What is the cause of youth unrest in Kashmir? I think there are no easy answers. But as a Kashmiri brought up in the trouble-torn Valley, I have some observations to make. Since the late 1990s, a few trends are quite common here. One is the behaviour of the Valley’s youth on the eve of elections. They become active political agents and vote overwhelmingly. What propels them to do so? I guess it’s hope for a better future — where institutions of governance respond to people’s demands, jobs are abundant and merit prevails at all costs. They crave for a dignified life and revocation of draconian laws like AFSPA. But once elections are over, it’s déjà vu all over again. Nothing changes except power between political elites. Corrosive institutions and inept politicians is a deadly combination for any society.
The next phase is when separatist politics take centrestage. The killing of innocents often trigger panic. Then our youth demands “azadi”. The word “azadi” lacks a clear-cut definition. For some, it amounts to the “right to self-determination”, while, for others, it stands for demilitarisation and control over natural resources, particularly water. Emotions run high against the Indus Water Treaty and NHPC. The deep sense of anger and deprivation drive our youth into streets, ready to face bullets with stones. Instant overthrow of political system becomes their primary motto. What follows is curfew for weeks together. Internet services are suspended. Life returns to normalcy only after a long lull.
In the Valley, the sources of entertainment are scarce. We only hear from our parents and grandparents about the good old cinemas in Kashmir. Prominent among them were Palladium, Broadway, Neelam and Regal, that operated in Srinagar, Anantnag and other major towns. There are very few playing fields. A long time ago, the Sher-i-Kashmir cricket stadium in Srinagar hosted two international matches, one on October 13, 1983, between India and West Indies, and the last one on September 9,1986, between India and Australia.
We are a cricket-crazy nation. That is why the youth of Kashmir participate and celebrate every cricket tournament, irrespective of whether it is organised by the army or the Hurriyat Conference. The youth of south Kashmir still hold a grudge against BCCI for not picking up pacer Qayoom Bhagaw in the late 1980s for the Indian cricket team. Bhagaw, the mentor of Parvez Rasool, was ignored while his contemporaries with lesser skills made the cut.
Now, look at the health of our institutions. Every institution, from academic to religious is highly politicised. The two mainstream political parties, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference (NC) are equally responsibility for it, although, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) must acknowledge its share of blame as well. Even for contractual jobs in our universities, colleges and other academic and professional institutions some kind of political backing is a must.
Otherwise, irrespective of merit, the chances of getting through are abysmally low. Before the interviews begin, phone calls from civil secretariat, MLAs, ministers and even Hurriyat leaders start hounding the panelists. A prominent recruiting agency in our state is the J&K Public Service Commission. More than three years have passed by since it advertised some 1,000 posts for the higher education department. But the recruitment is still to be done. Where is the heaven our poets and politicians often speak about? It’s absolute hell and there is little hope.
Weeding out corruption from the state must be the first priority. The highly-politicised civil society of Kashmir is silent on corruption. The three major political players in Kashmir — PDP, NC and the APHC — must introspect and change their political strategies for the sake of peace and prosperity in our state, instead of keeping the youth of Kashmir hostage to their political designs. My belief about the working of the political system here is: “koi azadi ke naam par, koi autonomy ke naam par, aur koi Bharat Mata ke naam par; sab mile hue hai (They are all in it together, whether in the name of freedom, autonomy or Bharat Mata).”