Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Revolution Among the Young

Pervez explores a growing trend among youth in the valley that is both path-breaking and encouraging. He sees the growing participation by Kashmiri youth in the Indian civil service examination as a positive trend. The separate write-ups below were published as a "cover story" in the June 2013 edition of the English weekly Sahara Time, Delhi.

(Mr. Pervez Majeed Lone, 37, was born in Ashpora, a hamlet located in Handwara Tehsil in the Kupwara District. His primary schooling took place in government schools in his hometown, and he finished his higher secondary education from the Government Higher Secondary School, Kupwara. He graduated from the University of Kashmir as a Continuing Education student with Sociology, Philosophy and English Literature as major subjects. In 2004, he completed his Master's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Kashmir. He has worked in various local Urdu journals (Chattan, Pukar) and the Radio Kashmir (Sheharbeen) before joining the Sahara Time, a weekly national news magazine from the Sahara Group. He is passionate about the Urdu language and poetry, and loves to listen to music, read English literature and traveling.)

Valley’s Phenomenal Renaissance

After decades of desperation, Kashmir sees its youth enthusiastically competing and getting through the elite civil service examination. There is a phenomenal change in the mindsets of Kashmiri youth, who are seeing a whole new world of hope and opportunity in the CSE. Sahara Time correspondent in Srinagar Pervez Majeed brings forth the new emerging scenario of the Valley

Till 2009, Kashmiris proudly yet longingly used to count on fingers the names of those who had qualified the Civil Services Examination (CSE) of the UPSC. They fondly recalled how Muhammad Shafi Pandit became the first Kashmiri Muslim to qualify the coveted competitive examination in 1969. They boastfully talked about Abdul Gani Mir and Javid Gilani, that time the last Kashmiris to qualify the CSE and become IPS officers. The dominant impression about Kashmiri youth not trying for, and getting into CSE had more psychological than rational reasons. They either deemed it something too higher to reach at, or too tough to pass through. Moreover, arguably, the turbulent situation, of which youth bore the major brunt, had fatigued and probably demoralised them too much to consider a highly competitive examination like that of the CSE.

This phase of desperation and deprivation continued for 15 years, till 2009. In May that year, the qualifying of CSE by two youth from the state, one from Jammu province and another from Kashmir, came as much-need morale lifter. Shahid Iqbal Choudhary and Imtiaz Ismail Parray became the first youth of J&K in 15 years to crack the CSE. While Shahid got 51st rank making his place in the IAS, Imtiaz at 134th rank became an IPS officer. The selection of the two youth from two regions of the state to the highest administrative set-up served as a practical encouragement and inspiration for youth of the troubled state. In the subsequent year 2010, five youth from the Valley qualified the CSE, with the historical event of Shah Faesal becoming the first from J&K to top the prestigious examination. In 2011, nine candidates from J&K qualified the CSE, whileas three cracked the Indian Forest Service examination. In 2012 a record 11 youth from J&K qualified the CSE, seven of them belonging to Valley. This year,14 from the state cracked the exam, eight of them from the Valley. Among the four Muslims who figure in the top 100 list, three are from J&K. Ruveda Salam became the first Muslim female from Valley to qualify the CSE. Highly motivated

