Job-starved Kash­miri youth turn a new leaf, dare to don olive green

Thoun­sands queue up for Army recruitment drives in the Val­ley where anti-in­dian sen­ti­ments run high

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - NATION - Toufiq Rashid

SRINAGAR: The Jammu and Kash­mir Light In­frantry (JAK LI) reg­i­ment based at the Srinagar air­port com­plex has a prob­lem of plenty. Each time the reg­i­ment launches a recruitment drive, thou­sands at­tempt to gate­crash, seek­ing a job as a sol­dier in the mil­i­tancy-in­fested state.

In a coun­try where jobs are scarce, such a mad rush would have been passé. But the vir­tual stam­pede that the JAK LI wit­nesses at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals is un­com­mon in the sense that the job-seek­ers are Mus­lim Kash­miri youth, who oth­er­wise are gen­er­ally seen to be alien­ated and ranged against the In­dian state. The govern­ment says it sig­ni­fies a mas­sive shift in the pop­u­lar mood in the dis­turbed val­ley, where tens of thou­sands turned up for the fu­neral of a mil­i­tant only last week.

In March this year, some 40,000 Kash­miri young­sters queued up for 50-odd va­can­cies in the reg­i­ment made up of only res­i­dents of the state. Pre­vi­ous recruitment drives also evoked sim­i­lar frenzy. In 2011, some 10,000 youth lined up be­fore the reg­i­ment’s gates barely months af­ter scores of Kash­miri pro­test­ers had been killed in street bat­tles with the se­cu­rity forces.

Top of­fi­cials at the reg­i­ment say the re­sponse to the recruitment drives have been truly over­whelm­ing. It is not a case of the reg­i­ment re­cruit­ing more. But the ever swelling crowd of job seek­ers, they say, is tes­ti­mony that more and more Kash­miri youth are eye­ing a ca­reer in the In­dian army.

Tahir Ah­mad Mir, 21, is one of the lucky few who made it through the reg­i­ment’s gates and got picked dur­ing the last recruitment drive. Dressed in com­bat fa­tigues with close-cropped hair, ri­fle­man Mir was brim­ming with pride as he took oath with 145 oth­ers dur­ing a cer­e­mony to join the lat­est batch of the JAK LI last week. His fa­ther had crossed over to Pak­istan to be­come a mil­i­tant in 1991. Twen­ty­five years, the fa­ther pushed him to join the army. “My fa­ther never wanted a life for me that he had cho­sen for him­self. He said I should not re­peat his mis­takes,” says Mir.

Wa­heed ur Rehman Parra, the po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sor to the chief min­is­ter says the Kash­miri youth were al­ways fas­ci­nated by jobs with se­cu­rity forces. “We have been see­ing youth turn­ing up in large num­bers for even po­lice and CRPF recruitment ral­lies, he says.

Ayaz Ak­bar, a spokesman of the sep­a­ratist Hur­riyat (Gee­lani group), how­ever, dis­putes the of­fi­cial the­ory. “Youth are turn­ing up for the ral­lies be­cause of unemployment. There is dearth of jobs and these long queues mean the youth have no op­tions. It doesn’t mean they are dis­re­gard­ing the sen­ti­ments,” he points out.

Altaf Hus­sain, a Sri­na­gar­based jour­nal­ist, says what Kash­mir is wit­ness­ing – reg­u­lar protests along­side the rush to join the army – is a para­dox. “It shines light on the dilemma of an av­er­age Kash­miri who har­bours anti-in­dian sen­ti­ment but is also des­per­ate for a job.”

Bri­gadier Suresh Cha­van, com­man­dant of the JAK LI’S tran­ing cen­tre, sees the phe­nom­e­non in more favourable light. “The 40,000 sol­diers and vet­er­ans from this reg­i­ment bear wit­ness to the fact that Kash­mir has pro­duced more sol­diers than anti-na­tion­als,” he says.

WASEEM

The new re­cruits of the Jammu Kash­mir Light In­fantry Reg­i­ment get train­ing at the army base on the out­skirts of Srinagar.

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