It looks so simple to register a protest. When the protest drags on for a month, sustaining it becomes a festering resource and emotional drain for organisers and the individuals. Khalid Bashir Gura deconstructs an ongoing job-related protest seeking details from the individual characters about how they manage it and what are the costs and, more importantly, why they protest at all
Before sunrise, Joginder Pal, 32, a resident of Lakhanpur, Kathua boards a cab to travel 100 km to Jammu, Press Club. A few months ago, when he found his name in the selection list of Finance Accountant Assistant (FAA) issued by the Jammu and Kashmir recruiter, Subordinate Services Board (SSB), he was delirious. However, when the list was stalled by the SSB for alleged discrepancies, the floor beneath Pal’s Pal’s artificial feet was taken away. As protests continue for nearly a month against the possible binning of the list, he travels miles to join protests on daily basis.
Walking with artificial limbs, Pal prides himself in having equipped himself with a master’s in economics and a BEd degree. With finally being selected as FAA, he believed his academic journey has finally found closure. As he traverses his long journey, he recalls his protracted struggle. When he was seven years old, he lost both his legs in an accident. It was life-shattering for him and for his labourer father, who finally decided that giving him the best education will help him survive better.
“My father would drop me at school in his lap every day,” Pal said. “Even during higher secondary, my parents would accompany me.” Now as he travels miles alone, he walks with the help of painfully cultivated hope.
“It takes four hours to and fro. It has cost me Rs 9000 till now. I cannot afford to travel every day due to physical and financial constraints. However, the new acquaintances I made at the protesting site do not allow me to travel daily. They even bear expenses of my food and water,” said Pal, a father of a son now. “I get Rs 1000 as a specially-abled fund so do my wife. Even my family doesn’t like my going to protest site as I have to face more difficulties.”
Dr Sumaira Jan, 42, a Srinagar resident, is a dentist. “From 2009 till date, the government has not advertised a single post in dentistry. They neither engaged us in National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) nor Public Service Commission (PSC),” she regretted. Disillusioned, she finally applied for FAA. Preparations were not so easy. It was a new discipline and she had to make a shift in her studies. She had to juggle her multiple roles in a family as a mother, wife and daughter-in-law. “I kept my family priorities aside and focused on studies,” Jan said. “During my preparation, I could not give much attention to my younger daughter due to which her speech was delayed.” Now, she is enmeshed in a new role as that of a protester.
Jan made it despite the odds. Now, she fears that she may cross the age limit if the merit list is scrapped. “We have cleared the exam and document verification was also done. Our names were on the merit list. We only want the list to be formally out.”
Jan said the costs of protests are huge despite her living in the city. She is not alone in the crowd. Tahira Rashid, 24, a resident of Kupwara, is a trained civil engineer from one of the private universities in Punjab. Every day she leaves home at 6 am and reaches Srinagar by 9 am. Barring food, which is hardly taken during the day; it costs her no less than Rs 600 on bus fare only. “I had never imagined that one day I would be protesting. It was my first encounter with Jammu and Kashmir Service Selection Board (SSB) and I regret it as I have already given more than a year to this exam,” Rashid said.
The government, Rashid said must filter the list and punish those who have committed wrongs and not penalize everybody.
As many girls considered it a step to empowerment and self-independence, they were garlanded and the hunt for prospective bridegrooms started.
“Many wake up to the nightmare of their mothers-in-law snapping the ties. Some of us wanted to marry now as we thought we have a source of secure financial income to meet societal demands and expenses,” said Dr Bisma, another dentist, 32, from Srinagar. She has four sisters and wants to share the burden of her father by financially securing herself and her three sisters are still unmarried. “I am now 32 and I cannot delay my marriage further,” she said as her attendance at protests depletes her savings.
From last more than three weeks, Nelofar, 28, a resident of Baramulla, has been facing pressure to get married. She has masters in mathematics and has been preparing for the examination for the last three years. “It is my academic struggle which compels me to leave for protests. Every day it costs me around Rs 400 to travel to and fro,” she said as she has to change three cabs. “Every evening as I return home tired, my mother consoles as well as cries,” she said.
