Young cricketers, hopeful of wearing the Indian Blues one day, participating in a local premier league tournament; young girls showcasing their sporting skills in badminton by participating in a badminton tournament and another set of boys, more inclined to a boisterous form of sports, keenly participating in a foot ball premier league tournament.
Such events would seem to be happening in a cosmopolitan city endowed with massive sports infrastructure, and more than that, a sporting tradition. Immediately, states like Haryana, Punjab, Delhi or Manipur come to mind.
These activities are, however, being conducted in the Kashmir Valley, a region that gets media attention only for acts of terror, social disruptions and abrasive politics. It would also come as a big surprise to many that the organiser of these tournaments is the Indian Army in association with some local sports bodies; the very organisation that some vested interests in the Kashmir Valley fall over themselves in maligning all the time.
During the month of October, the Kashmir Valley has witnessed the culmination of the Baramulla Girls Badminton League, held from October 13 to October 15; a two-month long Baramulla Cricket Premier League whose thrilling climax was played out on October, 17 at the Showkat Ali Stadium in Baramulla and the Kupwara Premier Football League which commenced on July, 25, 2015 and culminated on October, 17. As many thirty two teams participated in the cricket tournament even as sixteen teams participated in the football tournament. It is, therefore, no wonder that the tournaments carried on for months on end before concluding.
This is the new age Kashmir youth, energetic, upwardly mobile, forward looking, willing to shed the baggage of the past and ready to pursue a life of dignity and achievement. This young lot is eager to become a part of the great Indian success story, it is eager to prove itself equal to the best in the country and willing to work hard to get there, be it in sports, studies or other professional activities.
The Indian Army has well understood this aspiration and has taken the initiative to give it wings. The aforementioned activities are by no means the only ones that have been organised and continue to be organised for the benefit of the youth. In fact, the list would be so long that it would not fit in an article. It would include conduct of education and motivation tours, providing quality education in Army Goodwill Schools, providing computer hardware and other infrastructural facilities to government schools, and most importantly, facilitating employment for the youth in various organisations across the country under a scheme most aptly named Udaan.
That the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been in the grip of a destructive and violent separatist movement for the past two decades is known to all. This climate of perpetual disruption and destruction has taken its toll on the human psyche, especially that of the younger generation.
The deficient state of infrastructure in terms of education and skills adds to the problem. Successive governments have made courageous efforts to cover the gaps and they have attained some outstanding results. A lot more, however needs to be done.
The Indian army has been in the forefront of the agenda to empower the youth of the state, especially so in the Kashmir Valley and the remote regions of Poonch, Rajouri, Doda and Bhaderwah etc. that fall on the southern slopes of the Pir Panjal mountain range.
The local population views the army as some kind of a panacea, an answer to its problems. For the youth the army camp in their vicinity is a link to the world outside, they come to the camps and discuss their problems with the soldiers deployed there. It is on the basis of such discussions that initiatives that steer the youth towards gainful pursuits are planned by the army.
This dependence on the army is explained not only by its accessibility and willingness to help but also by the promptness of its response and the element of honesty in its approach.
All efforts by the army to buttress the education and youth empowerment sector in the state complement the plans of the government. They are carried out in consultation and close coordination with the civil administration. Maximum contribution of the army is in the remote areas where instruments of the state have difficulty in functioning, especially during the winters, when these regions get cut off due to heavy snowfall. In such areas the army, due to its presence, acts as a bridge between the administration and the people.
If one were to look a little beyond the divisive and disruptive agenda of a few vested interests, the subtle change that is coming by in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, particularly the Kashmir Valley, would be visible. Creating awareness of this environment of positivity would give a big boost to the confidence levels of those who are taking on the challenge of building a better life for themselves, despite the adverse conditions.
Enhanced awareness would also negate the perception that a few with a vested interest are bent upon creating of the Indian army being an occupation force. It would highlight the good work that is being done by the force in concert with the administration for the benefit of the people.
Kashmir today is at a point of decision, the collective effort of the people, the government and the Indian army is poised to change the social and economic landscape for all times to come. A seamless integration of the people with the rest of India is necessary for achieving the set objectives, and in this, the youth are the most important element. It is important now to maintain the momentum despite the road blocks that some powers are trying very hard to create.