The debate on Kashmiri youth, like other debates, is politically and emotionally charged. During the 1990s the issue was debated in a far more non-partisan manner that helped the state and non-state organizations address the myriad problems of the young.
After the 2019 abrogation of Art 370, the debate is more partisan and lacks direction. It is glued more to the agenda of parties and resultantly generates more heat than light.
Speaking on National Panchayat Day from Pali village in Jammu on April 25, 2022, Prime Minister Mr Modi thus addressed the youth “trust my words that I will ensure you don’t have to undergo the difficulties and traumatic experiences that your parents and grandparents had to face”.
The former Chief Minister of the state Mehboba Mufti on June 24, 2022, appealed youth of Kashmir “to shun violence and save their lives. She claimed that security forces were getting incentives for killing them.”
“The youth of Kashmir are the best across India and we won’t let their talent get wasted” claimed Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha during a conference on countering Pak propaganda on March 24, 2022.
These exhortations have been made at a time when most problems of Kashmiri youth are akin to what their counterparts are facing in the rest of the country which was not the case in 1990 when the state-driven model of development was still capable of generating public sector jobs.
Today market and mechanization have created a new set of problems. The youth in all parts of the country and our neighbouring countries need common platforms and joint spaces to have a more intense conversation. They need to develop horizontal loyalties to fight vertical structures.
The policy planners, opinion leaders and academics are working on issues basic to youth and their empowerment. Many valuable reports have been produced by think tanks in different countries enumerating the aspirations and problems of youth.
In Kashmir, for a variety of reasons, youth-related concerns have found expression in the policy statements and manifestos of political parties. In this column I have been advocating that mission youth is essentially mission Kashmir.
The mere numerical strength of this core segment of society will determine the destiny of our region. I am sanguine that the future of Kashmir shall be defined by the young who will be potential game-changers. The cohesion of society depends upon our commitment to the cause of youth as the core value for nation-building.
The whole country is watching in a dreadful manner angry youth - giving vent to their rage over the Modi government’s Agnipath scheme. The fact is that youth have simply stopped looking for jobs in a jobless economy.
According to World Bank data, less than one in four Indians aged 15-24 now participate in the labour force and 25 percent of youth job-seekers can’t find work. In these troubled times, the youth need to understand the power of democracy and pluralism and develop faith in the principle of unity in diversity.
The pluralist order can lead to peace and help in building a sound economy. The empowerment of the youth is the basic requirement for domestic social equilibrium. Mutual discord, hatred and rage among people particularly the young results in social disharmony and terrible descent into chaos.
We need a policy environment that is conducive to risk-taking about the future that can also inspire confidence among people. Lord Keynes called it ‘animal spirits which guide buyer and seller spirits.
The youth and their determination and dynamism can prove transformational if we properly address their problems. Pluralism as the framework of governance can prove useful if we involve them in the task of reconstruction, rehabilitation, reconciliation and resolution. We need to have a partnership with youth at all levels.
The youth in Kashmir and the rest of India must understand the significance and salience of pluralism and work for its strength. Pluralism is the idea that all religions are valid. It embodies that we should be respectful towards all religions and accept others’ views of God.
It also means that we can live together. Political thinker Edmund Burke said,” society is not meant for the present. It is a contract between living, dead, and the unborn”. There is no scope for contrived nationalism. The youth need to learn from recent happenings in Sri Lanka and Myanmar and understand that even a tolerant religion like Buddhism will get violent if used for power maximization.
About Hinduism Dr Radhakrishan said,” it is a movement, not a position, a process not a result, growing tradition not a fixed revelation”. These lofty values need to be brought on the ground and practised by all. This is possible if we allow youth to engage in continuous multilevel dialogue on issues of the day-to-day life.
Ali Sardar Jafri sounds relevant “guftagu band na ho, Bat se bat banee”. Maulana Rumi has, through an example, shown the power of conversation and how differences in language, culture etc., pose challenges in understanding simple things that can cause conflict.
The Four travelers - Persian, Turk, Arab, and Greek were on a journey and pangs of hunger overcame them. They had one coin only and argued how to spend it. Each one wanted grapes till a linguist resolved the problem. It is through understanding and analysis that youth can appreciate the relationship between social harmony and economic growth.
