In Pursuit of Livelihood in Jobless J&K

'Unemployment is a disease itself and the sense of being jobless can really harm your psyche'
According to official figures, the unemployment rate of Jammu and Kashmir touched 22.2 percent during the month of October, 2021—which is the highest among all states and union territories of India.
According to official figures, the unemployment rate of Jammu and Kashmir touched 22.2 percent during the month of October, 2021—which is the highest among all states and union territories of India.Special arrangement

Liza Bhat, 34, the eldest daughter of a small businessman in central Kashmir’s Srinagar district, was one of the youngsters among hundreds of aspirants—who applied for jobs when J&K’s Public Service Commission (PSC), started recruitment drive for Assistant Professors five years ago. Today being a mother of two children, her career and future remains in doldrums.

A mass communication graduate and now a research scholar at the University of Kashmir, Liza Bhat, says that the government after taking so much time in conducting the interview withdrew the posts by issuing an “arbitrary” order.

For Bhat and many of her fellow aspirants, the government order has come as a shocker despite preparing for years. They say that it was a collective setback and the administration doesn’t seem to have “heart” and “mind” in streamlining the system.

“For many jobless aspirants in Jammu and Kashmir, the struggle and suffering is unending,” Bhat says. “We did our best in academics so far. We got shortlisted for the interview on our own merit and appeared in an interview far from Kashmir. So much preparations, so much State’s exchequer gone into conducting the interviews and suddenly an order issued to withdraw the posts, what an absurd administration, what an irony,” she rued.

Scores of aspirants for Assistant Professor, Television & Film Making and Travel & Tourism who appeared for an interview at Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission, urged Lieutenant Governor to reconsider the decision regarding withdrawal of the recruitment process. The aspirants argued that publishing a selection list in their case would take less time than re-advertisement of the vacancies and going through the process of short-listing and interviewing all over again.

“We had been waiting for more than four years for the process of selection to commence. For all of us being passionate about the field, we not only spent time and efforts to prepare for the interview but some of us also let go of other opportunities for this,” they say.

It may be recalled that the Jammu and Kashmir administration has withdrawn all vacancies it had referred to J&K Public Service Commission and (JKPSC) J&K Service Selection Board (JKSSB) for recruitment before October 31, 2019, the day the Union Territory came into existence. A circular issued by Under Secretary ShakeebArsallan has asked all concerned to implement the decision taken by the UT’s Administrative Council on January 29. The circular has been sent to all administrative secretaries, besides JKPSC, JKSSB and Principal Secretary to UT’s Lt Governor, Manoj Sinha. However; the circular gave no reason for the decision.

The aspirants said that the selection and appointment for majority of the subjects has been completed and the interview for two remaining subjects was conducted from 28-12-2021 to 30-12-2021.

“A majority of us are on the verge of crossing the upper age limit despite having mandated qualifications and work experience as per University Grants Commission. We are at the risk of losing an opportunity forever,” the aspirants said, adding, “It is ironic our interview was conducted more than a month back, our process of selection was literally on the last leg with little or no scope for any further amendments to the merit list prepared following the interview.”

Another media scholar and aspirant, Shazia says that even if they (government) readvertise the posts, it would be unfair that they apply the same yardstick for people who have done their degrees 13 years ago and those who are fresh pass-outs.

“Ten years ago, 75% marks would fetch you a gold medal and today an average student gets above 90%. The evaluation methods have changed and relaxed. The students whom we have taught will be far above in the next merit list and we will fall nowhere,” she says.

‘Souring Unemployment Rate’

According to official figures, the unemployment rate of Jammu and Kashmir touched 22.2 percent during the month of October, 2021—which is the highest among all states and union territories of India.

According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) figures, Jammu and Kashmir has a 22.2 percent unemployment rate—which is even higher than the national level unemployment rate of 7.1 percent recorded across India.

The higher unemployment rate in J&K is a cause of concern as there seems to be no improvement in the job scenario in the Union Territory. In comparison to September, the unemployment rate has further increased. For September, CMIE has pegged the unemployment rate at 21.6 percent which went upto 22.2 percent.

