In volatile Kashmir, unemployment trumps fear as youth turn up for police jobs
He ran the race of his life, clocked a good time and qualified for the next round. But Bashir doesn’t want to be photographed nor does he want his real name used.
He has just finished the first task of the physical endurance test at a police recruitment rally. His friends and family don’t know that the resident of Anantnag in south Kashmir, the hotbed of insurgency, is among 1,600 young men who have queued up at the town’s Highground to prove themselves worthy of a police job.
“I hid my file inside the jacket,” a man standing next to Bashir told HT on Friday morning. He doesn’t want to upset his friends or neighbours. “They will say things like: Why do you want to join the force which commits atrocities on us? Someone might attack me too or threaten my family.”
Bashir overcame these fears but is a bit sheepish about vying for a place in the force that is at the receiving end of people’s anger and militants’ bullets in the Valley, which is again witnessing a summer of discontent.
The ongoing police recruitment drive in Kashmir has seen a big turnout although militants in the last few months have shot dead policemen, threatened their families and ransacked their homes.
Around 1,00,000 candidates have applied for 5,000 posts across Jammu and Kashmir and more than half the aspirants are from the Kashmir Valley, where anger against security forces spills on to the streets regularly, with youngsters pelting stones at them.
Police was not his first choice. The 24-year-old Bashir trained as an electrician but couldn’t find a job. His father has retired and he has siblings who need support.
He is confident of clearing the push-up round after he successfully ran the 1,500-meter race. He is sure he will get the job but he and others around him refuse to be photographed and are reluctant to open up.
“I have not told my friend in my village that I am going for the police recruitment rally. You have to understand the feeling of anger many people harbour against police,” said another aspirant, explaining their reluctance.
Jobs are hard to come by in the Valley, where tourism generates a lot of employment. The years of violence have taken a toll on the picturesque Valley nestled in the Himalayas. Summer is the tourist season but the unrest and increased militant violence is keeping travellers away.
Job avenues are limited and unemployment is high.
“A police job is a good job,” said the man standing next to Bashir.
Earlier this month, militants killed five policemen and two bank guards in an attack on a cash van in Kulgam district of south Kashmir.
Didn’t the killings scare them?
“No I am not scared. Life and death are in the hands of Allah. I will work for the safety of Kashmiris,” one of them said.
What about his family?
“Of course, because of the situation here, they will be worried if I start working as a policeman but they also want me to get a good job.”
Young women, too, want to join police though none of them were there in Anantnag on Friday.
Director general of state police (DGP) SP Vaid said the turnout was huge. “I wish the candidates luck. They should serve with full dedication,” Vaid said.
They would definitely need luck. It is not easy being a cop in Kashmir. Militants target them as they are symbol of the state; for civilians, many of who harbour anti-India sentiment, they represent repression and are traitors in a just cause. The stone-pelter they chase during protests is often a friend or a neighbour.
A policeman, who hails from central Kashmir’s Budgam district and now posted in the south, said khaki was a red rag for protesters.
Stone-pelters tell them: “When you get rid of the wardi (uniform) and quit your jobs, azaadi (freedom) will come.” The policeman said many of his colleagues were mocked or even abused by neighbours.
Those in charge are aware of the danger. Last month, DGP Vaid asked policemen, especially those from south Kashmir, to be cautious while visiting their homes and preferably avoid the visits for the next few months.
In March, 10 armed militants ransacked the house of a police officer in Shopian and warned his family of serious consequences if he did not quit his job. Vaid had then reminded the militants that they, too, had families.
The J-K Police has around 83,000 personnel, according to data available on their website. A “very large number of them are Kashmiri Muslims”, said a spokesperson, adding it was difficult to give the break-up.
Police are one of the big recruiters in the Valley but the response to recruitment rallies was not an indication of ebbing separatist sentiment, political observers say.
At the peak of last summer’s unrest that left around 100 people dead, at least 26,000 young men applied for the job of special police officers, a temporary position with a starting salary of Rs 5,000. Many of the applicants, police sources said, were stone-pelters.
Similarly in 2010, one of the bloodiest summers, a recruitment drive in downtown Srinagar, the epicentre of the stir, saw youngsters turn up in huge numbers. But old Srinagar sill erupts every Friday.