Lack of investment and an indifference to the needs of youth incur a high cost in terms of lost development opportunities, ill health, and social, physical, mental disruption.
The preamble of the UN World Programme of Action for Youth states that, “people represent agents, beneficiaries and victims of major societal changes… Young people in all parts of the world, living in countries at different stages of development and in different socio-economic settings, aspire to full participation in the life of society.” Youth in Kashmir also aspire to contribute positively to their society; yet the continued political insecurity and the challenge of finding fulfilling educational and meaningful employment opportunities hinders their ability to do so.
Civically engaged and active youth can be important and positive agents of change. Political and socioeconomic developments that meaningfully engage Kashmiri youth will be better able to move society as a whole away from the current trend of political polarisation and tension towards constructive processes of long-term conflict settlement. Involving young people also enhances confidence in political, non-violent processes as well as a sense of ownership. This requires a better understanding of the priorities of young Kashmiris as well as facilitation of safe spaces for them to articulate their interests.
Increasing disillusionment with non-violent means
The continued political stalemate and day-to-day violence experienced by youth have increased scepticism of the use of non-violent means of protest to bring about change. There are concerns of a growing sentiment that political violence may be the only option left to push the relevant governments towards dialogue and negotiation. A cursory analysis of recent militant activity in Kashmir supports the claim that many young people are ready to join the ranks of armed fighters, despite the experience of violence by Kashmiri society in the recent past. Recent funeral processions of militants show increased attendance of youth shouting slogans in their support and demanding freedom despite the fear of repercussions.
A number of other incidents involving the arrest of youth, including juveniles (youth aged below 18 years) have been documented. This has included reports of youth accused of attempted murder, charged under laws like the Public Safety Act (PSA) or detained at police stations and humiliated along with family members for participating in protests and stone throwing. There is growing criticism that acts like the PSA, which allows state authorities to place people under administrative or preventive detention without charge or trial, and the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives state security forces increased powers to ensure ‘public order’, grant impunity to security forces and have led to gross human rights violations.
An atmosphere of fear and censorship
The experience of violence, the fear of repercussions for speaking out, the shrinking of traditional social spaces (such as public parks, cultural gatherings, platforms for showcasing art and debating issues of concern), and the frequent restrictions put on the movement of people and modes of communication, have negatively affected the mental and physical health of Kashmiri youth. They often describe life in Kashmir as “living in constant fear of being watched.” Fear, anxiety, unhappiness, aggressive behaviour and psychological distress are commonplace2 . The lack of diversity in education spaces In times of distress and insecurity educational spaces can play a key role in providing a sense of safety and hope, and room for productive engagement with a diversity of perspectives. This can support the capacity of young people to take ownership of issues that affect them and contribute to the desired transformation of their communities.
Many young people choose to leave Kashmir to study at institutions in India or elsewhere. In some of these institutions, Kashmiri students are able to engage in formal and informal dialogue and debates on various issues including the conflict in Kashmir. These students have asserted that if they, to an extent, can debate and organise peaceful protests about the situation in Kashmir at these institutions, why is it not possible to do that inside ‘their own’ institutions like Kashmir University?
Unemployment and entrepreneurship Unemployment is a huge concern for youth in Kashmir. A depressed market economy, protracted and episodic conflict, and a disparity between the educational system and the demands of the labour market thwart Kashmiri young people in their pursuit of consistent and steady income generation.” Some young people have benefited from various government and NGO sponsored schemes and institutions, such as the J&K Entrepreneurship Development Institute and Mercy Corps, which support youth engagement in entrepreneurship to start new livelihood initiatives in agriculture, handicrafts, healthcare, information and communication technology, and tourism. Such schemes have been unable to fully capture the interests and priorities of the majority of youth. This has been for a number of reasons including:
The lack of capacity in youth,
A programme design based on similar initiatives implemented outside Kashmir, without taking into account the particular circumstances in Kashmir,
The impact of bureaucratic corruption and public mistrust of government on the perceived credibility of the initiatives.
The lack of public participation in the design or planning phase.
Other development initiatives in rural areas including self-help groups and employment generation schemes are restrained by similar factors.
SUPPORT FOR ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Non-governmental community-level support systems, such as private foundations or credit unions that support entrepreneurship, are a useful way to support economic opportunities for youth as well as boost their confidence in effecting the political and social change they desire. Such initiatives could be based on locally available agricultural, handicrafts and other resources, and primarily target the local needs. This would help lower the overwhelming dependence on government jobs, which are seen as a stable source of income in the present uncertain circumstances, as well as imports, which are draining the regions economy.
School curricula that reflect the experience of local community life will be better able to promote a sense of ownership as well as entrepreneurial and leadership capacity. This would involve engaging students in vocations such as farming, carpentry, handcrafting, resource sharing, communal living, computing, communication, and other localised and needed skills. Initiatives with tangible outcomes (for example vegetables or fruits grown, furniture made, a community census done or improved community health and hygiene) that can generate resources for the school and the local community, will also give students a sense of accomplishment.
One of the important steps to be taken by the Government of Kashmir is revision and revival of a national youth policy which must create situations whereby youth stand educated, employed and free from drug abuse, frustration, parochialism, sectarianism and other numerous evils which have weakened the foundations of our society. We have to prepare our youth to face the challenges of the times with unshakable courage and youthful confidence.