Recruitment Rallies By Army In J&K Generate Massive Response

8 August 2014
The Economic Times
Masood Hussain

Srinagar: There is much in Kashmir that can seem paradoxical - like the young men who hurl stones at the security services and then queue up to be recruited by them. Some hail this as a sign of optimism, but on the other hand, it also shows the complete lack of employment opportunities. Young people so badly want jobs, as they do anywhere in India, that recruitment rallies by the Army, paramilitary services and the police generate a massive response. But there aren't enough openings for everyone and dashed hopes lead to disappointment and anger, a potent mixture that inevitably ends in violence on the streets of Kashmir. Different reasons, same result: More stone chucking at the security forces. Even more worryingly, the unemployment rate in the state is twice that of its neighbours. The options are limited: When the BSF advertised for sepoys, graduates and post-graduates applied. On Tuesday, more than 4,000 reported to the Army's recruitment rally in remote Tangdar, near the Line of Control (LoC). The first cut-off was on the basis of height. Those who had been eliminated lost their cool and started throwing stones at the selectors and those remaining in contention for the jobs. Some 15 people were injured. One received a serious head injury and had to be evacuated to Srinagar. The protestors alleged that the selectors were biased against some aspirants, a charge the Army rejected. This has now become par for the course. Last month, selectors from the state's fire services department got jittery when more than 14,000 people reported for a selection test in Srinagar. 'It was a sea of people in the indoor stadium,' said a police official deployed to manage the situation. 'The frightened officials decided against holding the tests all over Kashmir and that triggered a crisis.' This led to a pitched battle with police with stones raining down on the security personnel in the state's summer capital. As always in Kashmir, the most terrifying part is keeping a lid on violence without allowing it to spiral out of control by showing restraint in the face of provocation. In this instance, the situation was brought under control with great difficulty, according to the police. In September 2012, a similar clash broke out at a police recruitment rally in central Kashmir's Chadoora town that left more than a dozen people injured. The Army faced a major crisis in Rajouri in July 2010 when angry applicants set fire to some vehicles and left 24 injured. This happened after the Territorial Army's recruitment rally got an unexpected response. Generally, those failing to make a mark at the entry level turn violent and accuse selectors of favouritism, something that's believable in the context of the subcontinent even if the system may be scrupulously fair. Still, Kashmiri youth looking to become soldiers is regarded as a major shift from the days when Muslims were actually asked not to apply to the Army. That the Army is organising special recruitment rallies in the state is a reflection of how much things have changed since the late 1990s when suspicion and violence were at their worst. Another paradox - a Kashmir soldier killed in clashes may be honoured as much as a militant would be. Funerals of soldiers are being attended by large crowds nowadays. In May, when Army man Mushtaq Ahmad Mir was killed in a gun battle, there were thousands at his funeral at Chadoora. For perhaps the first time ever, Kashmir saw a coffin draped in the Tricolour and locals and soldiers mourning together. Similar scenes, albeit on a smaller scale, were seen at Ganderbal's Dub village when Army man Shabir Ahmad Malik was killed in Kupwara in March 2009. The Army has, of course, always recruited from Jammu and Kashmir, usually from the border districts, although this slowed after militancy took hold in the 1990s. Later, it started recruiting some of the men it had 'won over' and used in the fight against militancy. Most of these former surrogate soldiers are now part of the Territorial Army. The Army also succeeded in persuading the younger generation, many of whom increasingly wanted little to do with the insurgency, to see the Army as a career option. Most such recruits become part of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) regiment. The Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force have also recruited some of those they used in Kashmir's counter-insurgency operations, paving the way for others to follow. Even after the 2010 unrest that saw 125 deaths, the BSF got 3,000 applications for 179 sepoy positions it advertised in December that year. The applicants included 35 graduates and 15 post-graduates. Some of these recruits are serving in the Naxal-hit belts in central India and even in the Northeast. Though the youth at the recruitment rallies are no different from the restive generation that dominates the streets, it is unemployment that is the real motivator. Jammu and Kashmir has an unemployment rate of 4.9 per cent, more than twice that in neighbouring Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Unemployment is more chronic among females (20 per cent) and in urban areas (7.8 per cent). When contacted, Army officials said recruitment from Jammu and Kashmir was a routine matter and had no numbers to offer. Apart from JAKLI, people from the state are well represented in the Leh Scouts and the Dogra Regiment, they said. Home to the Army's most-decorated Northern Command, Jammu and Kashmir has three corps and efforts are underway to create one more for managing the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control (LoAC). In the paramilitary forces, more than 5,000 people were recruited in the last decade from Jammu and Kashmir. Not everyone is eligible to apply, especially those who have some involvement with militancy, protests or stone pelting. They are indexed and can't even get passports, leave alone a government job. But the state has shown some imagination in its bid to win over hearts and minds while clamping down on violence. The state police recruited 1,837 youth at the end of the 2010 unrest, including 1,114 from Srinagar city, most of who had been among those chucking rocks. They were then used to curb this form of protest, tweaking the old aphorism to this: Set a stone-thrower to catch a stonethrower.