The dead man and the gravedigger came face to face in a blood-laced moment, driven by an equal angst: they had both set out seeking a cherished ambition, to be police officers, and lost their way.
Kashmir’s crippling unemployment equally crisscrossed the lives of Abdul Rehman Padder — a 37-year-old carpenter who was labelled a Pakistani militant and killed, allegedly in a staged police gunbattle — and former college student Mushtaq Ahmad Baba, 30, the digger who lowered his body into the four-and-a-half-feet-deep grave. For the past decade, no head count of the unemployed has been done in Jammu and Kashmir. But unemployment is overwhelming, officials say. In the state of one crore people, only 44,000 people worked in the 1,155 registered factories when the last Census was taken in 2001. About 1,23,000 worked in agriculture, fishing and forestry-related trades.
Alongside other political reasons, unemployment has long fuelled the discontent in a state where the militancy has killed at least 40,000 people since 1989, according to official estimates. Non-governmental groups put the number at 70,000.
When the militancy was climaxing, Baba, the gravedigger, was at Srinagar’s government-run college, studying the sciences, but says he could not complete his education due to problems at home. “I was qualified for the job. They did not hire me. I must have gone for the interviews so many times,” Baba said. “The other applicants told me, ‘why are you wasting your time if you don’t have money to give?’”
Baba's brother was once a Hizbul Mujahideen militant. He gave up arms and now works for the Territorial Army under a government scheme, Baba said.
But for people like himself, “there are just no jobs here. That was one of the reasons why the militancy started,” he said, as he looked at the rows of graves. “I could not do much for myself. So I started doing this, digging graves.”
Paddar was chasing a similar desperation. He had, his family alleges, given about Rs 75,000 to his relative, Farrukh Ahmed Paddar, a lanky, 6’5” police officer in the Special Operations Group, a police crack unit widely accused of extra-judicial action. The police officer, now under arrest, had allegedly said he would use the money as a bribe to get his carpenter cousin a job in the police force. There are allegations, but no evidence, that such jobs can be landed with bribes.
A year passed, and the job did not materialise. Abdur Paddar began heckling his cousin to get him a job, or return the money, his family says. On December 8 last year, Farrukh Paddar allegedly summoned the carpenter to meet him; he was last seen alive at the Batmaloo bus station in Srinagar.
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