How Mehraj Malik Is Working With The Youth To Rebuild Kashmir
What was the turning point in your life that made you quit a company like Microsoft to come back to Kashmir?
There is no one particular reason when a person takes such a decision; it is actually a culmination of multiple thoughts which are going on in one’s mind over a period of time. For a curious thinking mind, it needs a deep set of thoughts to make such a decision. So for me it was a big, bold and complicated decision.
If I were to talk about an immediate cause, then it was the discussion with a mature Kashmiri young man aspiring to be a professor and looking for a temporary job in Bangalore. The discussion was around the Kashmir situation and the future of Kashmiri students. The arguments which he put forth were a combination of deep entrenched prejudices. They had become a constant source of hate for him and his ilk, almost as a habit without end. He presented his statements and I gave my rebuttals – the debate seemed to reach nowhere.
This discussion made a big impact on me. I thought hard on how to remove this blind hate hardwired into the mind of a section of our youth. How to lead them to a constructive and productive life. This thought stayed with me. It made think of my purpose of life, and the thought found a direction. It led to the work that I am currently doing in Kashmir.
There was also an emotional reason. I found Kashmiri youth struggling to find a job to pay just Rs 10,000 a month. It struck me that elsewhere, I have encountered youth who are looking to be CEO in two decades. But Kashmiri youth are struggling even for a basic job. I tried to coach youth in all my free time. But the inner desire to look for my purpose grew deeper.
When you came back to Kashmir, what was your priority? How easy or difficult was it to convince people to get involved in your initiative?
When I came back, my primary idea was to look for the root cause of all the problems around. Second, be able to share my knowledge. I want to help a society where everyone lives a happy life.
I started getting associated with the NGOs, civil society, social activists, Mohalla Committees, Madrassas and various other institutions. Working with them, I came across a new set of problems which required immediate solutions.
Whenever I would feel anything was wrong, I would try to resolve it myself or would knock the doors of administrative authorities and the security forces to get the issues resolved. Initially it seemed easy. But as the months passed, new challenges emerged.
By this time I have come in contact with so many positive and negative elements of the society that I know it shall be difficult for me to raise my voice against any ills. Terrorist with guns and their sympathizers without guns mock, belittle, defame and at times try to boycott me. But being young blood, I am not afraid of the challenges. I continue to devote myself to what I believe in.
Tell us about your initiatives for the youth of Kashmir? How was the response and the opposition to it and how did you overcome the challenges.
My initiatives are multi-faceted. I try to contribute to every part of the society, especially the youth. There are some distinct streams of work.
* Streamlining education in Madrassas
* Working with Islamic Scholars to spread the message of peace, coexistence, and love through constructive religion
* Work against drug addiction, which is increasing amongst the youth
* Create awareness amongst women regarding their rights, raise voice against domestic violence
* Work on de-radicalization and engaging youngsters towards a 21st Century skill education… and so forth
We work in coordination with various groups of the society. Every idea in this world is bound have both takers and also those who oppose it. My journey has been full of young people with high energy and enthusiasm to learn as well as become volunteers. There are also those who do not like to see any positive thing happening around either because of their prejudices or due to their vested interests. I take them to be hardwired mentally, who don’t understand real life.
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My Initiatives, My Achievements…
Some things are quantifiable and some are not. My work is more on the latter side. For example, I am reminded of some youth who reached out to me. I started helping them out in whichever capacities I can, especially through education.
After about a month they said to me, Sir we don’t know why our thoughts were so negative before meeting you, but today we have a surprise for you. Then they stood up. One of them hinted to the last boy to play something on the speaker. What they played was the National Anthem. All of them standing in one line with their hands on their hearts and promising to work for the nation now onwards.
I was overwhelmed. I was overjoyed. Tell me, can we quantify this? Can we even think of rating something so beautiful like this? I don’t know what my achievements are. But when a young boy puts his hands on his heart and says he loves India, I think it is the best thing I could get.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced?
Multiple small incidents have happened, which I ignore. These things are bound to happen if one wants to work against social evils and the deep-seated misconceptions in the society. The biggest and the only challenge I face in Kashmir is the gun being in the hands of the terrorists.
There are many people who are working for the betterment of Kashmir Valley. But day and night, Pakistan is trying to silence all positive voices. This is the biggest threat to a person working on ground.
What is your vision for Kashmir?
My vision for Kashmir is the vision of any common man residing in any part of our country – Jiyo aur Jeene do. Sab mil jhul kar khush rahen, zinda rahen, aur ek dusre ka khayaal rakhen.
What has been the biggest learning that you have achieved through your initiatives?
The biggest learning for me has been to be patient in difficult times. Patience shall carve good things for you. When I returned from Microsoft, the first year was crucial but comparatively easier. As time went on, new challenges emerged. Amongst all these challenges, I learnt to be patient against all odds.
