Indigenous Inhibitions

The unintended consequences of upward social mobility can plunge Kashmir into a serious predicament, difficult – perhaps impossible – to resolve if present trends continue unchecked. The phenomenon is remarkable given the scale of unemployment here, and could lead to acute social and economic distortions. At the seminal level, the development reflects gross misconceptions widely harboured in the public mind, with no thought on how the situation could pan out in the future. The psychology driving social forces seems to be preoccupied with highly superficial concerns devoid of any appreciation of the value of work, labour and toil. Gradually, Kashmiris seem to have developed an aversion to engagements like farm working, construction trades, hair-dressing, tailoring and what-have-you, all of which are increasingly being handed over to skilled and unskilled migrant labour. Almost all salons in the city and outlying towns are manned by barbers from places like Bijnaur, and Mughal Sarai, and – horror of horrors – rural communities deem it beneath themselves to work their farms, hiring labour from Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh instead. Rarely does one see a native stones-mason, carpenter, steel-layer or plumber at the mushrooming private construction sites, and even government works have become increasingly dependent on non-local manpower. Hardly any native Kashmiri works in road-building-and-repair crews, most of which, incidentally are owned by outsiders, machinery and all. One calling that can safely stay in the hands of Kashmiris for some time to come will perhaps be mutton wholesale and retail given its sinful profits – and how long before the entrenched and intractable wazwan too falls into alien hands? As it is, the ranks of chefs, cooks, confectioners, waiters, stewards, watchmen etc are already heavily infiltrated.

How valid is the argument that this change-over is a result of progress and development? The more plausible explanation is that Kashmir has become lazy and slothful, and entertains a sick and unhealthy disdain for vocations criminally regarded as lowly. One reason for high unemployment rates in superficial societies like Kashmir is, first, the preference of the educated for government jobs involving desks, chair and files, probably because of the “status” that unfortunately has become associated with them, and then, deeming a college or university degree as an entitlement to a white-collar job. The grotesque results are there for all to see in the quality of the products of educational institutions and their suitability – or rather the lack of it – in the economic activity of the valley. The mental subtext is that education is less a means of the enrichment and emancipation of the mind, and more a passport to a job. That more and more young people churned out by the education system are merely literate and not ‘educated’ in the real sense is reflected in the social mores they embrace with tenacity, and the lack of ethical values in their work sphere. But the subject at hand is the eventual total dependence of society on alien labour which this mindset has promoted. A truly educated person would not countenance his family selling off agricultural land for bribes to secure him a government job. A college graduate valuing work will not deem it beneath his dignity to work as a mason or an electrician. A university degree-holder who has been educated with great privations by his barber father should consider it an honour to take up his paternal profession rather than debase himself by crawling before politicians and bureaucrats for government employment. Vigorous Kashmir would do well to remember that there is no lousy job, only lousy people who think so.

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