A Quest for Identity, Not Education

In his first visit to the state, the incumbent Prime Minister took the unusual step of foregoing any meeting with the general public in Kashmir, and instead, decided to chair the meeting of the Unified Command, the body that oversees the security apparatus in J&K. The inauguration of Uri-II had been kept out of bounds for local journalists, and natives earned a mention when the PM directed the upgrading of a rural school, with the statement that the ‘future of a nation’ was good when its people ask for ‘education.’

Asking for ‘education’ in Kashmir is nothing new. In 1951, the state had a literacy rate of 12 percent. It had just started its first University, in Kashmir, in 1949, and there was no medical college. Now, according to 2011 figures, the literacy rate stands at 67 per cent, a 12 per cent rise since the census of 2001 – a remarkable feat for a state beset by problems not of its own creation.

The percentage is much higher in overtly peaceful districts, like 83 in Jammu and 81 in Samba, as compared to the far less flattering figures for the violence-hit Kashmir Province.

Jammu and Kashmir has eight universities now (three in each region), six of which are state-run, and a Central University each for the Kashmir and the Jammu provinces. By contrast, Uttar Pradesh, with its 200 million people, has 53 universities, or 4 per million, whereas J&K has 1.5 universities for a million people. The Education Department of the state is believed to employ the most number of people for any wing of the government.

For a state that has attached high value to girl education, which sends hundreds of thousands of students to other parts of India and abroad for higher studies each year, which has reached the saturation point in terms of youth employment, it is surprising to note that the incumbent PM found it encouraging that a few people had asked for an upgraded school. He seemed not to have noticed that most educated youth in Kashmir, on the day he arrived, were locked in their homes, or had preferred not to go to work out of solidarity with a ‘boycott’ call given by certain organisations in Kashmir.

He also overlooked the fact that, unlike in other parts of the nation, where he is greeted by rapturous crowds, his visit brought little more than a few paid-for billboards in Lal Chowk that were erected by some power-hungry, turncoat, cronies of his party.

If it was education Kashmir wanted, then education was brought to Kashmir a long, long, time ago. But long before, during, and even after education was brought to Kashmir, Kashmir remained a tense, tinder-box, because of the lack of importance that successive governments in Delhi attached to the quest for Kashmiri identity.

The youth of Kashmir, currently protesting the Israeli aggression in Gaza, and paying for that with their lives, do not need to be reminded of Development, and Education. They already have that. They also need not be spoken to in condescending terms, and asked to ‘join India’s growth story,’ or be ‘left behind,’ since for most Kashmiris, India is the country of the local Army unit and CRPF Battalion which regularly beat, imprison, and often kill, Kashmiri youth without justifiable cause.

The PM should be advised that the future is never going to be bright unless the issue of Identity and a complete, peaceful, solution to the Kashmir problem is worked out. A few schools here and a few dams there don’t make Kashmir a peaceful paradise.