Exuberance or Traumatism: Understanding the Kashmiri Youth and the Underlying Issues
|| JAVEED AHMAD
What can be said about the section of population, which constitutes the very pedestal of the societies and civilizations the world over? What to say about the phase of life, which represents a prime in individual’s life and, hence, wields a paramount significance? What to say about the social category branded as a carrier of culture, custodian of national honour and trustee of freedom of a nation? By now, I am sure that you must not be carrying a whisker of doubt about the social category under mention-yes, of course, you are wise enough; it is none other than youth. Youth, as we all can make out, is a transitory and dynamic phase between childhood and adulthood, when people have to negotiate a complex interplay of both personal and socioeconomic changes in order to manoeuvre the transition from dependence to independence, take effective control of their lives and assume social commitments. It represents a period of physical, mental and social maturity, during which young people actively build their identities, determine acceptable roles for themselves within their communities and societies besides being increasingly capable of abstract thought and independent decisionmaking. More importantly, this social category owes its distinctiveness to the fact that, it must navigate far more of life’s crucial transitions in a short time frame than any other age group besides their peculiar characteristics, needs, socio-psychological traits and patterns of behaviour. Additionally, the overwhelming significance of this distinctive category is complemented by its numerical preponderance as the global population of the young people aged 10-24 years stands at all time high of 1809.6 million/1.8 billion, comprising 25% of the world population (Youth fact sheet: (Population Reference Bureau 2013). The significance of the young people is even more highly felt in developing nations given the fact that they comprise more than 90% of the global young population.
In India, the population of young people aged 10-24 years stands at 362 million i.e., 29% (approx.) of the country’s population out of which youth aged 15-24 years constitute 232 million (approx.), thereby, comprising almost 19% of the total population(Census 2011). Further, the population in the age-group of 15-34 years has registered a continuous acline from 353 million in 2001 to 430 million in 2011 while Current predictions suggest a steady increase in the youth population to 464 million by 2021(A report on ‘State of the Urban Youth, India 2012: Employment, Livelihoods, Skills). Talking about the demographic surge of youth, it can be well indicative of the potential dividends through youth bulge as it creates a demographic window of opportunity in which economies can benefit from a majority of individuals entering their productive peak, while the share of the population that is very young and the elderly still remains fairly small. The relative rise in the labour supply creates possibilities for enhanced growth through a rise in output per capita coupled with higher savings and investment from workers. Similarly, the large working age population holds out the potential for increased consumption or income taxes that can in turn be used to finance productive investments such as additional education, health, or social protection.
The potential exists to reap tremendous benefits from ensuring that youth have the health, skills and social capital to productively contribute to growth. However all this is possible only when substantial investments are made in this sensitive component of population failing which poses a high risk that the youth bulge may manifest itself as a drain on growth and society, rather than a dividend. What concerns me is our degree of ability, preparedness and readiness needed to harness this valuable human resource in the form of youth? Have we really been considerate enough to withstand our commitment towards increasing global awareness, consciousness and acceptance of need to mobilize the creativity, vision and unique perspectives of young people for present and future development of our society? Has the state as an institution been instrumental enough to cultivate the fertile grounds in order to realize the potential prospect underlying youth? Shall we really triumph ourselves for what we have achieved in youth index? Well, the object analysis of the facts seems to falsify any such assumption.
The grim employment situation in the country today quite narrates the predicament of the educated youth with every one person being unemployed out of three persons in the age group of 15-29 years whose qualification is graduation and above (ILO Report on Youth Employmentunemployment Scenario 2012-2013). Talking about the war torn societies, they have served as the breeding ground for the predicament of the youth. Turmoil in whatever form impedes the development of a society and once the developmental process is arrested, the youth become its worst victims. In the same vein, the situation of the youth in Kashmir because of the ongoing turmoil of over two and half decades is far from being deplorable and, hence mandates a special mention.
The youth in Kashmir are a most disoriented and disillusioned lot, given their variegated forms of want, deprivation, brutalization and displacement. The fallouts of conflict, economic and political exploitation, socio-economic displacement, flawed developmental policies, corruption, nepotism, destruction, death and soaring unemployment are the only indices through which youth in Kashmir ought to be gauged. For any society, unemployment among the educated youth is a curse. Sustained unemployment is also a breeding ground for subsequent unhealthy developments. Given the prolonged turmoil coupled with the absence of a developed private sector, the problem of unemployment in Kashmir has snowballed into a critical situation as evidenced in the sustained increase in annual number of unemployed educated youth registered with the various District Employment and Counseling Centers over recent years. The unemployment rate as based on Usual Principal Status(UPS) in Jammu and Kashmir stands at 5.3 percent as against the national average of 2.6 percent with northern states such as Punjab(4.5 percent), Himachal Pradesh(2.8 percent), Delhi(2.7 percent) and Haryana( 2.6 percent) being comparatively well placed (66th Round of NSSO Survey, July 2009-June 2010).
