributed the electoral defeat of his ’government to killing of youth in 2010 and the hanging of Afzal Guru". He confessed that his ’government had a total disconnect with the youth and lamented that highly qualified youth were joining militancy and it is a matter of concern". About youth unrest and alienation three formulations emerge out of serious scholarly literature generated over a period of time. First, the Youth bulge is directly correlated to political volatility and countries with 40 percent adult population aged between 15 to 30 years are more than twice vulnerable to outbreaks of civil strife. In an exhaustive 2006 review of the evidence Indian security expert, Praveen Swami quoted social scientist Henrik Urdal having concluded that "relatively large youth cohorts are associated with a significantly increased risk of domestic armed conflict, terrorism and riots/violent demonstrations". Second, a large youth population can give a fillip to the economy and re-energize society but poorly performing economies with weak governance structures may lead to violence. Third, anecdotal evidence collected by the author suggests that social disconnect and loneliness can make the youth psychologically vulnerable to many pressures. This was amply substantiated by evidence collected during (2008-2016) when Kashmir witnessed many youth upheavals. All three formulations apply to Kashmir situation. Therefore, institutions and individuals with responsibility need to develop linkages with the youth employing multilevel engagement process. An informal interaction with young people in Kashmir reveals that they have been ignored by politicians at home, caged by heads of educational institutions, exploited and abandoned by Pak state and disempowered by Indian state. The securitization of environment in Kashmir has choked all those spaces having the power to liberate youth from the repressive arm of the state. Kashmir youth are partly suffering loneliness and are yearning for someone or something which is not there. But the majority are in solicitude and are in communion with self and society. It is at this point that viable institutional intervention is needed to forge connections with them and build an architecture of hope and dignity for youth and their identity. The much-touted ’Insaniyat’, ’Jamhuriat’ and ’kashmiryat’ is a fairly tale to them and youth are in conversation with happenings at Dalgate, Delhi and Davos. Therefore, there is a need for a new road map for their empowerment and engagement. After 2019 constitutional changes different sections of society are disillusioned with the state of affairs. There is a clear and visible political/ideological vacuum on the ground and breakdown of political middle ground (represented by mainstream politics) has made Kashmir more vulnerable to radical influences. The valley and parts of Jammu on daily basis see the killings of mostly homegrown militants and the cycle of militancy goes on. Almost on daily basis youth disappear from their families and join local militancy networks. More often than not parents reach out to state functionaries to help them in locating and rehabilitating their sons.

Youth after the abrogation of Article 370

Kashmiris are increasingly getting worried about the anger and hate the youth have for India as state and society. After the abrogation of Article 370 youth and their feelings have transitioned from alienation to complete hate for India. The killings of militants who are mostly local has not stopped their friends to join the network of militancy. The perception (largely the reality) that Indian state has settled down to choke Kashmiris and disempower them in every sense has attracted the young towards anger and violence. The support for militancy is growing in rural and urban parts of the valley. The Srinagar city too has seen many acts of militancy in recent times. The peace process in Jammu and Kashmir during (2002-2008) resulted in de-activating the security grid and making the political grid more visible. This resulted in many confidence-building measures at intra-state and inter-state levels leading to more people-to-people contact. Those gains are increasingly being counted as lost opportunities by people and political leaders across the party and ideological spectrum. The reversal of confidence-building measures has led to remilitarization of civilian space and also invisibility of civil society initiatives and activism. The Special Operations Group (SOG) and Village defense committees used earlier as counter-insurgency mechanisms are being revived even in parts of the Jammu region. The laws viz, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) are being used even against juveniles and the courts are merely acting as rubber stamps for the police. The "Concerned Citizens group on Kashmir" led by former Indian foreign minister Shri Yashwant Sinha revealed that there have been reports of Kashmiri students and traders being attacked in states outside J&K .There is also anger among Kashmiris that everything that happens in the valley is being looked from the Pakistan prism and lately to developments in Afghanistan. Further, there is regional and religious profiling of Kashmiris. In recent times young Kashmiri militants are buried far away from their homes. The relatives and young people in the area express their rage and grief when their boys are buried outside their area of residence. As I am writing this article the mainstream parties and separatists have slammed the latest move of denying passports and jobs to Kashmiri youngsters allegedly involved in stone-pelting. The leaders and civil society actors believe that such moves can only further alienate the young and prove counterproductive for peace and reconciliation. Former Chief Minister Omer Abdullah reacting strongly said " an adverse police report can’t be a substitute for being found guilty in a court of law. A year and half back, the J&K police were able to create adverse police reports to justify my detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA) that would never stand up to legal challenge". Pertinently, there is a need for rethinking post-2019 constitutional changes done unilaterally without taking on board stakeholders. There is a clear and visible Vacuum on the ground and Union Territory administration is completely disconnected from people. The rise of Hindutva and its outreach in Kashmir has generated fear and suspicion in the minds of young who recently due to changes in Afghanistan have got emboldened and psychologically look at Taliban as a counterweight to Hindutva politics.