Since 2009 when two J&K youth passed the CSE, and particularly after Shah Faesal’s historic feat of topping the exam, the youth of Kashmir are highly motivated and enthusiastic to crack the CSE. And the encouraging results of more and more youth from the state making it to the highest echelon of civil service makes them more motivated and impassioned toward the exam. Nowadays, parents and the students have found qualifying the CSE a promising new career option, which brings with it more lustre than other professions. With the increasing interest of young boys and girls toward CSE, the number of coaching and counselling centres as growing as well. Engineer Ghulam Nabi War, who runs one of the first civil service coaching centres in Kashmir, says the increased awareness among Kashmiri youth about civil services is resulting in more and more qualifying every year. “Earlier, appearing in civil services exams used to be domain of the youth of high-strata of the society, but nowadays students from lower-middle class and poor families are well informed about it and they excel as well,” he explains. War informs that even 12th standard and under-graduate have enrolled themselves at his coaching institute. “We have boys and girls from far-off areas who are our regular students and stay at our hostels,” War said. The University of Kashmir which has established Centre for Career Planning and Counselling for the civil services aspirants, is planning to come up with a residential coaching centre for the civil service aspirants of the state. "The centre is running with a goal to inspire more and more people for civil services,” said Prof Talat Ahmad, Vice-Chancellor of the University. Labour of motivation Noted broadcaster Syed Humayun Qaisar, incharge of youth, sports and education programmes at Radio Kashmir Srinagar is credited with creating awareness and motivation among youth toward the state and national-level civil service exams through his programmes. Terming the huge interest of Kashmiri youth for CSE as reflection of positive frame of mind for competition, Qaisar says: “It has taken Radio Kashmir Srinagar around 15 years of counselling and hundreds of hours of broadcast time to bring in a change in attitude of parents and children alike. We have succeeded in changing mind set of parents since they, previously, thought CSE to be waste of time.” Commenting on the phenomenal trend, senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari says that though 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.

Odysseys of accomplishment

They are from far-off, mountainous regions, small, non-descript villages and towns; they endured ordeals of sorts to make it to the country’s prestigious examination. Meet the new young brigade of Jammu & Kashmir who represent a new determination and yearning of a whole new generation of youth of the politically-troubled state. Pervez Majeed tells their stories of confidence, hard-work and perseverance

Ruveda Salam

Her resolve is as strong as the hills surrounding her village. Ruveda belongs to Farken, a secluded hamlet in the frontier district of Kupwara, which is known as the gateway of militancy in Kashmir, owing to it nearness with the LoC. At the age of 27, Ruveda achieved something which not only brought laurels to her home-district, but also to whole Kashmir, as she became the first Valley Muslim girl to qualify the civil services, as other female qualifiers, Ovessa and Sehrish belong to Ladakh and Jammu regions respectively. When Ruveda qualified the stiff government-conducted entrance examination for MBBS, she took it as a first step of the journey, rather a destination. After becoming a doctor in 2009, during her internship, she started preparations for the KAS, the state- level civil service exam. In 2011, she became one of the few girls from Gujjar community and very few Kupwara district to qualify the KAS. For two years, she worked in different capacities in the government and simultaneously prepared for the CSE. “I didn’t join any coaching classes, rather many colleagues and friends who are CSE qualifiers helped and guided me,” she says. As being in a job left her with little time for preparations, yet she managed 4-5 hours of study every day. As the news of her cracking the CSE broke, people of her home district celebrated the feat of “daughter of the soil.” “I am most happy about this fact as it will inspire girls in J&K, particularly in the Valley, to pursue their dreams of making it big not just in civil services but also in other fields of their choice,” she said adding that she is going to re-appear in the CSE to improve her rank which is 820.

Showkat Ahmad Parray

howkat’s saga of achieving the feat of getting into IAS is as awful as it is inspiring. Belonging to a typical poor family of backward Vizar village of Baramulla district, he seemingly had limited resources and avenues to cherish the dream of competing in the CSE. However, equipped with tremendous grit and determination, he embarked on a path, destination of which he reached this year. With his schooling in his native village, Showkat became a veterinary doctor, after competing through the stiff state level competition for professional courses. He served in the Department of Animal Husbandry for eight months. Despite having a promising job as a vet, he continued to cherish his dream-IAS. In 2010 Showkat qualified the CSE with 256 rank. He is posted was Assistant Chief Accounts Officer in the postal department. Despite this accomplishment, he was not contended. He re-appeared in the examination and this year got 41st rank, making him the first IAS of his district, which has very few CSE qualifiers. Showket is from has a very humble family background. His father Bashir Ahmad is an employee of Power Development Department and mother a housewife. Till recently Ahmad had to alone feed a family of eight, which included education to his four children. As a student Showkat had been doing different small jobs to support his studies. As Showkat prepares to leave for the training for the prestigious IAS, he meets hordes of friends, relatives and neighbours at his home with gratitude. “I am humbled by the love and admiration of people; my aim will be to help and guide the aspirants and make them believe that they have the potential to make it big,” Showkat said. His friend and neighbour Kashif says that people still approach him to treat their domestic animals and he happily does so.

