In the scenic valley of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), a socio-economic crisis is silently unfolding. A land known for its mesmerizing beauty and rich culture, is now also infamous for an alarming surge in unemployment among its well-educated youth. The most recent data reveals a staggering number of approximately 663,511 jobless young individuals in the region. This dilemma intensifies the existing socio-economic challenges, further pushing the youth into the quagmire of anxiety and depression.
The survey and Its findings
A comprehensive survey, orchestrated by the Department of Employment in alliance with district administrations, was conducted across the Union Territory between March and May 2022. The results were disheartening, if not downright shocking. From the total unemployed, about 10-15% were engaged in self-employment, small-scale village businesses, or agricultural endeavors. Nevertheless, this leaves us with an astounding 563,984 youths fervently seeking stable employment.
Such dire statistics catapulted Jammu and Kashmir to the unenviable third position in India for highest unemployment rates. With a rate of 23.1%, it witnessed a steep ascent of 6% from the previous month’s 17.1%, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). J&K now stands behind Haryana, leading the chart at 26.8%, and Rajasthan at 26.4%.
Given J&K’s commendable literacy rate of 67.16%, with male and female literacy at 76.75% and 56.43% respectively, this high unemployment rate is particularly troubling. The region has no dearth of educated individuals, but what it lacks are adequate job opportunities, driving many into the abyss of mental health issues.
The nexus of unemployment and drug addiction in Kashmir
To truly grasp the crisis unfolding in Kashmir, it’s essential to understand the interwoven causes behind it. At its core, the young denizens, representing the region’s future, grapple with a significant issue: unemployment. Despite its abundant natural resources, celebrated cultural history, and potential for tourism, numerous youths lack job opportunities. This stark reality is exacerbated by Kashmir’s turbulent political past and ongoing conflicts, fostering feelings of hopelessness. This emotional void has rendered Kashmir’s youth, especially males aged 15-30, vulnerable to the scourge of drug addiction. A 2022-23 survey by the Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Kashmir (Imhanks-K) with J&K government revealed that 25% of drug users are unemployed. Surprisingly, only 8% are illiterate, while 15% are graduates, 14% intermediate, and 33% have matric qualifications. Kashmir’s strategic position, adjacent to several nations, unfortunately, positions it as a hotspot for illicit drug trafficking. The ease of access to these narcotics offers a perilous escape for the disillusioned youth.
The outsourcing quagmire
The rise of the 21st century brought with it new strategies and policies from the Jammu and Kashmir government, aiming to address various administrative challenges. One such strategic shift was the turn towards outsourcing as a potential remedy for staffing needs in numerous projects. On the surface, this appeared to be a feasible solution, both economically and logistically. But, as time would reveal, this policy inadvertently laid a trap for the very youth it aimed to benefit.
As the government propagated its outsourcing policy, countless young, educated individuals found themselves navigating through a labyrinth of temporary contracts, uncertain tenures, and unfulfilled promises. These contracts often lacked the security and benefits associated with direct government employment, yet many embraced them, driven by hope and necessity.
A glaring instance of this systemic challenge is the case of the data entry operators in 2011. These were young, tech-savvy individuals, eager to contribute to the government’s ambitious E-Governance project. Entrusted with the responsibility to digitize and streamline various municipal functions, they became the unsung heroes of a digital transformation drive.
A private firm was given the responsibility of their recruitment and compensation. The result was a monthly wage of just 7,000 INR, a sum that stood in stark contrast to the critical nature of their job. Yet, their commitment to the role remained unshaken. As the project progressed, it became evident that the success of this E-Governance initiative was, in many ways, hinged on the tireless efforts of these 47 data entry operators.
Recognizing their indispensable role, the government extended their contract. A new private company came into the picture, offering a marginally better salary of 9,500 INR. As months turned into years, these operators held onto the hope of further increments and, more importantly, job regularization. Their dedication, however, was met with an unforeseen challenge. Between 2015 and 2018, they found themselves working in a void, with neither recognition nor remuneration. They continued in their roles, banking on assurances and promises of back pay and future security.
Their ordeal did not go entirely unnoticed. After much deliberation and persistent efforts from their end, they were finally granted a salary, albeit a nominal one of 12,600 INR per month. Yet, the arrears for the years they had served without compensation still remain pending.
Their story, while unique in its details, mirrors the experiences of several others who found themselves ensnared in the web of the government’s outsourcing policy. It serves as a testament to the broader challenges faced by many in the region, revealing the unintended consequences of a strategy that was initially hailed as a solution.
Government schemes: A ray of hope?
Acknowledging the crisis, the government has rolled out several self-employment initiatives like the JK Rural Employment Generation Program, PMEGP, National Livelihood Mission, PMSVANidhi, Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund, MUDRA Loans, Stand UP India – MSME Loans, and the PMFME Scheme. While these schemes reflect a step in the right direction, they fall short in addressing the magnitude of the problem.
A more structured approach is essential. Prioritizing the regularization of daily wage workers and consolidated employees, who’ve dedicated 12 to 15 years of their lives to various departments, is paramount. These individuals, having proven their dedication and competence, deserve job security and fair compensation. Once this is achieved, the government can then turn its focus on creating new, stable job opportunities for the unemployed youth.
The heart of J&K, its youth, stands at a crossroads. On one hand, they have aspirations backed by quality education; on the other, they grapple with despair owing to joblessness. Addressing this crisis is not just an economic necessity but also a moral imperative. The state must act decisively, ensuring that its educated youth aren’t lost to the shadows of anxiety and depression. Only with structured reforms and genuine efforts can the future of J&K shine as brightly as its past. Furthermore, the unintended consequences of past policies, such as the outsourcing quagmire, highlight the need for a more introspective and holistic approach. It’s not just about creating jobs, but about crafting stable, meaningful career pathways that respect and harness the talents and potential of these youths. Incorporating their voices in decision-making, and actively addressing the socio-economic factors that contribute to issues like drug addiction, are pivotal steps forward. As J&K pivots towards a brighter future, collaboration between the government, private sector, and civil society will be the linchpin in crafting solutions that resonate with the aspirations of its youth. Their resilience, combined with informed, compassionate governance, can rewrite the narrative of this region.
(The author can be reached at [email protected])