Young and Reckless? — Kashmiri Youth and Limits of Government Outreach

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Will the ambitious (and expensive) program of youth engagement and outreach translate into so-called ‘mainstreaming’ of the new generation is something that only time will tell

SINCE the past decade, we have seen frequent references to ‘youth’ being made in the political discourses regarding Kashmir. Because youth as a demographic category is perceived with certain assumptions. Most cliched description is that ‘youth is the future’. Social and political forces operating within Kashmir or having a view on Kashmir, and belonging to different ideologies, therefore, seek to mould ‘Kashmiri youth’ into their preferred ideal.

On the political landscape of Kashmir, there are contesting views on what is an ‘ideal youth.’ The status quoists project certain success stories as emblematic of their ideal youth. Since they are the status quoist, a success story that operates within the permissible boundaries of what is seen as legitimate by the status-quoism is ideal. Anything that questions, critiques or potentially disrupts the status quo is, according to the status quoists, deviant, abnormal behaviour that usually gets categorised as ‘radicalisation.’ Responses to such deviancy range from verbal denunciation to criminalisation, formally and informally, through the coercive apparatuses of the state.

Anti-status quoists, on the other hand, vary in their worldviews. For some anti-status quoists, an ideal youth is the one who is anchored in the core doctrinal values of religion, and exhibits standard moral behaviour in all spheres of life. Here anti-status quoism is directed at the vagaries of westernisation, including secularisation of life.

Another branch of anti-status quoists is more political in orientation. Their fundamental aim is to determine their own future, and live according to their own beliefs and freely. Structures that control, restrain, regulate and interfere in their lives without their consent are what agitates their minds and triggers their visceral fears, anxieties and political responses.

According to the 2011 Census, Kashmir’s youth population (15-30 years old) was over 30 percent, i.e., Kashmir had a ‘youth bulge’. But what is youth bulge? Youth bulge is defined as a, “phenomenon of rapid growth of the young population of a country relative to its general population, causing consider- able impact on its economy and politics.” Youth bulge can become a cause of social upheaval but it can also be a source of economic development through an expanded young working-age population.

Many political commentators and policymakers have viewed youth bulge in Kashmir as a source of political unrest that marked the past decade. Their main argument is that the chronic youth unemployment and lack of good governance in Kashmir is the reason why so many young people join street protests and armed groups. Youths formed the bulk of protesters who hit the streets in 2010, 2016 and 2017. In fact, the post-2008 political mobilisations in Kashmir were mostly youth-driven. As per different media reports, citing official data and confidential surveys, more than 500 local youth joined different insurgent groups since 2016. Local recruitment into militant outfits peaked in 2018 when over 200 local youth joined militancy. In the light of these developments, youth bulge in Kashmir came to be seen as a security challenge, which must be immediately addressed.

Approaches were twofold: militaristic and non-militaristic. Hard-policing under militaristic approach had its limitations, so it was overlaid with a non-militaristic approach under the ‘policy of engagement.’ This entailed counselling (under smart-policing doctrine), special job recruitment drives, skill development courses, recreational activities, and educational scholarships. Under the Himayat program – a skill developments program launched in 2011 – youth were given skill training for 3-12 months to make them ready for the market and increase their employability. The Prime Minister Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS), launched in 2011, covered course and maintenance fees up to Rs. 1,30,000 per year for students who enrolled in educational institutions in different Indian cities. The Udaan scheme (worth Rs. 175 crore) envisaged enhancing the employability of 40,000 Kashmiri youth over a period of five years (The Mission Youth now coordinates youth-related schemes and programs with all the departments of J&K government).

It was partly due to these youth-centric schemes and programs that a large number of Kashmiri youth landed in different cities and towns of India for jobs and education. Ostensibly, these schemes and programs aimed to channelise the energies of youth into productive labour, but jobs and scholarships served to create economic stakes and disincentivise overt display of “deviant” behaviour and practices.

Some analysts had questioned the efficacy of ‘the policy of engagement’ directed at youth without a wider political outreach. Ghazala Wahab, editor of the Force magazine termed the schemes under this policy as “an investment of limited returns”. Some analysts from the security establishment, however, viewed the policy favourably, arguing that it had potential to create “counter-narrative.”

But, will the ambitious (and expensive) program of youth engagement and outreach translate into so-called ‘mainstreaming’ of the new generation is something that only time will tell. It is hard to tell if economics can triumph over politics. Research so far has shown that “integrative institutions and increased national status brought about by economic growth is insufficient to induce national identification in a context where psychological distance from the nation is large.”

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Muhammad Tahir

The author is an independent researcher

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