The way forward

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PROF. GULL MOHAMMAD WANI

USS qaum ko shamsheer ki haajat nahin rehti,
ho jis ke jawaanon ki khudi soorat-e-faulaad

(A nation whose youth are endowed with self as strong and hard as steel, does not feel the need for piercing swords)

Thus spoke the great poet Allama Iqbal. And this couldn’t be truer for the youth in Kashmir.

And this, precisely, sums up the need of the hour – to empower and embolden our youth so that Kashmir becomes its own fortress of steel.

The goal of self-reliant India should be to furnish to the Kashmiri youth, an opportunity to become partners in the process of development. The state and the society, through multiple institutional arrangements, must provide platforms to the youth to understand their views on issues of peace and reconciliation, climate change, sustainable development, shared future, democracy and good governance. This is ever more crucial for Kashmir, where, for understandable reasons, the youth-related concerns have assumed primacy in public imagination.

The Mission Youth programme launched by the J&K administration entails that perceptions of the young generation must feature in public policy at all levels viz., education, health and economy.

I find the present day youth in Kashmir among the most well-informed among their generation due to social media, complexities of Kashmir and growing globalisation. They are increasingly aware of what policies are being implemented elsewhere in their context. Needless to say, that, the youth play a crucial role in political or cultural affairs and are usually the first to respond to political and economic challenges. A historian has even linked economic depression hitting the largest German youth cohorts to the rise of Nazism in Germany in 1930. The increase in the youth population (15-25) is either a bane or a blessing for a young nation experiencing demographic transition. The youth can be a disruptive force for polity and society and can inhale extremism, violence and other deviations.

  • Youth issues finally get attention

In the recent years, the youth and their problems have invited the attention of security experts and the policy community. The state institutions have taken a lead in the youth engagement programmes and are also building up their capacity to face uncertainties of the present times. The non-state institutions need to be proactive in the process. The real threat to the identity of the youth can be a shift towards radicalisation; and there are reconciliatory measures that have the potential to avoid any kind of extremist thought.

The Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria, while examining the causes of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, argues that the “youth bulges combined with slow economic and social change have provided a foundation for an Islamic resurgence in the Arab world”. Scholar Robert Kaplan warns that “anarchy and crumbling away of nation-states will be attributed to demographic and environmental factors in the future”.

There are two theoretical traditions in the study of youth living in dire spaces: one focusing on ‘opportunity’ and the other on ‘motive for conflict’. The opportunity literature often coined the ‘greed’ perspective, having its roots in economic theory and focusses on structural conditions that provide opportunities for a rebel group to wage war against a government. The motive-oriented tradition or ‘grievance perspective’ has its origins in relative deprivation theory and tends to see the eruption of political violence as a rational means to redress economic or political grievances. Motives for committing political violence can be economic – like poverty, economic recession or inequality – or political – like lack of democracy, absence of minority representation or self-governance.

One of the most influential 20th century books on instances of instability was ‘Why Men rebel’. In this work Ted Robert Gurr – a political scientist explains instances of political instability through the theory of relative deprivation (RD). He defines RD as the discrepancy between what people feel they are entitled to and what they have in reality. When this discrepancy grows large, between expected and real political power for instance, frustrations start to grow. It is due to these political, social, or economic frustrations, also known as grievances, that violence is born. The RD-theory has been very influential among social scientists right from 1970 when it was first published

We are employing the ‘grievance perspective’ and focussing on problems of unemployment and resultant social deviance of the youth.

  • What ails our youth?

The most serious problem J&K faces is unemployment. Theorists argue that youth tend to be vulnerable due to unemployment if their entry into the labour force coincides with periods of serious economic decline. Such coincidences generate despair among the young who then become socially deviant. The main reason as to why we are not able to yield demographic dividend is due to slowdown in the economy and also rise of what economists call ‘jobless growth’. Professor Jayati Ghosh calls the country’s demographic dividend a “ticking time-bomb”. The highly educated young have spent a lot of their own or family’s money but are not able to find jobs. It is not just the question of potential loss to the economy but of a lost generation. Capitalism globally has taken the form of ‘marketisation’ which promotes profit maximisation. There are some who argue that capitalists welcome unemployment as an efficient device to discipline labour but it may be quite difficult to sell it as the mainstream theory at this point of time. In Kashmir we find unemployment in the age-group 15 to 29. The more educated are more unemployed and their part time work or contract wages are not commensurate with their academic degrees and level of competence and potential.

In Kashmir, as in other places, the public sector is full of negativity and it employs just four percent of the workforce.  At this extraordinary moment, the state sector must remain receptive to the employment market till other avenues find traction with the society and the market. The craze for ‘past was beautiful’ with the youth and parents is not in sync with age of ambition announced by the managers of contemporary Indian state. This longing for the past generally gives rise to conservative ideas and right-wing politics. The exponents of the early warning theory opine that new technologies are creating and destroying jobs, young workers are more at risk of losing their jobs due to automation than older workers because they tend to be employed in sectors and occupations that are likely to automate.

In Kashmir, economic shocks viz, shut down in the aftermath of removal of Art 370, demonetisation, GST and Covid 19 multiplied problems of the people in general and the youth in particular.

  • A case for creating avenues

There are certain lessons to be learnt from the start-up policy of the Delhi Union Territory government to create avenues for the young. The administration in Delhi has decided to hire various agencies and professionals to create a panel of experts and chartered accountants and lawyers so that any start-up will get free assistance. The government will pay the experts. The government will also pay half of the rent if anybody wants to start a company. There will be interest-free loans. In Kashmir, we need to integrate the dynamism, power and creativity of the youth and provide them space in the sunrise arenas of the new economy, viz, banking, information, technology, infrastructure building, tourism, hospitality etc.

Second, if young people continue to face frustration, unemployment and poverty, they are likely to become socially deviant. The irony is that the UT admiration has launched ‘Mission Ghar Wapsi’ to mainstream the youth who have taken to drugs. The substance abuse may not be directly linked to unemployment but joblessness does inflict its own injuries on the mental health of the youth. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, around 2018, “three people were committing suicide every two hours due to unemployment”. Kashmir has the highest proportion of unmarried youth between 15 to 29 in the country according to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (Youth In India Survey 2022).

According to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, an estimated ten lakh residents were drug addicts in J&K in 2019-20.The ministry said that 1,08,000 men and 36,000 women were found abusing cannabis; 5,34,000 men and 8,000 women were found consuming opioids; 1,60,000 men and 8,000 women were found using sedatives of different kinds and 1,27,000 men and 7,000 women were reported to be on inhalants. The trend of couples abusing drugs together is indicative of another dangerous trend taking root in Kashmir. The doctors at the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences-Kashmir (IMHANS-K) attended a case in 2022 wherein a newborn baby with withdrawal symptoms was seen and rehabilitated at birth. Both parents were drug-abusers and were well-educated but consuming heroin”. Of the ten districts of the Valley, drug network was reported to be the highest in Shopian, while Pulwama ranked the lowest.

For women alone, Budgam ranked the highest. The above details were shared by Pirzada Ashiq of The Hindu in his article ‘The growing problem of substance abuse in J&K’ (April, 29, 2023). The fact is that precarity has surrounded the Kashmiri society which manifests through anxiety ridden existential conditions. There is need to rebuild the Kashmir society which has become harsh, punitive, withdrawn, fearful and extremely distrustful. We need a ‘whole of the nation approach’ to address multiple problems of the young in Kashmir. The institutions of higher education, particularly universities, need to come out of arrogance of ignorance and contribute to rebuilding and transforming Jammu and Kashmir.

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