Engagement, Empowerment and Employment @Kashmir
Interestingly, thousands of young men belonging to Baramulla, Sopore, Kupwara and Bandipora districts – which saw widespread violence against security forces during last summer’s unrest – came to Manasbal in north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district Monday hoping to join the million-strong Indian Army. The enthusiasm of the locals to look for a career in the Army is a far cry from the past when Kashmiris shied away from joining the security forces in the Kashmir Valley.
Replying to a querry made by IANS, Ganderbal’s Senior Superintendent of Police Syed Imtiyaz Hussain said,”For the last three days, over 24,000 youths rallied at the Manasbal recruitment centre for seeking a career in the army,’. ’So far, 7,000 of them have been given tokens for undergoing further physical tests for recruitment in the army,’ he said.
Travelling in buses, metadors, private vehicles and on motorcycles, they reached the recruitment centre early Monday.
How did this come about in districts which had been volatile during the last summer’s unrest?
SAI investigated this intriguing phenomenon and were pleasantly surprised to learn that the novelty in this rally was that for the first time army units were sponsoring candidates after shortlisting and training them for periods varying from two weeks to three months. The army units checked documentation and guided the youth on filling forms, confirmed qualifications, ensured physical training as kashmiris can walk a lot but not run and lastly fed some of them to come up to weight requirements. Training of youth and counselling for rallies were not restricted to the Army’s recruitment drive alone but also to that of the Central Police Organisations and J&K Police. In fact it appears that the leadership in the valley has placed a premium on the units to ensure maximum enrollment in their sectors.
We learnt that there is another novel initiative which is connected to employment generation. This is the concept of the YEGN or Youth Employment Guidance Node. Each brigade/sector has set up such a node where broadband connections of Internet exist, forms can be downloaded and printed, literature on admission to various education institutes in India, lady officers acting as counselors and medical officers guiding the youth on entry to medical colleges. This has resulted in deep emotional bonding between the troops on ground and the populace who now find options to move towards better employability. There are far higher aspirants than the number of vacancies available with the Army. Those who do not make it here have other alternatives to hope for. The Army also has some vacancies for the appointment of Firemen in its depots besides the casual labour which could also be an alternative as an interim employment.
This engagement with the local youth has drawn their aspirations to join the national mainstream and the armed forces to the fore. This empowerment and the subsequent employment generated from this exercise will definitely go a long way in stabilising the youth of the valley and providing them opportunities to lead a fulfilled life.
There is a growing sense of wonderment; increasing approval as well as tacit appreciation of the soft skills that General Hasnain and his team have so elegantly ushered in and are employing in exercise of their charter in the valley. The Heart is my Weapon can not win unless it genuinely fulfills the aspirations of the awam. This forward looking thinking at about the time he was settling into his job is both instructive and revealing:
“If you have been reading some of my statements in the media, you would have realised that more than ever before (apart from conduct of focused, intelligence led anti-terror operations) this is the time to get into engagement mode; engage with just about everyone…..elders, youth, women, children, businessmen, academics, clerics, jamaitees (hard liners) and so many others who make up this fantastic Kashmiri society. It takes away nothing from our intent to remain as aggressive as ever when it comes to eliminating terrorists who are sponsored and have undertaken war against our nation.
Team SAI interacted with people who have seen the committed teams of Major General Gurdip Singh at Avantipur and Brigadier Ajay Sharma at Manasbal. Both have put extraordinary passion to work in ensuring that this sensitive belt beckons to its true calling. This underscores the need to develop similar models in generating jobs across the valley to empower the youth who have long grown in an environment where joining militancy rather than military appeared a bleak and forced choice.
When these sentiments are analysed in perspective it stands out that the awam and especially the youth are keen to make a sound choice – that of empowerment, engagement and employment(3E). The response to the rally clearly indicates the choice of the youth in Kashmir. They are willing to make value judgement rather than live a hollow life under the shadows of guns thrust upon them by militant groups who are using them as cannon fodder.
A Hindustan Times report has quoted various agencies to report adoption of a multi pronged strategy by all elements of the government machinery to ensure engagement of the awam to wean them away from militancy by a series of proactive actions.
The strategy is : reach out to the people, both in political and administrative terms, combined with other visible steps like, gradual withdrawal of security forces and repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. In addition, stern action will be taken against trouble makers.
Two panels — one of the army corps commanders in the state and another of the state’s home department and police — are in the process of identifying the areas from where the Disturbed Area Act can be withdrawn. This would also mean an automatic repeal of the AFSPA from such places.
The first steps have been taken boldly to reverse the trend. It is now upon the nation to ensure that this “3E” principle is applied passionately to ensure the next summer and all after that go to strengthen and empower the youth in the valley.
It is time for dialogue and delivery with Heart worn on the sleeve- sincerely! For that to happen the centre, state, armed forces and the Police have to be on the same page because the terror groups are reading the same book.
Seeking reconciliation with the awam and across parties in Kashmir would be a sign not of weakness but of India’s growing confidence where the degree of engagement, empowerment and employment would dictate the future history of Kashmir.