Can the Youth Succeed if Elders Have Failed Them?
Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.
9 August 2005
Kashmiri youth face many challenges today. Apart from traditional challenges faced by the younger generation in any society, Kashmiri youth have to bear the undue burden of growing in a culture of violence and fractured civil order. Even more debilitating is the euphoria in the civil society for role models who have done nothing to merit recognition other than create mayhem and disorder. In effect, parenting has taken on a whole new meaning in today’s Kashmir.
This Article was written especially for the 2005 youth issue of the periodical, “New Hope”, published in Srinagar by Syed Firdous Baba.
We live in an exciting era. New technologies and innovations, discoveries in medicine and health care, advanced computerization techniques in education and business are expected norms of life. In the United States, where I live, the pace of the modernization is asymptotic – meaning that 10 years of past development is overtaken by one year of subsequent development. The development is equally impressive in other countries, including India.
In fact, the evolving economic and political strength of India is making a great impression on the American people. On one hand, the two governments made history by reaching a strategic agreement dealing with advanced technologies during the recent visit by Prime Minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh, and on the other, the trade between India and the US is growing rapidly. The American industry’s desire to seek information and intellect based products and services from India is fueling tremendous growth of the middle-class in India, even as it is raising concerns from American graduates who feel that their jobs are being outsourced to India.
The issue has come full circle for people like me who were born in India (in my case Srinagar) and worry about the future of their children born in the U.S. An article published recently in the New York Times by a leading Indian-American scholar reflects this concern, “Will my children have to return to India to seek a better life for which I left India in the first place?” Indeed, many Americans and Europeans are taking jobs in India these days because of their inability to find challenging jobs within their own countries and by the lure of high salaries available in India. Recently, many CEO’s who were drawing salaries in millions of dollars in the U.S. were offered better compensation by Indian companies and decided to move there. One particular segment seeing this “reverse migration” is the air transport sector which is on the verge of a giant expansion in India.
So the question might be asked why I am describing all this to the youth of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) especially when they can hardly relate to what I am saying with their own experiences or experiences of their friends. If India is on the verge of becoming a global economic power, why is not that evident to the youth living in J&K?
For getting an answer, please do not look to your local newspapers which mostly report on glorification of armed thugs roaming around with a romantic view of self glory in the name of either religion or separatists who espouse a cause that skillfully exploits emotions without delivering anything tangible in return (other than more pain and suffering). And the youth certainly need not look to pronouncements of State bureaucrats and politicians (all shades) who together have pocketed most of the enormous State budget (Rs. 150, 000, 000, 000.00 annually, mostly from the Indian Treasury) leaving very little to help those not well-connected with State gentry in Srinagar or Jammu. And youth certainly should not be looking at their own elders who have mostly failed as parents by not preparing the young adequately to the rigors of daily life in an increasing complex and competitive world that we live in today.
Whenever I converse with valley journalists sympathetic to the cause espoused by insurgents and separatists in Kashmir I am asked, “Why does not the world care for what is happening in Kashmir?” And, reluctantly, I have to remind them what really is happening in Kashmir. They look at the events and only see violence and suffering, whereas others look at the same events and see all that and more – they see exploitation, greed and poor leadership at work, but mostly they see a “vested interest” by prominent players on both sides of the political divide in maintaining the confrontation, uncertainty and a lack of closure about Kashmir’s future as long as possible to serve their own selfish interests.
“You expect a Jaffna, you expect a Palestine, you expect a Lebanon, and you find a boom town,” wrote the correspondent for the New York Times when she visited the valley for the first time in October 2002. She also noted that J&K Bank had deposits of $2.29 billion (USD) and the real estate prices had boomed by as much as 1000% in the previous decade and the number of motorized vehicles had gone up by 500% in the same period. That was then. Today, the J&K Bank deposits stand at $4.8 billion (on March 31, 2005), and the “easy money” is fueling incredible price increases in real estate and the growth of personal vehicles. If this is good news, let me address an irony that exposes the rotting structure underneath – Srinagar with huge growth in population and vehicles has yet to establish a functioning automatic traffic signal system. It is not because of lack of money, but because of lack of discipline, personal courtesy and good driving manners that such a system will entail. Unfortunately, all those characteristics are missing in people who only know one way to get ahead.
So I am requesting the Kashmiri youth to take your future in your hands and lead the march for a “Naya Kashmir” that your elders have conveniently turned their backs on. Today, J&K has some interesting economic statistics – a State among those with the least poverty and yet among those with the highest unemployed, a State with mediocre literacy but with the highest number of private schools per capita, a State which has a low industrial gross national product (GDP) and yet is among those with the highest per capita consumption, a State with a local Bank (J&K Bank) where the size of deposits makes it among the top banks in the world, yet it flourishes in a State where wealth is a mirage to nearly 75% of the people living mostly in poor rural farming areas (a recent survey put agriculture development in J&K among the lowest in the nation and yet it is the main source of income for the overwhelming majority in the State) . A valley that was once the most beautiful place on Earth has turned into an ecological anomaly because of its uncaring citizens who have ravaged its pristine forests, polluted its clean waters, and destroyed its green fields by a haphazard home construction boom. Historic gardens and lakes that withstood rising population and changes in rulers for nearly 600 years are fast disappearing under the patronage of greedy developers linked to powerful political families in the State. Srinagar produces about 500 metric tons of garbage daily but there is practically no disposal system in place to manage it.