The soaring unemployment has adversely impacted the psyche of youth in Kashmir, who being unable to respond to the individual and collective expectations confront a severe role strain and, hence have emerged as a most depressed lot having lost every hope of life. The mounting incidences of crime and violence among the youth in recent years can be attributed to the failure of state machinery to contain the primary and burgeoning problem of unemployment in the state. Having borne the brunt of sustained strife and violence, a strong feeling of alienation can be evidenced among the youth of Kashmir who nurse a huge contempt against the statecraft and, hence, feel highly disillusioned with the system. The strong feeling of alienation among the Kashmiri youth is evidenced in the increasing number of suicides committed/ attempted by the youth aged 16-30 years over the last decade or so as ascertained from the content analysis of the secondary sources available in this regard. Classical sociological literature is replete with such arguments which govern the deviant behaviour of an individual(s), when the goals set by the society are not commensurate with the institutionalized means.
The pathological situation that the youth in Kashmir finds themselves, ought to be looked into as anomie or normlessness as conceptualized by none other than one of the founding fathers of sociology Emile Durkheim who foresees inevitability of the disintegration of the societies, when their youth are in anomic state. Drawing from the Emile Durkheim’s concept of anomie, another classical sociologist R.K Merton looks into anomie as a state-an outcome of the excessive strain on individual behavior because of the sustained conflict between accepted norms and social reality. Merton argues that every society possesses two importantly related elements for its members in the form of culturally approved goals such as education, health, access to resources, material success etc. and institutionalized means to achieve the approved goals. Failure of societies to provide the institutionalized means for its members compels the members to adopt illegal means in order to attain the culturally approved goals.
The existing situation of the youth in the country can therefore, be, better perceived in the light of Merton’s argument according to which, lack of appropriate means indulges youth into the deviant behavior. While the deplorable institutional dysfunctionality of the state during the last few decades can be cited as major reason for the enormous pathologies of youth as manifested in their deviant behaviour of drug addiction, increasing rate of suicides, juvenile delinquency or for that purpose the high degradation of cultural norms and values etc., the other social institutions particularly the institution of family have also by and large failed to assume and uphold its social commitment and role. The lack of proper familial socialization is well evidenced in non-obedience to parents, intolerance towards elders, burglary, drug trafficking, drug addiction, alcoholism, begging, skipping schools, eve teasing, and of late roadside bike stunting etc.
The institution of family has undergone a huge disintegration having surrendered its primary functions to other secondary institutions-the consequences of which can be dire and far reaching. Though institutional dysfunctionality of the state can’t be overlooked by a human eye, however, it may not be fair enough to admit that the state has been totally incognizant of the pathologies of youth. In recent years, there have been some significant youth based interventions on the behalf of the statecraft with the motto of curbing the primary and burgeoning problem of unemployment in the state. One of such landmark initiatives is the maiden Sher-e-Kashmir Employment and Welfare Programme for the Youth (SKWEPY) launched on 5th of December, 2009 on the eve of 105th birth anniversary of Sher-e- Kashmir, Jenab Sheikh Abdullah-the former chief Minister of the state. With a strong focus on Entrepreneurship Development, the policy was finally implemented on 17th September 2010 under the responsibility of Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI) with Jammu and Kashmir Bank as its strategic partner.
Under Sher-e-Kashmir Welfare programme for the Youth in Kashmir (SKWEPY), the government has planned to create approximately 5 lakh job opportunities in the state for the initial five years both in the Government and the private sectors. In totality, the policy can be seen to have two components in the form of A.Self employment Component and B. Welfare component. The self employment component puts a strong focus on entrepreneurship development and operates through two major schemes of Seed Capital Fund Scheme (SCFS) and Youth Start up Loan Scheme (YSLS) under the responsibility of Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI) by providing the special financial incentives in the form of non-refundable Seed capital/ money capital and loans at simple interest respectively to the registered and eligible prospective entrepreneurs to kick starts their ventures and makes their projects bankable. The second component in the form of welfare component operates through the Voluntary Service Allowance (VSA) which is basically an unemployment allowance paid to the unemployed educated youth who are matriculates and above on monthly basis for a period of three years from the date of registration with the respective District Employment Counselling Centers (DECCs). Whether the much talked about youth policy in the form of maiden Sher-e-Kashmir Employment and Welfare Programme for the Youth (SKWEPY) is really a comprehensive and ultimate policy for the youth of the state or is it the same old wine in the new bottles is a big question that stares us directly on our face? However, any justification to prove the comprehensiveness or totality of the aforementioned scheme may not be rational one.
