Young Kashmir

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A youth summit in Srinagar was organised to deliberate on different issues facing the society such as economy, culture and rights, but most of the debates ended up talking about Kashmir issue showing the effect, the conflict has had on popular psyche in Kashmir. Ikhlaq Qadri reports.

An eight day youth-led initiative, One Young Kashmir, brought together 600 young men and women in the age group of 17 to 30, where they discussed many issues related to Kashmir.

The first of its kind in South Asia, the youth leadership summit was held in Sher-e-Kashmir International Convocation Centre in Srinagar, from March 20 to 27. The participating youth discussed almost everything from politics to economy and from rights to culture. The local chapter of US based NGO, Mercy Corps, had organised the programme.

Structured discussions between groups of youth facilitated by a trained volunteer were held and the proceedings were duly recorded by a rapporteur.

The event days were divided among different categories to elicit the perspective of youth on various issues faced by the state in general and valley in particular. Around 70 percent of Kashmir valley’s population is believed to be under 30 years of age. The participants were selected from thousands of applicants and split into small groups with experts and volunteers moderating the discussions. The event was held outside the media glare.

Some discussions were fruitful in producing innovative ideas. Like in a discussion about economy, a group suggested that to encourage entrepreneurship, local Auqafs should provide interest free loans to the youth in their respective localities. They also suggested setting up of a Baitul Maal (common fund) to take care of the underprivileged.

Politics kept creeping into the supposedly apolitical event with the participants – comprising of students, professionals and entrepreneurs – returning to Kashmir issue while discussing various issues facing the society. The organisers, on a few occasions, had a tough time handling the heated debates and repeatedly requesting the participants to calm down.

The youth during the discussion related every happening of their life with the Kashmir problem and attributed their violation of rights with the conflict. The debates even about culture and economy turned to Kashmir issue, showing the extent of impact the conflict has had on the psyche of people, especially youth, living in Kashmir.

“Conflict is the main reason of denial of rights and our main right is freedom,” said one of the participants. His family had lost seven people to the conflict. Many participants and experts narrated their painful experiences.

One of the experts during the rights debate, Dr. Javid Iqbal shared his experiences when he was detained during his student days. “There was a bomb blast (of very less magnitude), when I was in the GMC (Government Medical College).

The police party raided my house in the night which was in the compound of SP College as my father was the principal there. Picking me up, they lodged me in the police station with the criminals and later on shifted me to central jail where I was kept for six months,” he said, “I lost six months of my studies with no fault of mine.” He left the valley and returned after many years.

The students, mostly from elite private schools, talked passionately about freedom but expressed a sense of insecurity. “I was born outside and was enjoying my life there. Here in valley I am feeling insecure,” said a girl participant.

Most of the students in the summit were of the opinion that violence was doing harm to the society.

The discussions on human rights, were mostly focussed around denial of justice and rights. “Focus is on last three years. What about those victims of last 20 years. Wajahat Habibullah has himself told that operative part of Kunanposhpora report was deleted,” said one of the participants.

During a debate on economy, some of the young participants were surprised when the expert told them, “If we require 1kg rice, 670 grams are imported from outside the valley.” The youth said that the system needed to be reformed but were not very optimistic about any change in near future.

“Our education minister was accused by the sitting MLA for taking bribe of Rs 50000 to clear the file, how shall we expect him to reform our system and advocate for morality,” said a university student. “People accused in sex scandal are our sitting MLA’s and ministers. What imprints are they leaving for us to follow?”

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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