Therefore, it should be no surprise to anyone that J&K has the dubious distinction of being “the second most corrupt State in India” after Bihar, according to the Transparency International. The survey concentrated on corruption in local bureaucrats, college and university officials, police, revenue department, local judiciary, public utilities, hospitals, municipal services, state tax officials and rural financial institutions. An example is the recent charge leveled at the Executive Engineer of the Housing Board who had accumulated over a crore of rupees in cash and bank accounts and used 20 insurance policies to hide his illicit income. It is no wonder that the State Vigilance Organization (VO) is very weak and ineffective, a fact evident by the ability of its staff to evade transfer rules in violation of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA).
Sometimes, even laws passed by the State Legislature are conveniently ignored. Three years back, the new State government passed the Accountability Act in the State Legislature with a lot of fanfare, but so far has failed to constitute the Accountability Commission as required by the law. In January 2004, the State Assembly passed the Right to Information Act (equivalent to the Freedom of Information Act) but is still not being implemented even though the State has received numerous requests recently for release of documents that may throw light on past corrupt practices dealing with MBBS examinations which is a continuing scam in J&K.
So what should the Kashmiri youth do if their elders have failed to be good role models and have refused to show them the correct way to develop and become a good citizen in today’s complex world? First and foremost, do not waste your time and energy on mindless protest marches that the leaders of one Tanzeem or the other are arranging almost every day in J&K. Please remember those leaders will make a lot of money from such efforts and while some of you may feel emotionally satisfied in participating in such demonstrations, your focus should be really on preparing for your future. At this time, the academic standards in J&K are so mediocre that even if one student from J&K secures admission in the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), it becomes big news. But should it be like that? If your elders have failed you by condoning low academic achievements through extremely low standards for passing an examination, how do you expect to face those intellectual students in India who are “terrorizing” even American kids (even worse, children of Indian born Americans) with their academic excellence and grasp of knowledge. The youth in J&K can not afford to lose a minute and must devote 120% on their time on studies and insist that standards for academic achievements be raised to make it on par with the rest of India.
A couple of years back, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) did an audit of the financial records of the Kashmir University and found out that the University has not prepared its annual accounts ever since the old Jammu and Kashmir University was split up. So its liabilities and assets are unknown, but what the CAG found out was that the number of faculty and support staff together exceed the total number of students enrolled in the University, nearly 10,000 library books borrowed by about 3000 students have never been returned, and an endowment fund started in 1997 by charging additional fees for student development activities had been diverted to hire additional staff in an institution already with a bloated payroll. A year later, the CAG conducted an audit of the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKAUST) and found the same story on the financial situation (no accounts of liabilities and assets), but even more disturbing was the fact that none of the scientists of the University had published their research work in any national or international publication of repute and only 9% of research experiments were even completed. Needless to say, out of 13 seed varieties developed by the University, none was deemed of original research value.
Now the question arises, if somehow the academic standards are improved and J&K is able to produce excellent quality scholars and achievers (something that is not happening right now), will that mean the employment situation will improve? Unfortunately, the answer is no – not until major structural reforms are undertaken by the State government and politicians – and therein lays the next big challenge. The J&K State Constitution is so convoluted and so self serving to State politicians and bureaucrats, nothing really will work to improve the State economically until its Constitution and laws are not drastically revised and upgraded. The emphasis for new jobs must shift from public sector (“sarkari” job) to private sector and that requires sharp reduction of government red tape and current patronage system to control all aspects of commerce in J&K. But real development, meaning attracting world class companies like Reliance, Tata, Birla, Wipro and even multi-national companies (MNC), will require many drastic changes in the State Constitution and I am not sure that powerful political families would want to give up their power and greed for the greater good of the society. But if anyone can make that change, it is the youth. So please do not spend your precious time and energy on futile demonstrations or hartals, instead demonstrate for your own future by demanding changes in the J&K Constitution so that new laws related to transparency, accountability and good governance are passed by the J&K Legislature and implemented effectively. In fact, the whole issue of the Article 370 must be reassessed for its impact in keeping Kashmiris enslaved in perpetual poverty while politicians are making hay and showing off their fervor for autonomy at the expense of keeping the State bankrupt and its youth unemployed and agitated.
Recently, I had an opportunity to address a conference arranged by Kashmiri separatists from USA, UK and other parts of Europe. I made similar points in that presentation, noting that unless the people of the State do not shift their focus from land-centric solutions of Kashmir to people-centric solutions, no progress would be possible as we would be simply repeating the history of past 58 years. Now a window of opportunity exists because of reduced tensions between India and Pakistan. Time has come for citizens on the Indian side of Kashmir (as well as those on the other side of Kashmir) to strengthen their civil society and improve the economic well-being of the people by demanding accountability, transparency and good governance with emphasis on human development and elimination of corruption and corrupt practices. I told the conference participants that even if the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) were to gain power in the State by magical means, the common people of Kashmir would see absolutely no change in their daily lives. Many participants agreed with my assessment.
I would hope that Kashmiri youth will reflect carefully on what I have said. In a democracy, the power rests with the people, and among the people, the youth are the torch bearers for change. But my advice to Kashmiri youth today is to think before you leap. In 15 years of insurgency, you have been misled by your elders – the “paradise” that awaits us all will not come through violence and agitation, it will come through by nurturing personal integrity, dedication to education, commitment to excellence and high expectations from the self and the society. The change in the government that you should be seeking is the change that will open your local government to greater scrutiny and make it truly serve the public.
I strongly believe that you can succeed even though your elders have failed you. But it will require a new mind set and a phenomenal shift in paradigm. May God be with you!
This article was published in the 2005 special summer issue of the journal, “New Hope”, published in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.