Muhammad Aijaz

Aijaz’s is a story of hardwork, passion and self-confidence. Hailing from Dharana village in the border district of Poonch along the LoC, he had nurtured the dream of becoming an IAS officer since his childhood. Like any other village in Poonch, once the hotbed of militancy, Dharana has lived through gunfights and croos-LoC shelling. It is in this atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that Aijaz had his schooling. After passing 10th standard from Jammu he did BTech in mechanical engineering at IIT-Delhi. “Eventhough I got a good job, but the dream of becoming an IAS officer had made me restless,” he says. He qualified the state-level civil service examination-Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS) “ but I have closely seen the pathetic life of people of my area; I wanted to do something for them and there is no better way than IAS,” he maintains. In 2011, Aijaz became the third person from Poonch to qualify CSE. He got the Indian Revenue Service, but still Aijaz’s dream of becoming an IAS officer didn’t give him contentment. The dream, which he had nurtured while living in the hilly terrain of his native place was realised this year, when he re-appeared in the CSE and got the 168 rank, thus getting the IAS. “I am fortunate that I have got the J&K cadre; I am hopeful I will go back to my border village to serve my people with whom I have made a commitment when I had left it for CSE preparations,” jubilant Aijaz said.

Gulzar Ahmad Wani

The journey of this village boy, from his far-flung, backward hamlet to a flashy office chamber of income tax department in the fashionable modern city of Chandigarh, is a tale of courage and hard-work. After completing his schooling from his home district, he left his home for Delhi. As a young boy he endured the ordeals of homesickness and paucity of money while pursuing his BA, LLB honours course at the Jammia Millia Islamia University in Delhi. It is there that the ambition of qualifying the CSE grew stronger. He structured his studies for the examination, and cracked it in the very first attempt in 2011, at the age of 23. Gulzar is now posted in the Income Tax Department as Assistant Commissioner in Chandigarh. Hailing from Darwa village of Baramulla district, 65 kms from Srinagar, Gulzar belongs to a humble family. His father has been eking out a living from the agricultural land of the family, while as mother is a housewife. About his feat, Gulzar says: “As a village boy I have seen life very closely and I know the issues at the ground level. So I hope village boys will prove to be the better administrators and decision-maker.”

Ovessa Iqbal

Ladakh remains cut-off from rest of the world for atleast six months during winters due to snowfall. In its non-descript hamlet Chachot Shamma of Leh district , not many knew its resident Ovessa Iqbal is going to make history by becoming the first Muslim from J&K to qualify the CSE, after several decades. Belonging to a middle-class family, her father is a farmer while she lost her mother in an accident. She has her schooling in her village, later doing Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering from Punjab University. Ovessa, 27, exemplifies unrelenting determination. She failed in two attempts but didn’t give up, finally qualifying in 2011. Though she had already qualified the state-level civil services examination, but she was passionate about the IAS. “I always wanted to have a place at the decision-making level to contribute in making peoples’ lives better,” she says. Ovessa got the Indian Foreign Service and presently is posted with the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. She continues to encourage girls from her state to go for the CSE. Her success encouraged other girls from the state, as two other girls, Syed Sehrish and Ruveda Salam too cracked the coveted national level examination in later years.

Khursheed Ali Qadri

When Khursheed, 29 qualified the CSE in 2011, his self-confidence grew stronger. He didn’t join the services, as he had got 920 rank putting him in non-IAS category. The village boy wanted to do it bigger. An MSc in Botany, he chose Botany and Geography as optional subjects, and again did extensive preparations for the CSE. This year, he qualified the coveted examination with 95th rank, making him the second IAS of Baramula district. His village Poshwan ,26 kms from Srinagar, is like any other Kashmiri village. Even though his father was an executive magistrate, yet he had no immediate motivating force around. Rather “I believe that motivation should come from within; rest are enabling or guiding factors,” he says. Khursheed has met renowned social activist Harsh Mandar (IAS) in 2006 and it’s that meeting which flipped his imagination toward the CSE. Presently, he is posted as Assistant Director of the Consumer affairs & Public Distribution Department in Srinagar. If he already had a promising career as the state-level civil service officer, what prompted you to take another arduous course of studies for the CSE? “IAS provides you much larger platform to do something for the society. I feel motivated by this fact that being an IAS I can use myself more constructively,” he explains.