The costs of protest are huge as we have had to pay for food, and water from last more than three weeks or arrange accommodation for people from far-flung areas. “As girls protesting has different challenges for us. We even have to pay for a public toilet,” the female protestors said.
A long Struggle
Dilawar Hussain, 27, a resident of Anantnag, is a B Tech from the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) and also an M Tech from a private university in Punjab. “I have spent more than four years of life in search of government exams and every time they are scrapped,” Dilawar regretted. “Sometimes there are educational bars and sometimes they are scrapped.” Had her efforts followed the script, he might have been already the first government employee in his family.
Even though he made it to the list, it has started consuming him in a protest. He has to change seven buses to reach the protesting site and it is only two times he is able to get a seat in cramped buses as it involves costs of Rs 500.
“I used to study for more than 14-18 hours a day. But now they are planning to scrap it, it is unjustified,” Dilawar said as his family is now compelling him to join farming and not hope for a government job. “This is a mockery of my degrees as I have appeared in 12 exams, qualified four and am still unemployed.” He said his father had invested around eight lakhs in his education. “The government even scrapped the self-help group scheme for engineers – the only source of income for unemployed engineers.”
Overcoming the challenges of exams for students of non-commerce background, Nisar Ahmed, 30, a resident of Pulwama, is a gold medallist in History, resolved to test his competence in other subjects. He succeeded by studying for more than 14 hours for more than 14 months. “I ranked 81. Meanwhile, I was taken ill. After kidney surgery, I didn’t take more than two days rest and started preparation on the bed itself,” Ahmad said. “I was also bearing the moral guilt as my father is in the ’70s and did farming and I was confined to my books.” Now he is a protester. Every day he has to travel for three hours and his expenses involve Rs 300 as he bears the guilt of asking friends and his father for money.
Sajid Ahmed, 33, a resident of Sopore, and a scholar of electronics and communication has completed his residency at the University of Kashmir. Lately, he was ecstatic when he was featured in the class-V job. A father of two kids, his joy knew no bounds as he thought he secured his future, finally. “My happiness was short-lived. Now, he has to change more than three buses, which involves costs of around Rs 200 excluding food to join his protesting fellow. Every day I dedicated three hours for more than a year. If there can be a guarantee that I will get a job in my own subject of specialization, I like many others will not be after government jobs,” he said.
Tired of booking huge expenditures on daily basis, some of them have decided not to go home for some time. For them, commuting daily is not feasible. Many candidates like Junaid Ahmad Baba, 28, a resident of Kulgam, Amir Ahad, 24, a resident of Shopian and many others are putting up as tenants at Srinagar’s Dalgate. “Every day we have to pay 1500 and we put up six boys in a room. At times, the expenses go up if the occupants are less. I have been taken ill due to hotel food. More than Rs 700 is everyday expenses and Rs 15000 have been spent. We eat the cheapest possible food and still it is costly. Even we have to buy water,” he said. This, he said, is in addition to the daily contributions they have to make for refreshments, banners, placards, and accommodations.
“What is the guarantee that future exams will be scam free? Do we have to live and waste all life writing exams only to be scrapped time and time again?” Ahad said as scams are quite frequent.
Candidates insist that they are mentally harassed. It is physically, and economically tiring. There is hopelessness due to the cold response of the government and they are discouraged from applying in future. “Back at the room, we are battling headaches, stress,” one of them said as this age is start family and due to this their marriage has been stalled.
However, their new acquaint is from Kupwara, not far away from the Line of Control (LoC). The 27-year-old is a postgraduate in Education. The only son of his parents he has three sisters and ageing parents. “I leave home early in the morning and someone from the family has to accompany me due to the topography of the region,” this young man said. “It takes me around three hours to reach Srinagar and costs me around Rs 700 a day.” For health reasons, he has to come and return on daily basis. “I cannot eat food at the hotel due to a stomach problem. I have to take medications also.”
= Though the protests about and around jobs are a routine in Kashmir and Jammu, the FAA guys have made it a daily feature. Well before the office timings start, these people from across 10 districts each from Jammu and Kashmir, assemble at two places and spent the day sloganeering asking authorities not to scrap the selection list. More than 900 students are supposed to join their jobs if the merit list is retained by SSB.
