Is Private Sector’s ‘Optics of Opportunity’ Dispiriting Kashmiri Youth?

Despite the fact that the government sector has always been favoured in Kashmir because of all the benefits and stability it offers, the private sector was largely viewed as a safety net — but, not anymore.

By Asma Majid

IT was one of those D-Days when tables could’ve turned in her favour, and therefore there was no room for dragging her feet.

Bisma made sure to rise early and offer dawn prayer—pretty aware of how important it was to get through the interview. Despite certain about her calibre, she was mindful of the eleventh-hour twists rendering merit redundant in Kashmir.

On reaching her destination, she saw a huge building with several floors. It was no less than an opulent mansion with expansive grounds, a sight enough to instil the realisation in Bisma that this opportunity of turning her career was akin to the grandiosity of the building itself and that she would have to give her best to grab it. Excited as she was to prove her worth in the interview, she was at the same time grappling with a hunch, a sense of foreboding lest she might suffer the same fate that one of her friends Mariya had suffered.

Mariya had submitted an application a few months prior for a position at one of the prestigious private sector organisations in the city’s centre. After completing all the necessary formalities, she was even summoned for delivering duties for the said organisation on the pretext of due selection. But, a few days later, Mariya, a witness to a full-fledged recruiting procedure, was astounded to learn that the entire process had been a charade and that the applicant picked for the position had already been selected.

This wasn’t the only incident that gave Bisma a sense of impending doom. She had heard stories from her family, friends, and acquaintances about people getting turned down for jobs for trivial reasons, such as being too young, inexperienced, or new to the work to qualify, or not having the flair for language while having all the necessary qualifications.

Bisma moved in the direction of the building’s gate while shaking her head to dismiss all the negativity.

As she entered the premises, she saw the garden of the institution ablaze with flowers in full bloom: roses and chrysanthemums, the largest and the most fragrant she had seen or smelt for a long time. Bright red salvias and golden marigolds lined the borders. The interior was equally spectacular, adorned with majesty, grandeur, and dignity. An instance of brief teleportation ensued, letting Bisma enjoy the bliss of already working as a teacher in such a splendid place after having qualified the interview. The delusion of peace and quiet was shattered by two people calling out to her simultaneously. Bisma had to grab her wandering mind by horns to civilize it into getting accustomed to the current scenario.

“Hey, Bisma, come here!”, “Where are you lost?” Bisma was overcome with delight when she heard two old pals calling out to her.

After submitting her CV to the receptionist, Bisma joined her friends in an over-crowded hall of some 120 candidates. She kept waiting for her name to be called out while as many as 80 individuals from various disciplines were interviewed.

The format of the interview was interesting. In the room where the panellists were seated, all the candidates who applied for one subject were gathered together, and each interviewee was called on to answer the questions one by one. This way, all the other applicants could observe every interview that was going on.

The air-conditioning broke down and it was sweltering inside. Half-way through the day, a tired Bisma went out to have some fresh air after getting a confirmation from the receptionist that her interview still had a lot of time left to commence.

It was one of those sultry dog days where the oppressively hot roads are paralyzed by inaction. Nevertheless, a worn-out Bisma decided to take a stroll in the shade of the trees for a quick rejuvenation.

A little while later, Bisma was interviewed. Her wait had been a long one for she was the last one in her lot to be summoned. She didn’t mind it though as this allowed her to see all the other applicants being interviewed, and none of them had received the same acclaim and admiration for their witty repartee as she did.

Bisma felt optimistic about her selection for she was the best qualified of all the candidates in her subject and had performed admirably well in the interview. In the following days, she was on the edge of her seat, cooling her heels for the glad tidings to come. But no news ever arrived.

The passage of a month and more convinced Bisma and a few others who had been in constant contact with each other that some dubious business was brewing. To ensure the same, a boodle of candidates, confident of having performed better than the others, gathered to visit the institution to dress them down.

After running into a dispassionate receptionist, the group of hopefuls was allowed to talk to a low-key official whose only response after hearing them all was, “Nothing can be done now! There are already choices in place.”

The enraged candidates requested to examine the selection list and accused the institution of drastically distorting the reality, but were lambasted by another official, a skinny man with a deep voice for violating the order. “The crux of the matter is that we don’t owe you any explanations. Why create a ruckus now?” The offhand office-bearer who had just come out of his chamber was shouting with apoplectic rage. “Please leave,” he blurted, pounding the door shut as he entered his room muttering something. Disgruntled by the shabby treatment, the wrecked bunch had no choice but to disperse.