What is your assessment of the youth of Kashmir? Do you encounter strong radicalisation and indoctrination by Pakistan? Do you find them confused or do they have clarity of purpose? What other patterns have you encountered?
It is easy to ask – What is your assessment of Kashmiri youth? It is the most difficult question to be answered. There is no scale to measure the sentiments of youth in a place like Kashmir.
Yes, there is radicalization. Of course there is indoctrination by Pakistani groups. Yes, they are totally confused as they do not have clarity of purpose. The ground reality reflects a complex set of patters based on the different experiences and exposures the youth has gone through in his life.
It is a complex combination of personal, family, societal, religious, modern lifestyle, financial situation etc. Every single individual is a different book. It takes immense effort and dedication to understand him/her. It is a complex setup. We need deep cultural, religious and rational approaches to come to any conclusion.
Despite budget provision of thousands of crores for education, skill development and welfare of the youth of Kashmir, has the government really been able to make an impact and create a positive connect? Kindly explain.
The biggest gap which makes mainstreaming difficult is the basic assessment – using one yardstick for all. For a Kashmiri youth, mainstreaming is not the same as for a youth nationally or even globally.
For example, let’s say a youngster in Delhi looks for a job after graduation. He will be happy with a job earning 20-30 K, and will hop on to it. It is not same for a Kashmiri youth. A few may opt for the job, but a section of them won’t even give it a single thought. They will rather stay back at home, get involved in agriculture, or join the job and leave in six months, and in worst case do nothing at all.
It is creditable that our government has invested so much in skill development and other educational schemes. Thousands of youth are gaining employment this way. After a long time the youth have found something which can be an asset to their life in terms of skills.
These schemes hugely help in giving exposure to the youngsters regarding the sea of opportunities which exist around them. While these initiatives are highly desired, my entire focus is understanding whether the child or the youngster is able to get over personal prejudices and confusions. If tomorrow there is no job, will he fall back to the same behaviour patterns? It is extremely important to understand what is going on in the child’s mind with regard to Kashmir’s prism.
Misuse Of Government Budget
We know that some negative elements are able to get with their corrupt activities and defraud the youth. But now the government has come heavy on them and a lot of things are getting under control. Hopefully the future will be better.
Do you think romanticism of terrorism and terrorists is drawing youth towards them?
The answer is a big yes. A young boy is filled with thousands of imaginations. When he is not able to achieve any of those, he looks for an alternative which brings that imagined success and recognition. If there is a trigger situation, he is not able to control his emotions and jumps into the terror fray. Here he gets to experience the romanticism of terrorism as well as gets a feeling of being recognized, especially by the negative elements in the society. Due to these feelings, he chooses to remain in the terror network.
Tragically, it is also impossible to escape the terror network.
Do you think the government has taken the right approach to assimilate the youth into the mainstream? What have been the strengths and weaknesses of the government initiatives?
I have spoken above of the strength and value of government initiatives. I would highly appreciate if the government continues to engage the youth in various activities as well as places huge focus on de-radicalization. As is the law of nature, nothing in this world is perfect, but with time and iterations things move towards perfection. The government works on various feedback mechanisms, grievance redresses in order to improve on things wherever it is lagging. I clearly see that the government’s intentions are right and so the things will become right in the future.
How do you assess the drug menace among youth of Kashmir? Is it being addressed appropriately?
It is a big challenge of our times. Here in Valley, this issue is more complex and hidden. There are two kinds of nexus which are involved in drug trafficking. One, those ruining our youth for petty money. The other is more dangerous. This is the Narco-Terror nexus. A lot of terror groups are using drugs as the means to mobilize money for their vicious terror activities.
At times they use minors and females to transport narcotics as well as the money which is generated through it. Every day, our police foils various attempts and catches drug peddlers while transporting narcotics. But since the groups and the nexus is improvising regularly, it becomes difficult to catch all of them.
What should be the roadmap for the government in Kashmir? What measures should be initiated for the integration of the youth with India?
Kashmir has gone through well-planned indoctrination since the early 70s. That indoctrination has become an inherited group of misconceptions in the mind of children as young as 7 year olds. This is the real challenge. Employment, development, engagement – all these are important. But correcting this indoctrination is the primary task according to me.
This requires huge effort to be done across Kashmir through certain short term and some long term goals. People like me work day and night to ensure upliftment of the needy. But there is a lot more that needs to added in the ‘to do’ lists.
The first step is to understand the core problems. Second, find a workable set of solutions. Third, execute these solutions in an acceptable manner, so that the solutions actually work and make an impact, rather than ending up as a mere Tick in the checklist.
I highly appreciate the Administration who has taken pains to understand the issues and find solutions. Now is the time we need to take our work to the next level.