Way Forward

First, the primary role of the state is to liberate the citizen from fear and allow him to enjoy basic rights viz, life, liberty and property. On September 11, 2011 at the National integration meeting in New Delhi many political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir stressed that traders and students from Kashmir should not be treated with suspicion. The Insurgencies are struggles for political space. Kashmiris have been at the receiving end of the anti-national label for too long and describing an entire population as being vulnerable to inspired influences raises questions not just about Kashmir but about secular idea of India. The meeting was aimed at removing distrust in Delhi-Srinagar relationship and also bringing to the attention of state functionaries the hard task of reconciliation with the Kashmir youth. The youth have a sense of discrimination and also suffer religious and regional profiling in other parts of India as students and small traders. The drastic fall in violence in Kashmir must embolden state actors to think creatively about liberation of the civilian space from excessive militarization. There are many studies which have found that almost 60 percent of killings in 2010 were avoidable. The response of the state has not changed with regard to stone, gun or legitimate democratic protest. The supreme court of India on April 10, 2013 in a case related to Manipur ruled that "unjustified killings were bound to occur if there is prolonged use of armed forces". AS per an IMF report ’youth inactivity rate in India is 30 percent while as it is 25-30 in other developing countries’. The latest economic survey points out that one requires fewer documents to buy a gun in India than to open a small hotel. There is urgency to move from a paradigm of domination to democratic renewal in Jammu and Kashmir.

Second, reputed economist Haseeb Drabu who earlier also served as finance minister in Jammu and Kashmir believes that "Kashmiri youth are to be made politically empowered, socially responsible, ethically aware and economically independent citizens". The Kashmiri youth face economic insecurity. A combination of jobless growth, sharp annual increases in the cost of living, a rapidly globalizing world and global economic trends that favor robots and algorithms over real people has created more economic insecurity and anxiety about the future in the youth population. We need an urgent conversation and national consensus on prioritizing the economic security and financial stability of Kashmiri youth who face the problem of "educated unemployment "where educated young are searching to find good jobs commensurate with their education. One way to do that would be to give them sense of hope, purpose and direction. We need to integrate their dynamism, creativity, and power and provide them space in the sun-rise arenas of the new economy viz, banking, information technology and infrastructure building etc. Equally essential is to rebuild the Kashmir society which has become harsh, punitive, withdrawn, fearful, and extremely distrustful. This cannot be done in isolation. In his novel "Blindness", the Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago describes the ’progressive blindness of an entire city and the consequent breakdown of social order. The youth bulge in almost entire south Asia should awaken us to develop progressive partnerships so that the danger of a foggy and black cloudy sky over the sub-continent is removed. The old adage that’ war happens only when the language fails’ is part of the statecraft. In India alone in the next decade over 100 million youth will move into the workforce when already economic recession and first and second wave of Covid-19 has created a pandemic of joblessness. Azim Premji university’s 2018 "state of working India" report found that the rate of unemployment among the educated had reached 16 percent in India. What should we do? Philosophers and armchair academics are busy in interpreting the world and the question is how to change it. The below-cited case study can be an eye opener for a policy planner aiming at a good public policy.

A case Study of Proposed ’Panzath Tourism Village’

In the month of June 2021 the author of this article had an extensive discussion with a group of young people in his ancestral village - "Panzath" - a historic site at a distance of one kilometer on the right side of Qazigund town in district Anantnag of south Kashmir. This part of the valley remained hotbed of youth protests and homegrown militancy. Some of these young were school drop-outs and at least couple of them enrolled in colleges for higher studies. I found no smile on their faces but deeply conscious of what is possible and how to move forward. They have some beautiful ideas about how locally new jobs can be created in the village if only the government makes initial intervention. The village has rich natural resources and uniqueness. It has good integration aspects as well. The village has a quieter and cooler environment good for those who want to spend time in a rural condition. The village has a famous freshwater spring which is an aggregate of around 500 small springs. The Department of Fisheries has already established many latest trout farms and more can be developed involving local youth. The youth want handholding in developing private fisheries farms to generate their own livelihood. The sky is the limit to develop this village as a "Tourism village" to give fillip to local jobs. The village can be ’Fishing village’ also to attract local and other tourists. The youth have commenced the long-forgotten celebration of an annual festival only to further widen the attraction of the site. The youth convinced me that nothing is going to happen of its own unless they take the first step. Some youth have established sheep farms and successfully earning their livelihood. The area is green and there is no dearth of fodder and water. All this is adding to the tourism potential of the village. An idyllic rural setting offers people (like me) living in urban areas an escape from daily grind and allows people to reach out and get in touch with their roots. The issue involved is that governments need to make interventions in such areas so that we bring joy and purpose in the life of the young. Some of the educated youth whom I found fairly conscious about regional and global changes suggested that no worthwhile development is possible unless peace returns in Kashmir. They were nostalgic about the dividends of the peace process during (2002-2008) and how it helped in reducing violence and giving them a sense of victory. The Cross-LOC confidence-building measures they recall had made them optimistic about opening up of opportunities in Kashmir. They strongly argued that there can be no trade-off between the political aspirations and the development ambitions of the people of the state and no redemption in the situation unless Art 370 is not restored. Kashmir is people and no real estate they said.

In the light of the above discussion, there is a need for a multi-stakeholder approach to create space for the youth in Kashmir. The post-pandemic situation shall be more challenging. Resources of all sorts, already scarce, will get even scarcer. Before we run out of fuel we are running out of water. There will be greater uncertainty in our environment-political, social and economic. The young people have time on their side but governments need to find time to listen to them. The Indian state has to take the first step.

(Author: Prof Gull Mohammad Wani is teaching political science at the University of Kashmir, Srinagar)

References

1. The National Youth policy 2003 covers all youth in the country in the age group of 13 to 35 years.
2. Kumar Sanjay, (2012) Indian Youth and Politics: An Emerging Engagement, New Delhi, Lokniti, CSDS
3. Website of UN youth wing
4. Praveen Swami, Kashmir: Youth bulge, peace deficit, The Hindu, August 29, 2010

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