As the 45-year-old Ghulam Ahmad Ganai stops his car to a screech, villagers watch him with an element of surprise. Ganai has bid adieu to his village Kuchmulla in Tral quarter of Pulwama district almost a decade ago to settle in a posh locality of capital Srinagar.
He is quite an illiterate person but his way of living is characteristic to that of a well-educated middle class urban native. Not long ago he was rearing cattle for the villagers. The milieu of insecurity and uncertainty, caused in the wake of eruption of terrorism drove him out of the village for a somewhat secured atmosphere of Srinagar, where he got into carpet industry. Initially, he worked as a dyer in a small carpet factory but quickly mastered the techniques of the trade to become one of the flourishing businessmen.
Ganai does not stand alone in the crowd but he definitely personifies the change witnessed in the social and family life in rural Kashmir in the past 17 years of turmoil. A keen study would make one feel that from the debris of death and destruction the Valley has been reeling under has emerged a new social structure at least for those, who somehow survived the hostility around. Kashmir, mainly the rural population, had all along been a restricted society and few people would like to venture out. Many of them would have only but occasionally visited even the capital city of Srinagar.
The survival instinct in the new but insecure environment drove many people out. Kashmiri residents could be seen anywhere right from Srinagar to Jammu and Delhi. Around 50 colonies have come up in and around capital Srinagar during the years of trouble, which are mainly dominated by the rural migrants. "The exposure to the outside world affected a psychological change among them, and they began to think and act in new terms," says Khursheedul Islam, a sociologist. He says that many residents shifted their children to the cities for quality education. The growing urge for quality education prompted many people to open up public schools with English as a medium even in the remote countryside. "A village student is able to compete with the best students anywhere in the country," adds Khursheed.
An official of the Institute of Management and Public Administration (IMPA) says that of the 22 probationary officers of Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) undergoing training 14 were villagers. A random look at various service cadres suggests that the rural Kashmir dominates even the health and engineering sectors. An official of Kashmir university says that rural students form around 80 per cent in the post graduate departments.
Irfan Ahmad, executive director of Jamkash, a big house in car dealing, says that out of 300 cars they sell every month over 200 are bought by the rural customers. The company was awarded the best in rural marketing by Maruati Udyog last year. Money was never a problem in rural Kashmir. But they weren't exposed to such things," Irfan says adding, "their (village residents) outlook has broadened by way of their interaction with the outside world, and now a car appears a need to them."
Ghulam Nabbi Bodha, Deputy Commissioner Ganderbal, who is director social welfare and had a long interaction with the countryside dwellers, says that the boom in horticulture, handicrafts and lion's share in service sector besides several central government sponsored scheme for rural development brought a paradigm change in the social and living standard of the people.
"Change is a natural process. It is bound to occur even without the government's intervention," says Shahnawaz Alam, economist and professor of economics in IMPA. He says that it is the economic stability of the people, which affected the social sector. He, however, complains that rural areas are yet to get what they deserve in real. "Rural areas form 75 per cent of our population. Their share in the service sector does not match what they deserve," he adds.