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