“We have witnessed unhappy times. We studied and continued our journey to get a dignified job and all this time, we have been filling forms, appearing in interviews and getting post cancellation notices,” a postdoctoral fellow, Bali Singh, says.

“Our pursuit of happiness leads us to unending trauma,” he says.

Athar Parvaiz, 36, who worked as a cameraperson on a consolidated salary with the Department of Information and Public Relations, too echoed the same story. He along with his other colleagues were terminated in an arbitrary order when GC Murmu was appointed as Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir.

“After working closely in the highest offices of the State, we suddenly got a termination order for no reasons and this came at a time when the country was under COVID lockdown and Jammu and Kashmir had undergone a heavy constitutional change,” he says. “We couldn’t even move to the High Court or even meet the immediate officer in-charge as the COVID had crippled the country. Today many of us are jobless and some are struggling to meet the daily expenses,” he says.

Another qualified youth, Bilal Ahmad from south Kashmir’s district Pulwama—who was working as a Banking Associate in Jammu and Kashmir Bank, was elated as his fiancé got appointed in the region's Khadi Village Board. After a few months, the duo got married and his wife prepared Ahmad to quit the job and prepare for civil services examinations or any higher post. Ahmad resigned and took a rented accommodation in Srinagar. Just barely after five months, the duo got a shocker, when Ahmad's wife got termination order as the government cancelled the appointments and turned them null and void.

“There are a lot of dichotomies as far as the government’s policies are concerned with regard to addressing the rising unemployment crisis in Jammu and Kashmir,” says scholar, R. Zahoor.

“If government can’t provide jobs to the uneducated youth, there has to be smooth and hassle-free services that should be provided to the educated unemployed youth,” she says.

A senior official at Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI) says that the aim of the Institute was to effectively enable entrepreneurship development and address the growing unemployment crisis. However due to the lack of funding to the major schemes, the Institute remains in deep crisis.

“We don’t have anything substantial to offer to the unemployed youth in Jammu and Kashmir because in most of our schemes the funding remains yet to be received from the government of India,” a senior official, posted at JKEDI, says. “So far we haven’t faced any issues on funding from the Centre, however the 5% funding from the state component isn’t received on regular intervals.”

The institute, which started its regular activities from February 2004 and had positioned itself as a learning centre par excellence with state-of-the-art regional centres across Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh is now struggling to keep afloat for the want of funds from the Centre and the Union Territory governments.

“No funds are being released. Flagship scheme and seed capital fund schemes and big units remain massively hit because of this lacuna,” he says¸ adding that besides this Jammu and Kashmir Department of Labour and Employment Department hasn’t released any funds from the last over two years.

“In absence of funds, our major operations can’t take off which resulted that the schemes like Youth Start-up Loan scheme, Direct finance scheme from EDI are largely hit. We have been writing to the Employment Department in this regard but nothing has been done,” he says.

The official says that due to the “faulty administrative policies”, the unemployed youth of Jammu and Kashmir are suffering.

“Whenever we get a chunk of unemployed youth asking us about any new schemes—we have to unfortunately return them with harsh realities that we don’t have anything to offer at the moment,” he says.

Unemployment and being creates what psychologists and psycolanylsists refer to as “traumatic mind states.” According to the experts these situations are caused when a life event occurs that is so fundamentally threatening to the building blocks of the identities that they actually create a temporary state of trauma to an individual's psyche.

“Unemployment is a disease itself and the sense of being jobless can really harm your psyche,” says noted psychiatrist, Dr Arshad Hussain.

Several opposition parties have accused the Jammu and Kashmir administration of being “indifferent” to the plight of the youths of the Union Territory, who were turning to drugs out of joblessness and ensuing frustration.

"The J&K youths are sinking under the weight of the incumbent administration's indifference," remarked National Conference president Farooq Abdullah. "The mounting evidence is in the form of widespread and scathing unemployment and job losses resulting in their continuing alienation and frustration," he says.

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