From Uncertain to Upbeat: Many Shades of Grey

 Hundreds of youths from Jammu & Kashmir turned up in Srinagar to participate in an Army recruitment drive for the first since the scrapping of Article 370
With the amendment to regressive Articles 370 and 35A consigned to the dustbin of history, the crucial question is what is next for the State embroiled in uncertainties for more than 72 years? Though the issue is generally approached with black and white, the ground realities of the state are mixed but hopeful  
For the first time in my career as Journalist, I was offered an opportunity to visit the Kashmir Valley in 2017. As a young journalist, the ‘Kashmir Problem’ has always been a ‘dream beat’ for me. Especially when a polarised narrative on every single issue of national importance is a norm, Kashmiri politics could be a political jigsaw, even for veteran and seasoned journalists. I was visiting the Valley against the backdrop of Burhan Wani, a local terrorist who was gunned down almost a year ago in 2016, and in my conscience I always wanted to see the situation on ground.
It was tough for any outsider, even for a journalist, to visit Ground-Zero to get at the real picture which cannot be experienced sitting in Delhi or just blindly following the media narrative fed by the separatists. My visit to the Valley was a complete eye-opener.
There emerged a completely different picture in the Valley. Except for few disturbed areas, life was pretty normal in the valley. The whole purpose of telling this story is to negate the popular narrative a group of media houses (both national and international) and some foreign-funded activists are trying to portray now the regressive provisions of Article 370 and Article 35A becoming caput.
Just before the Lok Sabha polls, I had another opportunity to visit the Valley. I met dozens of people—students, businessman, civil servants, and so on. During my informal interaction with them, I found that all of them were in favour of abrogating Article 370. After returning from the valley I filed a story “Kashmiri Youths want ‘Azaadi’ from Article 370, 35A and Terrorism” which elicited huge accolades and positive response from all over the country. Though politicians of the State virtually toeing the line of separatists wanted to dictate their narrative and continued misuse of temporary provisions for their own interest, there are many in the Kashmir Valley and other parts of the State who feel that these insidious and discriminatory articles are a massive hurdle not just in the complete integration of ‘Kashmir’ with the rest of Bharat but also in the participatory governance and development of the people.

Articles 370 and 35A is Gone! What’s Next?

The obvious question that is haunting in the minds of youth in the State now Articles 370 and 35-A are gone, what’s next?
It is time for national political parties need to reach out to the people and fill the communication gap through corrective political measures. They have aspirations and that is something the political parties and rest of the Indians have to consider. People of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh want a better life and a peaceful environment and that can be achieved only through the development of the Union Territories.
Zuhail Lone, a Kashmiri youth candidly told Organiser, I appreciate the government’s move of amending Article 370 and abrogating Article 35A. We all have lived here for decades under the shadow of terrorism. We are just hoping for the best. The major crisis is of employment. Almost 60 per cent of the youth does not have any job opportunities. Politicians of the Valley have left us nowhere because of their dirty politics but now we are hoping that the government led by Narendra Modi will address the true aspirations of Kashmir”.
Kashmiri youths are looking up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as someone who can bring development and prosperity to Kashmir. There seems to be a great consensus on the fact that youths in Kashmir do not want politics of bloodshed. He says, “the youth of Kashmir do not want bloodshed anymore. We do not want anything that will bring us death and destruction. We want a beautiful and bright future which is possible only through the development of Kashmir”.
Ladakhis have Huge Expectations from the Government
42-year-old Morup Stanzin, a senior Ladakhi journalist told the magazine that, “Ladakhi youths as well as people in general have huge expectations from the government after the abrogation of Article 370. Youth are expecting greater employment opportunities now, as earlier even Ladhaki jobs were taken away by the Kashmiris. At the same time, there is a little doubt among people about what will happen to their unique culture, economy and land”.
Another 35-years-old Ladakhi, Morang Dorze, commented on the issue, “Articles 370 and 35A was a hindrance to overall development of Ladakh. Now after abrogation of these articles, it feels like fresh air here.”
“Ladakh along with the whole Himalayan region is so fragile and therefore protection of its culture, environment and ecology in the interest of the nation is important. As a youth, our aspirations are to safeguard our culture and heritage by granting the special tribal status under 5th and 6th Schedule of Indian Constitution”, he further added.

Time to Fulfil the Promise

While people of Jammu and Ladakh are happy with the decision, there is a section of people in Kashmir who are against the decision. Analysing the issue, Brig (Retd) Anil Gupta said, “It is in the interest of all Kashmiris to accept the reality. Abrogation of Art 370 and 35A is a reality that is irreversible. The Kashmiri youth who want to live with status quo and refuse to accept the reality will have to be dealt firmly by the government because they are so radicalised that they see this move of the government as a direct assault on Islam. They will have to be dealt with differently by setting into motion the process of de-radicalisation”.
While also highlighting the issue of Economically Backward Section (EWS) certificate. Brig (Retd) Gupta said, “Another case is of EWS certificate. The EWS certificate has not been issued to the youth in Jammu under the pretext of one or the other”.
“As far as the moderate youth is concerned, they are looking for jobs and a free environment to live. The government should adopt twin approach of skill development and providing jobs through the business houses. The promise of 50,000 government jobs must be fulfilled without any delay by setting into motion the recruitment procedures, Anil Gupta emphasised.
“It is not only the Kashmiri youth, even the youth of Jammu have lot of aspirations. Article 370 has been abrogated but the West Pak Refugees youth is still being asked to produce state subjects for enrolment in police and other state jobs. This has disillusioned the youths. While the central government’s intent may be good, there are many blacksheeps in the government departments that ensure that the steps taken by the Centre do not succeed”, said Anil Gupta.
Ibn, a youth from the Valley, when asked about the aspirations, said, “Government of India took the decision to remove Article 370 and 35A, now it’s high time for the government to address the basic problems of the youth without wasting time because 60% of the population in the Valley is youth. Government should boycott those who looted the Centre and the J&K for decades. The promises which Government has made to the people should be taken on a priority”.
According to Jaibans Singh, an expert on J&K, “It is hoped that the youth of the region, especially those of the Kashmir Valley, will correctly understand the changes that are in the pipeline and will come forward to fulfill all such aspirations that have remained dormant due to the long and debilitating shadow of the gun. It is time to relegate politics to a distant second or third position and shift primacy to the socio-economic dimension”.
“Since the intention of the Government is truly genuine, only good things can happen in Kashmir. It is this faith in the good intentions of the nation that is of prime importance. The challenge needs to be dealt with patience, spirit of cooperation and maturity,” he said.
After selling the falsehood of ‘special status’ for so many years and seeing bloodshed and violence for decades, it will be naturally not easy for the people of valley to accept the new reality. They are better off without the hurdles of Article 370 and 35A is to be communicated through action. As far as media is concerned, now at least they should stop being selective and present all shades of opinions and perceptions that exist in both the Union territories of J&K and Ladakh.