There exists a lot of scope to improvise upon the various provisions under the policy be that insufficient seed capital being offered to the prospective entrepreneurs or for that purpose the rigid and stringent procedures all which curtails the efficacy of the scheme. Besides, the amount as well as period of voluntary service allowance (VSA) being paid to the unemployed registered youth is far from being satisfying. But at the same time, writing off the said scheme completely may also not be a scientific response. The programme through its entrepreneurship programme and voluntary service allowance marks a definite departure from the erstwhile policies. So far the policy has benefited thousands of young entrepreneurs in the state with crores of seed capital released. But, the policy has not been as captivative as expected. One of the seeming reasons that have thwarted the very purpose of the said scheme is the high reluctance of the youth in the valley to take up entrepreneurship as their career.
The attitude of the parents has also been by and large discouraging in this regard. Government jobs still remain a priority for the majority of the educated youth in the valley. The preference is so deeply rooted in the psyche of the people in the state that it has becomes a primary determinant for settling the bridegroom relations and also for profile evaluation of the people. In the face of ever increasing number of educated and qualified youth, it may not be possible for the state to provide the government jobs to all the educated youth. The sooner we understand this fact, the better it will be for our society. But what then is the remedy to contain the burgeoning problem of unemployment? Well where a will, there is a way. There exists a tremendous scope in the private sector which is still in its incipiency. The employment crisis in the state is not less severe than any emergency which ought to be appropriated through publicprivate partnership. But for that purpose government needs to prioritize the private sector by offering the local entrepreneurs the lucrative incentives. Government should enforce a strict legislation so as to exempt those private entrepreneurs who provide jobs to the majority of skilled youth of the state. In the either case, if statecraft is at all, so serious about boosting the industrial sector in the state, let the old age historical roots of trade and commerce be thrown open which will be a revolutionary step for the private sector in the state. Unfortunately to thwart the practice of government jobs, the political bureaucracy of late has adopted a negative approach as evidenced in the new and repressive recruitment policy under which new government recruits will be paid only the basic wages for a period of initial five years-all which has enhanced the grievances and pleas of the educated and qualified youth.
The development concept needs to be looked into through a holistic perspective grounded in integrated value loaded cultural matrix inclusive of natural environment, social relations, education, production, consumption and welfare. The implication of development has a direct bearing on individuals and institutions. As planning refers to a concentrated and concerted action, it is primarily an adjustment of social, economic and political conditions. Social planning is aimed at all-round change in socio-economic and political atmosphere. Since social planning is aimed at community welfare, therefore, state must ensure that it must stem from the people themselves. Tail piece The prosperity of a nation depends upon their youth and, hence, owes much to them. In conflict ridden zones, State as an institution assumes a special responsibility towards its youth. Whatever the content and contours of the turmoil, it bleaks the developmental prospects of a society and once development is arrested, youth becomes its worst victims. Youth in Kashmir have been experiencing a severe victimization in terms of their lives, career opportunities and subsistence.
The turmoil has lent a momentum to the ever increasing toll of miseries of youth by blunting the already limited available life chances and life courses due to them. Here youngsters are both the victims and actors of violence and are not well placed to pursue their rights. So it is the primary responsibility of the state to make the institutions strong enough so as to deliver all-round social, economic and political justice. The burgeoning problem of unemployment in the state can’t be addressed until there is a proper emphasis on the four priority areas as also recommended by the expert committee of the Youth Employment Network launched jointly by United Nations, International LabourOrganisation (ILO) and the World Bank in the form of : employability -ensuring investments in education and vocational training for young people and enhancing the impact of those investments; equal opportunities- ensuring the provision of same/equal opportunities for young men and women; entrepreneurship – ensuring the easiness to start and run enterprises in order to provide more and better jobs for young people; and employment creation-ensuring the central place of job creation in the macro-economic policy.
Javeed Ahmad is a Sociologist from the Deptt. of Community Medicine,SKIMS, SOURA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org