Social Harmony and Economic growth
A very interesting study carried out by Brian Grim, Greg Clark and Robert Edward Snyder shows that countries witnessing lower-level religious hostilities and government restrictions on religion ranked higher in progress in education, health, innovation, market efficiency etc.
Religious freedom paves way for political stability and peace, and helps in reducing corruption. Pertinently corruption and violence can ruin the economic vibrancy of societies and retard development. An Australian think-tank Institute for Economics and Peace has found that violence (of all kinds) cost the Indian economy $1,190.51 in 2017 which is approximately 9 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or $ 595.4 (over Rs 40,000) per person.
The economic, ethnic, and communal violence in the polity sends wrong signals to investors or Indians living abroad that India is fractured and unable to rise above domestic cleavages. Former PM Manmohan Singh on several occasions raised this issue in his writings lamenting the shift of the Indian state towards majoritarianism.
He emphasized that “no amount of tweaking of tax rates, showering of corporate incentives or goading will propel Indian or foreign business to invest, when the risk of eruption of sudden violence in one’s neighbourhood looms large”.
The former president of India KR Narayan in his Republic Day speech 2000 stated, “our three-way fast track of LPG (liberalization, privatization and globalization) must provide safe pedestrian crossings for underpowered India also so that it too can move towards equality of status and opportunity”.
Today, the economy is in tight mode. The poor have no money and one-third middle has money but is not spending. A former finance minister recommends that cash transfer to the bottom is one sure way to make society act in a humane manner.
An unequal society cannot remain plural. The International Labour Organization’s motto is “threat to prosperity is poverty”. Against this backdrop, the legitimate question that crops up and needs to be answered is what steps can be taken to safeguard the plural structure of the society so that youth can leverage it for building sustainable peace? The young electorate reflects the youthful demographic profile of Jammu and Kashmir.
The pronounced youth bulge has huge potential to transform the electoral landscape with implications for politics, political parties and representative institutions. The young can significantly contribute to pluralism and nation-building by employing the agency of democracy.
As a long-term initiative, we need to involve youth in the project of democratizing democracy in the region and save it from internal subversion. Our contribution to the idea of democracy and the need for its propagation and adoption in the larger Indian sub-continent as a common legacy is an opportunity and a challenge.
If democracy has transformed political imagination in the sub-continent, the region has also left its imprint on the idea of democracy. It has been a two-way task. To begin with, the introduction of democracy in the region was an opportunity for the elite but subsequently for common people to inscribe their ideas, values and dreams to the evolution of governing arrangements.
Unfortunately, the space for majoritarian interpretation of democracy is growing, causing fissures in society.
The great thinker Bertrand Russell had long anticipated that “tyranny of the majority is a very real danger”. Thomas Jefferson used to say that 51 percent of people would take away the rights of 49 percent”. This is the time to acknowledge the well-being of all in terms of dignity and freedom from fear and hunger as basic to democracy.
The people in the sub-continent imagine democracy through different vocabularies filtered through different experiences. The political parties in Kashmir need to develop their outreach to the young, rise above the weight of politics of distraction, and dial their clocks to 2022 to attract the youth.
The political parties in Jammu and Kashmir need to have youth manifestoes and explain their position on youth empowerment. It augurs well for parties having opened up their organizations to the young.
But the parties also need to know that mere political recruitment is not to yield any benefits unless the youth are provided with proper training and orientation about politics as an agency in the service of the people. Different opinion polls and surveys show inflation and unemployment and freedom from fear as young people’s top concerns.
Equally the quality of education and honest and accountable governance is being valued by the young people. In 2012 the Democratic Youth Federation had its meeting in Srinagar where I happened to be one of the speakers.
The Federation has 30,000 members and many resolutions were adopted viz, hard laws to be revoked, need for political dialogue, increase in investment in social and economic infrastructure, the campaign against corruption and reforms in the education sector were the important concerns agitated by the youth.
It needs to be reiterated at the risk of repetition that Pluralism, not tolerance is the strong foundation for an inclusive society. Each one of us needs to cultivate values of understanding and acceptance.
Prof Gull Wani is Kashmir based Political Scientist
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.