With over 70 percent of Jammu and Kashmir’s population under 35 years of age, chronic unemployment and under-employment has spawned problems for the state’s fragile peace and impacted the pace of development. With a rising population and less job prospects, too many young people are idle and this means trouble for the state. The solution to this problem is to give the valley’s young men and women a chance to be a part of the “India Shining” story.
According to National Sample Survey Office, in 2004-05 the state had around one lakh unemployed person and in 2007-08 the number was higher at 1.3 lakhs. Reports and analysts have been pointing towards lack of opportunities within the State to engage the youth in gainful employment. Tourism could have helped in giving employment to many people and other sectors like handicrafts, handlooms and transport could have been important in engaging the youth, but the volatile security situation and engineered disruptions by vested interests have hit these business avenues in the valley even though they have been registering a rise in Jammu and Ladakh.
What is being missed out is that the Kashmiri youths have got the whole India available for exploiting their talents but they harbour reservations to do so. With the right skills under their belt they could and should give wings to their dreams throughout the country. Training youth in the hospitality and adventure tourism will not only open avenues for them in the state but also give them a window to earn livelihood in other parts of the country. Handicraft sector in Jammu and Kashmir has a revenue generation capacity of over Rs. 1,000 crore, but this labour intensive sector has been underperforming due to lack of a Kashmir brand, poor quality control, existence of middlemen and competition from machine woven fabric. Kashmir branding and a business model would help the people associated with the industry to benefit from it and to take their products to a larger market in the rest of India.
To satiate the hunger of the job starved Kashmiri youth one needs to follow a two-pronged strategy. The first prong envisages improving skill sets among the youth by giving impetus to education and training. This should be followed by the coming together of sectors which have potential of huge employment generation. The rest of India has gained from focussing on human resource development of middle class to tap the boom in information technology and software to airlines, banking, hotels and telecommunications etc. Kashmir has been left out because of the raging insurgency which has eroded the skill base of the youth and due to lack of interest from the private sector which has created schism in the aspirations and achievements of the younger generation.
As part of generating opportunities the state government had invited young Kashmiris to register with an entrepreneurship project targeting the unemployed, over six lakh people have signed up so far. Following the initiative by the government to train 8,000 youth per annum in soft skills, private companies have express interests in building up the foundation in the state. Under the public-private partnership, these companies will organise training sessions for the young people and the cost would be shared 50:50 between the company and the government. The companies who have shown interest are Infosys Technologies, Tata Consultancy Services, Godrej & Boyce, BILT, Crompton Greaves, Avantha Group, Bajaj Auto, WWFI, JCB India, Tata Motors, Tata Global Beverages and Apollo Hospitals. Infosys has envisaged creation of a Special Training Program in partnership with IIT Bangalore to enhance employability of science and engineering graduates of the state.
There is not any dearth of aspirations among the young lot but the need of hour is a little trust in their abilities. This is an area where the Army in Kashmir has been doing some pioneering service. Under the ambit of a development initiative code named Operation Sadbhavna the Army has, over the last decade plus, been engaged in the education sector by opening a series of Army Goodwill Schools and has been imparting soft skills through community development centres and vocational training centres. A large number of education and motivation tours are organised by the Army every year to create awareness amongst the youth about the opportunities that are available for them in the rest of the country. The force has really shown the way how to give wings to the dreams and aspirations of the youth.
The security forces are, by themselves, a very potent avenue for employment of the youth. The eagerness amongst the young men and women of Kashmir to wear the uniform is evident from the huge response that recruitment rallies of the Army, the Paramilitary forces and the JK Police generate. The government has to find ways and means to enhance this opportunity. The presence of the Army in the region is yet another source of employment generation, the force is in constant need of food, supplies, transport, manpower for casual labour and a whole lot of other day to day requirements. The personnel going on leave invariably carry a number of items for their families back home. The State should recognise this as a sector from which employment can be generated and give it the impetus that it merits.
While avenues are umpteen for the youth to prove their mettle what is required is an honest attempt from the Kashmiri young brigade and reposing of trust in their abilities by the rest of India. This is the call of the future and this is what should attract the attention of the leadership.