Whatsapp conversation that I entered with a young, talented contributor to our newspaper was revealing for me. The bright young man, his passion and ardor, compelled me to make a suggestion to him. I recommended him to refine his talent and capabilities by going overseas. The young man, after a pause, wrote a bleak response. He said, “I am a villager. I have gone only as far as Jammu and how would an overseas university accept a ‘green horn’ like me”. His response suggested the obvious: the man, even though bright and talented, was not self confident and self assured enough”. This state of mind or even being, I daresay, is pretty thematic in and across Kashmir. Our young people, who are, by comparative and relative standards, pretty intelligent and bright, are out of tune or sync with their selves and get intimidated by the wider world.
The lack of self confidence of our young folk is rather paradoxical. If I were to stock take my experience(s) and make a judgment call, I would go to the extent of stating that young Kashmiris- male or female- are among the brightest in the world. Admittedly, this assertion would open me to the charge of exceptionalism. What I would say in my defense is that I predicate my observation and assessment on my travels and experiences across the Western world- especially the academic universe. There’s hardly any ethnic group or nationality I have not come across. Be it the Chinese, the Africans, the Arabs, Latinos, Burmese, Afghans, Westerners, Pakistanis and so on, I have seen and observed them all. While all or most of them have been blessed with intelligence and talent(s), Kashmiris would also count among the best and brightest of these. To obviate the charge and accusation of exceptionalism, I would urge my readers to consider some factuals. Young Kashmiris have to battle against great odds. But, despite these structural obstacles, they not only survive but also thrive. Be it the poor and shoddy educational system, right from primary to tertiary levels, the bad quality of teaching, economic hardships for many, poor and inequitable access to education, systemic hostility, the humungous problems while looking for and then finding work, young Kashmiris never cease to give up. They battle these structural issues and emerge with flying colors given these and other constraints. But, as the conversation with my contributor friend revealed, the nature of education and other limitations do not transform them into self confident and self assured individuals. This is a psychologically and emotionally debilitating condition that stultifies our youth and kills their natural intelligence and talents.
Can, the question is, the problem be remedied?
Eminently so is the answer.
While the structure, context and environment of our young folks cannot be changed, at least, in the near future, but the world beyond beckons. We cannot change our schools, colleges, universities, teachers and so on but what is amenable to change are spatio- temporal dynamics. By this, I mean, our youth can and must yield to the beckoning of the world beyond. The best and most effective route for changing the spatio- temporal dynamics of our young men and woman are overseas university systems. This system has, gradually and inexorably, opened itself and has gone global. And, it is one sector that may remain immune to the siren songs of ethno-nationalism and nativism. Admittedly, in some cases, there might be a price of a financial nature to pay but, there are many scholarships that young Kashmiris can avail. Or, European Universities, where education is still free, can be trawled and sought out by our young folk. Even if there is a price to pay, it would be well worth it.
The reasons pertain to the process of self discovery that accrues when one is transposed or transported to unfamiliar territory. Young Kashmiris struggling with their sense of selves and attendant issues of low self confidence or even low self esteem, need to throw themselves in these unfamiliar territories where they will not only gain a perspective on their selves but also obtain a vantage point on where they stand. The real battle of our young folk, in terms of self confidence levels and self esteem, is actually with their selves. But, a measured, balance sense of self coupled with confidence can perhaps only happen in a milieu where the nature of education accords an expansive outlook, sense of self and where there are others to measure against. When and if this happens, our young folk will discover that the real limitations that had perceived or felt emanated not from without but from within. But, for this to happen, the journey without has to be undertaken. It is only then young Kashmiris will take on the world and the world will be their oyster. All that needs to be done is to acquire wings and fly!
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]