Defying militant threats to join the Indian security forces especially the India Army, thousands of educated unemployed Kashmiri youth from different parts of the Kashmir Valley turned up to face physical tests during a recent Army recruitment rally in Baramulla. This is in sharp contrast to the early 1990s, when militancy broke out in state and Kashmiri youth hated the armed forces.
Growing unemployment in Jammu and Kashmir has been assuming alarming proportions ever since turmoil broke out in the state in early 1990s. As for previous governments, unemployment is one of the biggest challenges before the coalition government in the state.
The private sector which has hitherto provided the means of livelihood to thousands of youth has been badly affected due to the turmoil and the tourism sector, considered to be the backbone of the Kashmir economy has suffered major setbacks during past years rendering a large number of people jobless. This has led educated jobless youth to heavily rely on the government jobs for survival and sustenance. However, a large number of youth especially in rural Kashmir have shown tremendous interest also in joining the Indian Army.
Over the years, the changing circumstances in Kashmir have forced a change in the mindset of youth besides inculcating in them a sense of patriotism. The majority of local youth, who were swayed by the gun culture in early 1990s have abandoned the path of violence and joined the mainstream to build their future. During the early years of militancy, they refused to join the Army, partly due to the support extended by them to the militant groups fighting against security forces and partly due to the predetermined belief that Kashmir was under the illegitimate occupation of Indian security forces.
The youth are also enthusiastic in joining the armed forces in the fight against the militants operating in the valley. Needless to say with the active support of local youth, the Army would be more effective in curbing the militancy in the state. It may be recalled here that during the past years, militants who turned pro-government gunmen have been instrumental in crushing militancy in the state. The enthusiasm of youth to join the Indian Army can be gauged by the fact that against 1,500 vacancies advertised by the Army, more than 5,000 youth include those from bordering areas of Karnah, Keran, Machil, Uri and Gurez applied to take part in this recruitment drive that has lasted from 16 to 22 February 16.
According to Aijaz Ahmad Khan, a BA, graduate from the border area of Karnah Kupwara, "Since 2004, I have been applying for a government job in response to job advertisements in different government departments but luck did not favour me. I don't want to miss this golden opportunity as I am equally desperate to join the Army.”
Interestingly, after Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) rifleman, Abdul Hamid Chara, a Lolab youth, was awarded the Shaurya Chakra (Posthumous) on Republic Day, 2008 for his outstanding display of bravery, youth in Lolab Valley - considered a hotbed of militancy until recently - are showing great enthusiasm to joining the Army.
To help enthusiastic Lolab youth qualify for the physical tests and also the written examination, the 08 sector army headquarters in Lolab had organized training camps for the youth. According to Ishfaq Ahmad, a first-year BA student of a Lolab village, "Senior army officers imparted training and guidance for about three weeks to local youth interested in joining army. I hope that the training will help me a great deal in qualifying the physical tests and written examination. Joining the Indian Army would be a dream come true.”
Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah's recent statement that the government was not in a position to provide employment to one member of each family is likely to add to the worries of educated but jobless candidates in the Valley. It is widely believed that the National Conference’s promise of employment to jobless youth helped the party a great deal to win the support of unemployed youth, a majority of whom voted for the party. There was a general feeling among youth that the government would come up with a fast track recruitment policy to help address the growing unemployment in the state.
To absorb Kashmiri youth in the defence forces, this time more vacancies have been created both in Regular and Territorial Army. The Army has already announced a bonus for National Cadet Corps (NCC) certificate holders and the kin of ex-servicemen. Special priority would also be given to candidates from the militancy prone areas of the state. Some years ago, the Army had constituted fresh Territorial Army regiments in the valley that comprises of local boys and hundreds of Kashmiri youth have joined armed force in army recruitment rallies held across the Valley during past five years. This positive trend needs to be capitalized on.