Much has been said and written about what Kashmir wants. These narratives, although impressive, totally disregard the voice of the new Kashmir – the emerging youth of the valley. Over the years, conflict and political instability has continued to crush the dreams and aspirations of the Kashmiri youth. It won't be an exaggeration to say that the Kashmir issue has crossed decades of violence and unrest and has been Asia's longest and bloodiest conflict.
This longstanding warfare has pervaded even the deepest layers of Kashmiri society, but the most affected section remains the Kashmiri youth. AFSPA, AK47's, stone-pelting, concepts of 'Aazaadi', endless encounters, 'Ikhwani's', etc. have become the part and parcel of their day to day experiences and vocabulary. But before we get into the intricacies of the aspirations of the Kashmiriyouth, let us first ask ourselves – do we think and believe that they, the youth of Kashmir, are different from the youth of the rest of the country?I would like to believe that there is no difference between a Kashmiri youngster and a youngster from any other part of India, except, however, in their respective circumstances. Life in the world's largest militarized zone is not easy. People constantly live under dread and fear of being caught at the wrong place at the wrong time.
When one thinks of Kashmir, one pictures beautiful snow-covered down sloping mountains, a thick green cover on the valley, creeks gushing down from the hills, and a perfect amalgamation of blue and green. Yes, Kashmir is all of this. But beneath the fairy-tale like surface lie the shattered dreams of countless youngsters who either died untimely deaths or were radicalised through brainwashing, coercion, and/or negative personal experiences. Years of armed conflict and a heavily militarized environment has taken an immense emotional toll on the state's population.
The 2015 Kashmir Mental Health Survey conducted by the international humanitarian organisation, Doctors Without Borders, found that 45% of adults in the Kashmir valley display major symptoms of mental distress, with about one in five adults, or 19% of the adult population, displaying major symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The survey put the prevalence of depression in adults at 41%. In contrast, the National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16 puts the weighted prevalence of depression at the all-India level in single digits.According to the 2011 census, the lack of quality jobs is one of the major reasons for the frustration of the Kashmiri youth.
A conflict like that in Kashmir can indeed make living difficult for any person and drive away job opportunities. But this survey highlights the aspirations of the Kashmiri youth. They, like every other youngster in this country, need better jobs, better employment, and a chance at a better lifestyle. The only difference here is that they have to spend most of their time fighting for survival instead of even attempting to pursue their passions and dreams.
The Kashmiri youth is largely disillusioned. It is also mostly because of the ostracization they face from rest of the country. Years of violence with our hostile neighbour has led to Kashmir being synonymous to the hub of radicalisation in the eyes of the entire country.
The Kashmiri youth is now perceived as a threat, as was witnessed recently with the widespread anti-Kashmiri sentiment across the country – an attitude that is unbelievably detrimental to the process of mainstreaming them. Kashmir is filled with unmarked graves, orphans, widows, differently-abled, tortured and maimed. The people face death in the valley and stigmatization outside. Kashmiris are collective victims of violence.Amidst all these tensions and the atmosphere of gloom, many Kashmiri youths are fighting to break this cycle of oppression. They choose not to indulge in conflict.
Last year in June, there was news of 30 youths from Kashmir breaking stereotypes by enrolling for NEET preparations in institutes run by the army. Even as Jammu and Kashmir has always been perceived as the centre of violence in the country, these 30 youngsters proved that dreams have the ability to transcend any boundaries. They are harbouring aspirations of pursuing medicineand putting in hard work to achieve their dreams. Education is one of the very few ways out of this turmoil.
This would allow them to become more employable and help them rise above this conflict gradually – even generationally. The youth is efficient and energetic; they just need a push in the right direction.Another largely ignored aspect of Kashmir is the valley's love for sports, in particular football. Kashmiris have always enjoyed this beautiful game. The players here used the entire Kashmiri countryside as their playground. The Indian Team participating in the sixth edition of Nehru Cup, 1987, was led by a Kashmiri named Abdul Majeed Kakroo. Unfortunately, that was the last time that Kashmir relished football.
The period between 1987 and 2018 was characterized by a state of distress, as in 1989 we witnessed the rise of militancy and unrest, and football seemed to fade into oblivion. However, 2018 brought with itself a new ray of hope. On May 2018, a club from Kashmir, with their shoestring budget and limited resources, became the first club from Jammu and Kashmir to play the I-League. Real Kashmir Football Club fought their opponents on the field and their doubters off it to give a new life and meaning to football in the valley.
They clinched the 2nd Division League Title after beating Hindustan FC 3-2 at Bengaluru.RKFC, a club started by Sandeep Chattoo, a Kashmiri Pandit, and Shamim Meraj, a Kashmiri Muslim, to promote football and the culture of sportsmanship among the Kashmiri youth is giving a new lease of life to football and a renewed spirit of hope to the youth. RKFC's story is amazingly depicted in their recently released a BBC documentary. It is heart-warming to see youngsters battling it out on the playground with their eyes full of dreams of making it big one day – a process that has already begun. In a politically stirred-up Kashmir, this club is giving hope to the countless football enthusiasts to live their dream despite their situational complexities. However difficult and unrealistic it might sound, it is happening in the valley as we speak.The narrative of Kashmir needs to be uplifted.
The valley boasts an indomitable spirit that cannot be crushed by any conflict. Despite the gloomy scenario, many youngsters are refusing to give up on their dreams. They are just hoping for the right guidance in the right direction, along with better opportunities in all spheres of life, that would reduce – and eventually end their marginalisation – and help put them into the mainstream.