Kashmir's brain drain

Greater Kashmir

A loss or a blessing? Time will tell

Kashmir doesn’t really look the same. Does it? There are two perceptible changes: one is the change in the manner we do the daily business here. In that, there is a feeling of a vacuum. A vacuum of energetic, passionate and able people. Second is the disturbing street, which, again, gives a feeling of physical emptiness. A feeling that something is amiss. And then there are some silly-sounding, but really genuine, questions. 
Why is vibrancy missing in Srinagar? Why are streets not that busy? Why are village boys disappearing every other day, leaving in search of better education and jobs? Why are workplaces devoid of people who would yesterday adore those spaces? Why a greater number of Kashmiris throng the virtual world of Facebook to connect to each other than meeting in the real world? Where are the people whom we would meet on the Residency Road or at the Regal Chowk every other day?
There could be, of course, many factors why things look this way in Kashmir. But have a look around and you would surely see many people missing. The fact is that today Kashmiri youth are leaving their land as never before. Come backs are rare. Kashmir’s brain drain has reached an unprecedented level. And there are both good and bad sides of this story. 
A deeper cost-benefit analysis may, perhaps, help us understand if we collectively would be net losers or gainers in the long run. For now, some people believe, the loss content outweighs the gain content. Some, on the contrary, believe this migration will pay us better in the longer run. 
The questions that we need to ask today are: can this situation be reversed? Is reversal really desirable? While the vacuum of the political and the administrative spaces is disturbing, wouldn’t this kind of renaissance be rewarding in the days to come?
The first thing we need to confess is that we are today not in a position to retain educated and talented people. We don’t have enough productive work areas to harness their intellectual or technical talent. Internet has given Kashmiri youth great and easy access to the globe. The globe is there with open arms, calling them for education and jobs. Globalisation and greater global movement is also taking a greater number of our business people away. And gone are the days when the lure of our great weather and homely comforts would bring people back. 
The fact is that migration of Kashmiri youth for education and jobs is not a wholly new phenomenon. In the past, places like Lahore, Aligarh and other areas of the erstwhile United Punjab have been popular for education and jobs. Then in the 90s it was mostly South India which was in vogue. That was a time when Kashmiri youth would normally come back home and settle down here for good. Today’s situation is little different. Today, Kashmiri youths’ reach has gone beyond India’s geographical borders, as such coming back home is not that easy option. They are truly international. 
While looking at how all this is going to shape our future, we also need to see how people outside the Valley view all this. 
I once asked a Jammu University’s senior academic of politics how she saw Jammu city’s economic progress and public administration dominance vis-à-vis Kashmir? Her answer was quite a food for thought. She conceded Jammu was developing better economically and that it was marking a good presence in the state’s civil secretariat. But, she said, her worry laid somewhere else: Jammu’s ‘slow and steady intellectual degeneration.’

To many Kashmir watchers, she said, the Valley, over the years, had grown intellectually significantly. The state’s centre of opinion making through media was now Srinagar. When it came to quality education, Kashmir was doing better. In the private sector’s competitive domains, ‘Kashmiri students were better placed because of their better articulation, presentation and physical appearance.’ Kashmir produces writers, thinkers, poets, and the like at a good scale. It had a rich crop of articulate activists. Internationally, it was taken much more seriously.
This part of the story may be true. But there is another part as well. Kashmir’s work place has degenerated tremendously over the last 20 years or so. There is a dearth of discipline. Work ethics aren’t that impressive as they used to be. Any workplace outside a government office is a place for time pass. Or, at best, a transition site. People rarely put their souls in workplaces which are not that of government. 
The last 20 years of conflict and abnormal social conditions have bred aggression among the youths. No doubt people attain greater levels of education but their employability remains low. Then there is the bigger problem – there are very little jobs for the highly educated Kashmiri youths. Favoritism, nepotism and reservations frustrate the talented ones, who eventually migrate.
Those who come back are rare to find the going easy. People normally suffer a serious problem of maladjustment. I know some friends who after coming back have faced depression. They have found themselves like misfits in Kashmir’s work culture. Some people, who have started their own businesses, find working in the high-corruption ridden environment chocking. 
The good part of the migration is that those who come back are normally known to bring back good work practices. Migrants also bring remittances, which, if eventually invested in Kashmir, would help the local economy. They anyway help the overall prosperity. One of the biggest assets of those who go out is their exposure to the world’s multiple realities. Once back, Kashmir is sure to be enriched with the wisdom so acquired.
There are some other interesting aspects of this brain drain. While earlier only children of an elite section of Kashmiris would go out for education and jobs, today it is anybody’s story. In fact, today the youth of the lower social and economic strata forms the bulk of the Kashmiri Diaspora. Times have changed.
But there is another reality whose desirability is debatable. This segment is also today least politically active. It does not take interest in Kashmir’s power politics – which it sees demeaning and unjust. Dejected with the turn of things, and overwhelmed by India’s economic and military might in sustaining the struggle for right to self determination, it is generally indifferent to the azadi movement as well. And that is how, it seems, time plays. That is it.

Feedback at arjimand@greaterkashmir.com