Integrating Kashmir youth into mainstreamEver since the accession to India, the Kashmir valley has been a political challenge for the Indian government and all previous governments, at the centre and at the state level. All have tried to work towards a political settlement and greater integration with the rest of the country, but the valley still continues to remain alienated.

The Problem

Pakistan has never accepted Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India and still considers the region a disputed one. This has led to Pakistan consistently stoking the separatist elements in the valley through financial and military support. What used to be restricted to the odd stone-throwing incidents has, post 80s, graduated to full blown militancy with money, arms and training being provided by Pakistan, covertly and overtly.

This has resulted in a large section of the population being displaced and many losing their lives by getting caught in the crossfire between militants and the Indian security forces. The ongoing militancy has driven away the Hindu Pandit community from the valley, people who have lived there for generations, many of whom still live as refugees in different parts of India.

The valley has suffered greatly, as it has not been able to keep pace with the economic development being experienced by the rest of the country. After six decades since independence, the people are still struggling for basic amenities, jobs, education, medical facilities, and housing. The biggest worry before the government is that people from the valley still feel alienated from the rest of the country and tend to view them with suspicion and apprehension.

Failure of Successive Governments to Win Over the People

For decades now, the central government has been pouring in substantial funds into the valley but very little development is seen across most parts. Corruption has been rampant with very little money reaching the people or places they were meant to. As a result, the lack of development and the continuing poor quality of life has only given further excuse for the separatists to push their cause for independence from the rest of India.

Whatever little development that has taken place, especially in the interiors and border regions of the state, the credit goes to the Army for undertaking several social and economic development initiatives, including building school infrastructure and providing much needed medical assistance in remote areas, a responsibility that should have been undertaken by successive state governments but very little was done.
So why should it be a surprise that after all these years, people still continue to feel a sense of alienation from the rest of the country?

The Youth are Restless and Increasingly Getting Impatient

Unemployment has always been high and a problem in the valley. The youth have had very little options to keep them engaged in sports, cultural or other social activities and the problem gets compounded by the fact that there are virtually no jobs in the valley. Therefore, they have been easy targets for radicalization and potential recruitment for militancy.

That said, there is an increasing desire within the youth to pursue higher education and build a professional career. Many are now more interested to know about the rest of the country and willing to travel and see the remaining parts of India. Thanks to the internet and television, there is now greater awareness about opportunities available in various fields and there is an increasing interest to explore opportunities.
This optimism can be gauged by the increasing interest generated in the valley to the J&K Cricket team’s performance in the Ranji Trophy, as also the performance of J&K’s first home grown cricketer to play for India, Parvez Rasool. He is already a star in his state and has a fan following that closely watches his and India’s performance, something that has never been seen before in the valley.
The youth want to move on in life but have very little option or opportunity in J&K or outside it.

The Big Question Is – Can Narendra Modi’s Fresh Initiative to win Over the Valley Really Work?

The Prime Minister has to be credited for taking a bold approach that no Prime Minister of India has taken before. He has personally taken charge to try and communicate his government’s intent and sincerity to try and work towards a political settlement, while simultaneously working on implementing a roadmap for accelerating development of the valley and ensuring higher levels of interaction between the local people and rest of India.
One of the initiatives undertaken with complete backing and support from the central government, has been to rope in the private sector to work alongside the government, towards a sustainable long-term programme for building opportunities for the youth from the state.

Project Udaan: A Welcome Initiative

Project Udaan is a youth training and employment initiative in participation with the private sector. Though started under the UPA II administration, the scheme has got a fresh impetus with the Modi-led central government fully backing the scheme and encouraging the private sector to come forward and join in the process that could well be the most serious attempt yet to facilitate the youth of the valley to integrate with the rest of the country.

Under the Project Udaan initiative, 54 private sector companies have come forward with a commitment to train over 68,000 youths over a period of 4-5 years and subsequently offer employment to those found suitable. The advantage of the scheme is that even if the youth do not find immediate employment post training, their learning will offer them a better chance to find related employment elsewhere.

As on date, 1,785 youths have already been employed in leading companies like TCS, Accenture and Wipro, with another 5,300 undergoing training. In addition, more companies are being encouraged to undertake drives to engage unemployed youth who are already registered at various employment exchanges, for training. In March alone this year, recruitment for training initiatives have been undertaken in Budgam, Anantnag, Ganderbal, Baramulla, Doda, Kishtwar, Reasi, and Kathua.

The government is closely supporting the private sector by bearing all training, boarding and lodging costs, while the private companies are taking the responsibility for training, with the option to subsequently recruit suitable candidates. Currently, over 7,000 youths are reported to be undergoing training.

Can This Initiative be the Way Forward to Winning Over the Valley?

What is important to note is that the youth are coming forward in greater numbers to train and subsequently live and work in any part of India. Once youngsters start to live and work in various parts of India, new friendships and relationships, at work and outside, will foster and this will open up a new path for greater interaction between those in the valley and outside it.

Working outside the valley, offers opportunities to be exposed to other foods, culture, festivals and events, and this can only have a positive impact on those from the valley. This two-way development of friendship and social interaction will also go a long way for the rest of India to get a better understanding of the people from J&K and their culture.

If this initiative is successful, both in training and in creating employment opportunities, it could well be the way forward towards facilitating greater integration and interaction between the valley and rest of India.

This could also serve as a test case for cooperation between the government and the private sector which could be replicated in other troubled regions in India.

Project Udaan must continue to be supported and expanded across J&K, for this is the best bet yet for a continual and sustainable process of integration.
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