(Ms. Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor, 54, was born in Srinagar, Kashmir. She completed her B.Sc, B.Ed, LL.B (Hons) and Diploma in Journalism, and Masters in Education and Urdu from the University of Kashmir. Ms. Mahjoor has also completed a Masters degree in government and politics of South Asian Governments from the University of London. She is presently the Desk Editor, BBC World service (Urdu) based in London (UK). Among various awards, she has been a recipient of the Best Journalist of the year 2005 by ECO India, Best women Journalist by American Biographer and Best Journalist for highlighting environmental issues by Peshawar Environmental organisation.)
Caught in a Tangle
He and I, we were both jubilant and euphoric to return to our motherland. I would be enjoying the Kashmiri spring after twenty years of self exile and he would be starting his brilliant career for which he had invested his father's two acres of ancestral land, five years of solitude and separation from his mother, her love and her home cooked food. There was glare and radiance in his eyes and a big smile on his face. He was coming home with a childhood dream of making Kashmir his abode and he said "I owe my childhood to this land".
My flight of one hour from Delhi to Srinagar was over in a glance. During the flight, he made me listen to his roadmap of life for which he had worked hard for twenty years with hard earned money. "I have pledged to myself that I will work day in and day out for a corruption-free society in Kashmir," the foundation of which was laid in his mind when he started his education away from his home.
Believe me, this is the story of thousands of Kashmiri boys and girls who spend huge amounts on their studies with an anxious desire to get the best education and make a solid contribution to society. During this phase of their lives, they are clean, honest and intelligent. They need proper guidance to achieve the skills necessary to shape their future. However, it does not work always as planned and at the onset of their career big hurdles prevent them from doing something concrete. Either they have to toe the line of their dishonest seniors who teach them the art of amassing wealth by unfair means or they have to suffer in silence without getting a chance to hone their skills.
The same is the story of my young friend who met me at Delhi Airport and was about to join a new job in an engineering department. He had learnt new architectural techniques, new designs and new ideas in engineering which he wanted to adopt to make safe and secure buildings in Kashmir but once he stepped in, the building of his hopes and aspirations crumbled with one small jolt.
It was only after a few months of his working with the department that I saw him sitting on a bench on the banks of the River Jhelum. He held his head in his hands and was lost in thoughts unaware of his surroundings. Near him were half a dozen dogs playing with polythene bags and other rubbish. I saw his grim and gloomy face with lost hope and lost dreams. The shine in his eyes was gone, as was his hope of becoming the pioneer of new architecture. He had decided to leave the job and leave the valley forever. "I failed because I can't survive in this atmosphere", he said with twitching lips. What had discouraged and shocked him was the handsome offer made by his senior that he would get two percent share of every project henceforth if he kept his mouth shut. Most shocking was the fact that the percentage from him to top officials was discussed in open in the same way as the budget for the project was discussed. Being a novice, he felt offended when he was required to stay in the office rather go on the site visits that would have afforded him opportunities to gain valuable practicable experience in his field.
I don't know if all the new recruits feel the same way as my friend felt and how they would have reacted. I have come across another group of employees, comprising new recruits to old babus.
One common trait among them is that they feel above everybody. They call themselves "Mr Clean" and are known for their honesty and fairness. But there is a problem people face while dealing with such Mr Cleans. Due to their clean image they take such a long time to sort out people's problems that they prefer corrupt officials who at least feel committed to finish the job. Their honesty becomes more expensive than the cost of paying bribes. If clearing a file takes years in a Mr Clean's office can it be called fairness and can it be justifiable? Hardly any case gets resolved on its merit and in due time. Either one has to pay a huge amount to get one’s work sorted or wait months for Mr Clean to clear it. Either way, it is the common man who has to suffer and they suffer more who are most enthusiastic and optimistic.
Corrupt practices are rampant throughout India and there is hardly any department which could be declared corruption free. However, it is much worse in Kashmir where it has become as normal as getting a salary.
Society can become corruption-free only when the highest power centres of the nation become symbols of fairness and justice. If those centres become the biggest centres of corruption the whole society will become rotten. When a common man like my engineer friend gets entangled in this web is there any chance of developing a healthy society? If you have the answers please feel free to share with me.