Shahid Iqbal Chowdhary

Shahid has many firsts to his credit, including that of breaking the jinx vis-a-vis the disinterest of J&K youth toward CSE. In 2009 when Shahid qualified the CSE, it was after a gap of about 15 years that anybody from J&K became an IAS officer. Shahid hails from Rehan, Budhal village of mountainous Rajouri district of the state. After schooling from his native village, he qualified for the course of veterinary sciences and later also the Indian Forest Service examination. But his passion for IAS kept him going, and he finally qualified CSE in 2009, with 51 rank and getting into IAS. Shahid is first from state’s Gujjar community to qualify for the IAS. Presently he is posted as deputy commissioner Reasi, Jammu. Rajouri is one of the far-flung districts which bore the severe brunt of the two decades of militancy. “My success story is that of an ordinary student in a remote village studying under a tree with stone as bench and then reaching to the country’s top service,” he says with all humbleness.

Mir Umair

Umair was already in a job many envy-medical doctor. But he was passionate about the civil services. Belonging to an affluent family, he visibly had no need for material pursuits. Then why did he toil to get through the tough CSE? “I was self motivated to realize the essence of civil services, and of course a strong sense of empathy for serving the people,” he explains. Hailing from Arigam, a sleepy hamlet of central Kashmir’s Budgam district, Umair as a doctor had already achieved what most of the youth of his area still dream about. But to get through the CSE was his new mission to be accomplished. And he did it in 2010 when he was one among the five Valley youth to crack the CSE. And he became the first from Budgam district to qualify the CSE. Umair says that though he was primarily inspired by G R Sufi, the current Chief Information Commissioner of J&K , (who qualified CSE in 1975), “but my greatest inspiration came from the failures I had experienced in life.. I was only competing with me, myself and I!” Today, while sitting in his plush office chambers as Assistant Commissioner, Service Tax in Mumbai, Umair wants Kashmiri youth to muster up the courage and prove their mettle, the way he and many others did.

Syed Sehrish

Sehrish, 27, re-asserted the capability and determination of girls from J&K to excel in the country’s elite competitive examination. Hailing from mountainous Kishtwar district, she got trained as a medical doctor in 2009. Sehrish topped state-level civil service examination in 2011. While she was undergoing probation, she started her preparations for the CSE. In 2012, she became the second Muslim girl, to qualify the CSE after Ovessa Iqbal. However, with 118 rank she got the IPS. “But I wanted to be into IAS and with all my zest, I continued my preparations even as I was undergoing probation as an IPS officer,” she said. This year, with rank 23, Sehrish became the first Muslim form J&K to become an IAS officer. Sehrish has this observation for young boys and girsl of J&K. “The people of J&K are by nature resilient and have great potential to succeed in the toughest of competitions at the national level. This is all the more required of the youth from the Valley so that they become agents of positive change and usher in a new era of growth and development for all in the society.”

Shah Faesal-Precursor to a watershed phenomenon

When Shah Faesal became first ever topper of the CSE from J&K, his people didn’t celebrate just because it was their compatriot who had the feat, but more because he defeated a personal trauma on the path of this historical achievement. Hailing from Sogam village of border district of Kupwara, Faesal lost his father to militant violence at a tender age. Then his mother left the village alongwith Faesal and other siblings. Though benumbed by her husband’s death, she endured all hardships to educate her children while living with relatives and rented accommodations in Srinagar. Faesal worked hard and overcame the tribulations of fatherlessness and scarcity of resources; he topped the government-conducted entrance examination for the MBBS course, and then topped the final year examination as well. Even if he became a doctor, something youth of his area dream of, Faesal continued his pursuit for excellence with remarkable endurance. “That tragedy shattered us. Initially, it seemed to me as if I couldn’t continue my studies. As I was the eldest, I thought I should shoulder my family’s responsibilities. But my mother endured all hardships and provided every support to me and other two children,” Faesal says.

