For a while now, Kashmir’s educated youth had locked their destiny in two career options. They either wanted to join medicine or become engineers. Job security and a symbol of status in society were perhaps the two main reasons which would lure a young boy or girl or their parents to push for these two choices. Kashmir has produced a number of internationally reputed doctors and technocrats who mostly made their name outside India. However, with saturation in the field of engineering and medicine and then limited scope for getting suitable jobs, youngsters inclinations for these careers dropped drastically in the previous years.
With management becoming another area of interest for many youth, particularly for those who opted to study out of Kashmir, the Civil Services is fast becoming a favourite career option with them. Not only are educated youth trying their luck in the local state civil service commonly known as Kashmir Administration Service (KAS), they have also been treading on a relatively challenging path of cracking the prestigious All India Civil Services, better known as Indian Administrative Service (IAS). The past few years have seen many Kashmiris, particularly Muslims, trying to join the elite services. This is significant for more than one reason.
One, the level of alienation of Kashmiri youth with the rest of India has been increasing and finally the capabilities of these young boys and girls is being recognised by the world. When the results of the Civil Services Examination-2012 conducted by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) were announced on May 2, it was a bag full of surprises for Kashmir. This time, 11 candidates – out of them eight from Kashmir alone – cracked the examination to take their place in the highest echelon of bureaucracy. A few of them had tried a second time to improve their ranks. Interestingly, out of four Muslims across India who figured in first 100, three were from Kashmir.
This spectacular achievement of Kashmiri Muslims for the IAS is linked to the euphoria (or many call it, simple interest) that was generated by the selection of Shah Faesal, the youth who hailed from the border district of Kupwara and topped the IAS in 2010. His selection was seen as a watershed development in the battered history of Kashmir vis-à-vis the opportunities its people had in the Indian system. Faesal effectively dispelled the myth that Kashmiris were people who are just a pampered lot and were happy to live on “subsidies”.
It was way back in 1969 when Mohammad Shafi Pandit became the first Kashmiri Muslim to crack the examinations. He rose to the position of Chief Secretary and later served as Chairman of the Public Service Commission. There was again a long haul until Iqbal Khandey, the current Chief Secretary made it to IAS in 1978, although another Kashmiri Muslim G R Sufi qualified for the Indian Revenue Service in 1975, through the same process. In 1982, Khurshid Ganai cracked the examination, but till 1993 there was a lull which was broken by Asgar Samoon, who qualified in Scheduled Tribe quota. He hails from the remote Gurez area near Line of Control. However, in 1994, two Kashmiris Javed Gilani and Abdul Gani Mir, made it to the Indian Police Service (IPS) and are currently serving in the state as Inspector Generals. It was in fact Mir’s initiative in the last few years, which played an important role in attracting youth towards preparing for the exams. He formed the Initiative for Competition Promotion in Jammu and Kashmir (IPCJK) for this purpose. Pandit in his capacity as PSC Chairman and later mentor of Ascent Group too contributed in shaping their minds towards this direction.
Although many Kashmiri Pandits had made it to All India Services, for Muslims it remained a taboo for a long time. The selection of Gilani and Mir in the thick of militancy was a big surprise. Both had moved out of the Valley to pursue education and then prepare for the examination. But here the atmosphere was such that even their selection would have been a major source of trouble for the families. Uncertainty on the political front had forced youngsters to confine themselves to homes and small-time jobs and routine courses in medicine or engineering.
However, it was in 2009 when Imtiaz Ismail Parrey (from Kashmir) and Shahid Iqbal Choudhary (from Rajouri in Jammu) broke the jinx after 15 years and got into IPS and IAS respectively. They set the stage for the grand “selection” of Shah Faesal and since then there has been no looking back. In the last 20 years, more than 25 Kashmiri youth have qualified for IAS and other services thus creating a huge base for their role in policymaking at the highest level. Shah Faesal does not give much credit to himself for “luring” the youth towards this prestigious service. “I don’t think so. But I guess the media coverage and newspaper-space that my success consumed, did in a certain manner help in raising awareness about the exam. Kashmiris are extremely intelligent people. My selection was just an excuse, the talent was already there”, he told this writer.
It’s not just the boys, but the girls too are fight fit when it comes to cracking this highly competitive examination. Ovesa Iqbal, a young girl from Leh in Ladakh region became the first Muslim woman to break the deadlock. She was later selected for the Indian Foreign Service (IFS). She was followed by Syed Sehrish Asgar, a medical doctor who showed an unmatched courage to fight the tough processes. She first completed her MBBS, which is otherwise considered a laborious course. Then she topped the KAS in the state, got selected for IPS in 2012 and now surprised all by getting the 21st rank in IAS this year. Ruveda Salam is another young woman from remote Kupwara district who made it to the list this year. She had also qualified for KAS two years back.
What is interesting is that most of the youth who cracked the IAS in last 20 years, have abandoned their first choice of becoming doctors and engineers. Out of the 25 selected since 1990, thirteen were medical and engineering graduates like Shah Faesal, Imtiaz and Shahid.
While there is no direct role of government in pushing these boys and girls into the elite service, in the case of Kashmir their selection becomes politically significant. The distances between Srinagar and New Delhi have increased. The volatile situation which arose from 2008 to 2010 manifested the deep sense of alienation Kashmir’s youngsters felt towards the Indian mainstream. Stone pelting by youth and their active participation in anti-India protests did highlight their level of frustration and in the aftermath of Afzal Guru’s hanging that sense was further revitalised. In that backdrop, the urge of Kashmiri youth to join the system at the highest level cannot be ignored.
One of the selected youth, however, tries to delink it from what is happening on the ground or what in other words is the reality. “I am not sure how it plays at the level of sentiments. I think all it does is to enhance our faith in the system to a certain extent. It promotes a spirit of competition and excellence in youngsters. But I would like to keep it at the level of careers only”.
Whatever the impact such selections will have on the overall situation, their presence in a system which is completely dominated by the “outsiders” will surely make a difference. With Iqbal Khandey (who is the first Kashmiri Muslim who became Chief Secretary of state after 18 years in February this year) as an exception, the top echelon of bureaucracy has hardly any Muslim officers. Getting into IAS may not change the political destiny of Kashmir but it surely places its youngsters in a competitive world which holds out more hope.