As early morning birds chirp, the FAA candidates leave their homes. “We inform each other of our departures from different districts,” one protesting candidate said. “When the streets are still awaiting pedestrians, we reach the site and mark our attendance.”
Travelling from far-flung areas, they mark their sit-in protest in Press Enclave, Srinagar. Holding placards, and banners, they shield themselves from the scorching sun and sudden rains to save years of hard work. Almost a month later, they also understood how much it costs to be heard in Jammu and Kashmir.
“It is contrary to what we had imagined. We were dreaming of having to leave for the office and coming back home by evening. We felt a sense of security and joy,” said one of the candidates, insisting their future is at stake. “This is not the first exam which was scrapped. Previously we wrote an examination of Jammu and Kashmir Bank and it was also scrapped. Lately, the selection list of police sub-inspectors was also binned. What is our fault?”
Ashiq Hussain, 29, a resident of Anantnag, has been a bright student all through his academic journey. A distinction holder from his school to acquiring master’s in electronics and communication and after having a bagful of degrees, which could not secure his job in the field of his choice, he switched to preparing for competitive examination.
The only son among five daughters of his parents, he bears the responsibility and lurking guilt of not fulfilling his parent’s expectations. “A few months back, my mother was unwell and she was admitted to SKIMS’ Soura. I used to study under hospital lights. And now when I cracked this exam as well as the sub-inspector exam, the administration is mulling to scrap it,” Hussain said with tears and anger lurking in his eyes and voice.
Currently unemployed, the costs of protest has proved a double-whammy. After the government issued a merit list, he left his job as a contractual lecturer at Government Polytechnic College. “My family constantly calls me if I had food or water. My fare cost around Rs 300 daily,” Hussain lamented. “At 7 am I leave my home and almost six times we face highway halts throughout the journey. As we leave the protest site after 4:30 pm, we reach home around 8:30 pm.”
Hussain said he has invested everything in education as he has no other skill. Now, he feels as if he is a liability to his family.
In absence of the private sector, the government in Jammu and Kashmir has remained the employer of last resort. In the last three years when not many jobs were created in the government, only less than 30 thousand jobs were created.
“Even despite having qualified highest professional degrees, due to lack of job market, everyone pins hopes on government jobs,” said Asif Majeed, trained civil engineering, 25, who had qualified SI as well FAA examinations. “I became an engineer after my family invested half a million rupees. Now I invested everything in my capacity to crack the examinations and made it but the government is not making it public.”
For a month, while is every day travelling to Srinagar to protest the possible binning of the list, he wakes up to face nightmares. “There is mental trauma. We were felicitated by neighbours, relatives and friends. Now as we leave for protests, we fear facing people. They ask us about when are we joining duty?” said Majeed who left many private lucrative offers after the notification was issued.
The delay has started impacting lives. Successful candidates said for some of their marriages were fixed soon after the selection list was issued and they were looking forward to raising their own families. They fear the possible scrapping of the list would mar the marriage plans of many.
Jammu and Kashmir has the highest proportion of 29.1 per cent of unmarried persons within the age bracket of 15 to 29 years, among all states and union territories, according to a government survey.
“I am not looking for a bride now, because I don’t have a job,” one candidate said. “We can’t opt for private jobs as it will affect our marriage prospects. Government jobs provide security. Prospective brides out rightly reject us if we don’t have government jobs.” In too many words this candidate admitted that people prefer marriage with people having government jobs.
There are no jobs in the private sector as well. This is despite the tourism boom that Kashmir witnessed after more than 12 years. As Jammu and Kashmir is facing alarming joblessness, in June, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) monthly frequency data suggested, that Jammu and Kashmir’s unemployment rate stood at 17.2 per cent.
The Jammu and Kashmir had advertised posts for 972 FAA in November 2020 and the examinations were conducted in March this year. The SSP was about to make the list out when a stinking racket surfaced in the list of police sub-inspectors. Though the government delayed action for someday but when the details got revealed an embarrassed administration announced a probe and later transferred the case to CBI.
The federal investigator did the first series of raids in Jammu but did not arrest anybody so far. Reports said a gang of people with strong political and security connections and behind the racket. It was in this backdrop that the SSB was asked not to announce the FAA list because the same gang might have interrupted this selection as well. The government is yet to make the final call.