The young boy and his struggling life were obscure from his people till he surprised and gladdened them simultaneously in May 2010, when he topped coveted examination of the country. Today he is a youth icon of Kashmir, one who personifies hard-work and perseverance. This was a watershed phenomena which encouraged and motivated many more Kashmiri youth for CSE, and more than two dozen have qualified since then. Faesal who is presently posted as Assistant Commissioner of South Kashmir’s Pulwama district, is personally encouraging and guiding youth for the CSE. “My success is just a re-assertion of Kashmiri youth that despite all the tragedies and trauma we witnessed over past two decades, we are capable of making it big,” he asserts.

Achievers’ views and advices 

With varied backgrounds, they were motivated by varied factors; but the common refrain of the J&K’s CSE qualifiers is dejection because of the ongoing political turmoil. In a common set of questions posed by Pervez Majeed, they insist that Kashmiri youth have tremendous potential to compete in CSE with their counterparts of the country

What significance your success has for Kashmir?

Khursheed Ali Qadri: May be my success will infuse confidence among the youth that they are second to none. I am an average student, when I can make it why not others? Mir Umair: Instilling the belief among the Kashmiri youth to compete at the national level. It was a watershed moment when four of us qualified the civils from the valley in 2010 which had never happened before...from there on we have never looked back, we can only do better.

Muhammad Aijaz: Kashmir needs dedicated and honest administrators to remove decades of governance deficit and alienation of people which has been a very unfortunate phenomenon. I think with more youth getting into IAS/IPS or other allied services people of J & K will be served more compassionately and provide a healing touch in the administration.

Showkat Ahmad Parray: My success and that of the others is a sign and a message of change. A change in the attitude of state’s CSE aspirants that we have the potential to compete at any level. A message that there is no discrimination against Kashmiris when it comes to selection for the elite posts. It signifies hope of a better tomorrow with more efficient, effective and responsive system as local residents, more aware of the local problems, become a part of upper administrative set up.

Ovessa Iqbal: My success will be significant only when youths of Kashmir dare to venture out of their comfort zones and make a difference in their lives and the lives of people around them. I feel blessed when students say they are inspired, and my real success will be when these students translate this inspiration into a success story and thereby inspiring more students.

After several decades, Kashmiri youth are showing keenness toward CSE. Does it have any political connotations?

Khursheed Ali Qadri: I feel that this is a healthy trend and students from J&K are proving their ability, I feel that it should not be linked with any other issue. Mir Umair: Keenness towards CSE should be devoid of political connotation in the literal sense of the word..A civil servant should only follow the economic, social and other aspects. Having said that, political connotations are always aligned with the betterment of the people and society.

Muhammad Aijaz: Well I don't add any political connotations to it. In the recent years, Kashmiri youth have developed a craze towards civil services which is very good for our state. Being blessed with fertile minds candidates from J & K are bringing very good results in the UPSC exam.

Showkat Ahmad Parray: I believe that this change has to do with the personal desire for excellence, a way out of unemployment, a felt need for bringing about change in the delivery of public services and making system more responsive to bring quick disposal of people's problems. It will be unwise to associate any political meaning to this and, regardless of the political ideology.

Ovessa Iqbal: Several years ago, medical science and engineering used to be the only two preferred career options. I am myself an engineering graduate. Today's youth are exploring other diverse career options and CSE is one of them and they are doing well in every field.

Message to youth:

Khursheed Ali Qadri: Efforts may fail but never fail to make efforts, understand the design of this exam and be effective learner Mir Umair: Be yourself , there is no one better !

Muhammad Aijaz: Grasp the fundamentals strongly, study smart in a strategized manner. Never be afraid of UPSC Exam. Remember what Christopher Columbus had said: “You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore”.So accept challenges and embark on a bigger voyage of life. 

Showkat Ahmad Parray: My message to the aspirants will be to stay focussed and committed to the goal. The exam stretches for over a year so be patient. Assess your strengths and weaknesses and meet a few successful candidates to receive proper guidance.

Ovessa Iqbal: Believe in yourself and never shy away from hard work.

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