The door of opportunity slammed shut on their faces disheartened the candidates. Later that day, in a local eatery, where they assembled for some refreshment, they talked about their doomed job prospects in a place plagued by an exacerbating unemployment rate. Handpicking in the puny private sector—their only hope amid the jinx of joblessness—further disappointed the young learned tribe of the valley.

The unemployment rate in India rose to 8.30 per cent in December 2022, the highest in 16 months, according to the recently released data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). While Haryana has taken the front seat among all the Indian states in the said data with an unemployment rate of 37.4 per cent, the Jammu & Kashmir has registered itself at the 6th position in the list with an unemployment rate of 14.8 per cent.

An experienced economist from the valley, Tahseen Makhdoomi, expresses his concern about the possibility of horrible days ahead with regard to the afore-mentioned data. “These are hectic times,” he says. “We shouldn’t be exhaling in relief just because J&K has managed to avoid the front row this time by recording a decrease in the unemployment rate. J&K has even figured at the top of the list according to the data from earlier months.”

The economist goes on to say that the unemployment statistics over the last two years have exposed the underbelly of India’s economic health.

“We must recognise that the unemployment rate is still fluctuating and that stability is still a long way off,” Makhdoomi warns. “Testing times await us ahead if proper economic growth is not ensured.”

Considering the fiscal circumstances of the last few years, one might attribute the pandemic’s lack of economic activity as a catalyst to the increased unemployment.

Ceyda Oner, Assistant Director and Mission Chief for Columbia at the IMF (International Monetary Fund), analyses unemployment as being highly dependent on economic activity. “Growth and unemployment can be thought of as two sides of the same coin: when economic activity is high, more production happens overall, and more people are needed to produce the higher amount of goods and services,” she says. “And when economic activity is low, firms cut jobs and unemployment rises.”

Despite the fact that employment hinges around economic growth, new findings have shown yet another facet of the growing unemployment rate that warrants greater worry than all the other characteristics combined. The reported instances of Mariya and Bisma, along with the undisclosed cases of several other candidates of Kashmir provide a hint as to the malversation—corrupt behaviour in a position of trust, especially in public office—that has seeped into the private sector.

The recent explosion of private educational institutions in the valley’s business hubs had given optimism to the young people searching for employment solutions. However, many reckon, the situation for young people’s aspirations has gotten worse as a result of the use of Machiavellian strategies and dishonest means by these institutions to rule the roost.

Although people’s pursuit of professional degrees has opened up opportunities for employment in the private sector, some insiders say, the corruption that has infiltrated is impenetrable.

Despite the fact that the government sector has always been favoured because of all the benefits and stability it offers, the private sector has always been viewed as a safety net.

But now, many candidates lament, it has changed — prompting experts to voice a concern that it’s dreadful to dash the dreams of applicants by using duplicitous sham recruiting processes for commercialization in the market.

Binte Fajar, a PhD candidate working on the topic of unemployment and related issues, discusses her research experiences thus far. She emphasizes how discouraging backdoor hiring practices by the underqualified and undeserving are for qualified job applicants who are already discouraged and dispirited by the fierce competition and lack of employment opportunities in the valley.

“The pre-determined illegal appointments in the garb of a proper appointment process are a hideous excrescence on the face of our beautiful society,” the scholar states. “Transparency is the key to fair employment.”

Aware of their merit and the intents of the recruiting authority, some struggling individuals may find it difficult to handle the strain of being repeatedly rejected for no apparent reason. Thus, a variety of mental illnesses begin, with instances from Kashmir again increasing dramatically.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Sumeen Mujtaba emphasizes the issue of social alienation as opposed to individual and familial estrangement as the root of mental health issues in young people.

“When capable youth feel as though they are falling behind due to a lack of employment opportunities or when others are able to advance through shady means while they are unable to, it creates a kind of social alienation which, if not addressed at the appropriate time, leads youth to engage in drug use and other risky behaviours,” the mental health specialist warns.

Dr. Mujtaba has even dealt with situations where young people have frazzled to the breaking point owing to repeated rejections and persistent unemployment.

To break the jinx, Bisma was alert despite her cellphone ringing with morning alarm. Putting it on snooze that day was out of question. She had to be careful to get ready well in time. Before leaving her residence, she gave herself a long stare in the mirror, simpered and wished herself good fortune. Bisma was all set to face another interview.

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