From Airhostess To Aerospace Engineer, Kashmir Youth Look For New Professions8 November 2011
Times of India
Srinagar: Razia Hussain of Qazigund village in Kashmir is flying high. Literally. In about two months, the 19-year-old will complete her airhostess training course, a first in her family. In the Valley, where purdah is the norm for women, this is a rarity. 'It is only a matter of awareness. Sometimes, either women don't know that this is an available option or the parents are too narrow-minded to let them take it up,' says Husain. She has been on a flight once where she saw an airhostess in action. 'The way they carried themselves was very impressive,' says Hussain, who wishes to fly to Switzerland some day. Her classmate, Surraya Hasan from Chakwah, too is being encouraged by her parents to take up the same. 'My father is a government servant. He was very supportive, and felt that it was a golden opportunity that I shouldn't miss,' says Hasan. Both these girls, though relatively well off and with an enviably uncommon family support to boot, have something in common with their peers. Speaking to the youth from the smaller towns and rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir, one senses change at work. Family vocations like farming are beginning to lose favour and there is a definite eagerness to forge newer career paths. S A Chauhan, an employment officer from the Pooch district of Jammu, attests the fact. 'There are no official figures available on this, but by a rough estimate, occupations like animal rearing and farming have come down by about 10-15 per cent in the last five years in the state,' says Chauhan. With militancy on the decline in the past few years, areas that were more or less cut off from the rest of the country, are beginning to taste the benefits of being connected again. Danish Farrokhi is a 16-year-old from Shopian, the 'apple town' of Kashmir that has seen the worst kind of violence in recent years, most notably the alleged rape and murder of two young women in 2009. Studying in a residential army school in Pahalgam, the shy teenager has no intention whatsoever of taking over his father's apple farm. 'I'm not interested in that. I want to be an aerospace engineer. I'm already preparing for the IIT entrance exam,' says Farrokhi. Further away in Rajouri, Jammu, Zafar Iqbal tried his hand at poultry management, but isn't too happy. 'It taught me some techniques that really work. But I want to learn something in electronics. There's a lot more to do there,' says Farrokhi, whose father has a wheat and maize farm. Partly due to the economic conditions and partly for lack of options, professional courses and government services seem to have a preference over everything else for those who have just finished school. Surankot's Zahir Husain Shah, though only 17, has already begun his job hunt. 'My parents are keen I study further. But I want to do a professional course so that I can get a job immediately after school,' says Shah, who wants to support his family of five. Numbers on the J&K Board of School Education website suggest a small but steady stream of students ready to enter the workforce. There are 72 government degree colleges in the state of J&K, most of them concentrated in the cities of Jammu and Srinagar. The schools in the smaller towns and rural areas mostly offer education up till Class 8 or 10. In 2008, nearly 90,000 students appeared for the Class 10 examination. In the same year, those appearing for Class 12 were close to 64,000. Pass percentage for the regular candidates was at 60 per cent for higher secondary and 44 for senior. A senior army official looking into the operations of the army-run Youth Education and Guidance Node in Surankot, one of the nearly 25 YEGNs in the state, says they get 20-30% cases like Zahir's each month. 'You now have nuclear families here. Dividing land becomes a problem in such families. There is desperation to get a job,' he says. Girls in the region, say officials handling the YEGN and vocational training centres, are big on education and nursing as professions. Reaching these girls, though, can be a problem. Of the 586 persons registered with a YEGN in Surankot, only 56 are for women. This too was possible after they kept separate visit timings for boys and girls at the YEGN center, where they can issue books, magazines and download and fill online application forms. A mobile YEGN, employed to reach remote areas, too is trying to reach girls to save them a trip to a centre further away. While Razia Hussain is at end of the spectrum, there is Firdosa Rasheed from Kulgam town in Kashmir on the other. A postgraduate in sociology, the 20-something attends a tailoring course at a vocational training centre with 40 odd other girls, most of them with masters degrees from open universities. Over-qualification is the last thing on her mind. 'I don't think there is a better profession for a woman. You don't need to step out of home to stitch clothes and one can supplement family income,' says Rasheed, who wants to open a boutique in Kulgam. For a place that has seen a large number of anti-army protests, what comes as a surprise is the popularity of defence as a career choice amongst the teens. The general officer commanding of the Victor Force in Kashmir, Major General Gurdeep Singh insists that the separatist sentiment is not prominent in the rural areas of Kashmir. 'It is the more urban youth that feels that way. Which is not to say there isn't a problem, but it can't be taken as representative of all of Kashmir,' he says. High visibility of the military and para military forces in the area has resulted in fresh-out-of-school students being more than just aware of careers in defence. As certain ranks require a minimum qualification of Class 10, it has found more than its fair share of takers. 73 have appeared for the NDA exam from six Kashmir districts alone. Masood Anwar, at 23 just got selected in an army transit camp as a cleaning official. He has earlier worked at a mobile phone manufacturing sweatshop in Malaysia and also as a security guard in Mumbai. 'I did not want to live away from home. My father was in the CRPF. I too had a wish to be associated with the army in whatever little way I could,' says Anwar who has a family of eight in Mendhar, Poonch. Raja Zahid Abdullah from Salia village in Kashmir too is interested in the defence services. The fifteen year old has his eyes set on the National Defence Academy in Khadakwasla. 'I have always been interested in the army. I like their discipline,' he says. But what about alleged human rights violations? For once, he is silent.