Unemployment levels rise in Jammu and Kashmir as educated youth struggle with neglect and lack of job-creation policy

Mansoor Peer

Srinagar: There are 2,50,000 educated young women and men in Jammu and Kashmir who are bearing the brunt of the lack of employment and struggle to find jobs due to the lack of a job policy €" thus pushing them and their families' backs to the wall. In Jammu and Kashmir, already facing turmoil over the decades, unemployment has become a serious concern and the percentage of unemployed youth is increasing with the poor absorption rate.

Among those is Tariq Ahmad, a resident of Tangmarg, who completed a postgraduate course in Tourism and Travel Management last year from Central University of Kashmir.

For him, sitting idle at home is mental torture and he often feels disturbed.

"When I am at home and somebody asks me: Are you doing any work? It hurts me. I feel very disturbed. To live without a job is difficult. There are a number of problems associated with it especially when you are in need of pocket money," he said. Last year, Tariq €" who also holds a Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree, went to a private school in his vicinity to find a job. To his surprise he was offered Rs 3,000 a month, a normal salary in private schools, and he took the job.

He quit a month later having realised that he was being exploited and that the nature of work be was assigned was more than that of a school head.

"Across private schools in Kashmir especially on those on the peripheries, postgraduate students work for peanuts. They are exploited as they have no other option. It is a larger issue," he said.

Tariq called the abrogation of Article 370, that provided special status to Jammu and Kashmir, a setback to unemployed youths saying that they now have to compete with candidates from all over India. He is presently preparing for upcoming general examinations, but he complains that even at home he has to listen to the taunts of his friends and neighbours. According to the 2011 Census, the population of Jammu and Kashmir is 1.25 crore and more than 70 percent of the population is below the age of 35 years.

Two years ago, Arshid Ahmad, 32, a resident of Pattan area of Baramulla completed his PhD in Botany, but he is still unemployed, leaving him frustrated about his career. "What is more concerning is that posts are not advertised on time in government departments. Even if posts are advertised, there are very few of them. The government is not serious about unemployment. Last year, I applied for a project at the University of Kashmir, but I was not selected. Candidates were selected on the basis of favouritism," he alleged.

Arshid's younger brother, who is a carpenter by profession got married two years ago but he (Arshid) is still eagerly waiting for some kind of job to get rid of mental pressure.

An alumni of Barkatullah University, Madhya Pradesh, he said he had at least 26 batchmates on his PhD programme and all of them are jobless and sitting idle at home.

"I feel bad sitting at home. Everyday, I have to listen to the taunts of people. I think as if I have committed a sin by doing my PhD. There is larger social impact attached to being an unemployed youth," Arshid said, adding that many of his friends have crossed the age-restriction and cannot apply for any government jobs. "Being unemployed is not easy. There are lot of issues associated with it. Over these years, I applied for nearly a dozen government and private jobs but I did not get any," he sighed.

Khalid Mehraj, a sociologist and writer from north Kashmir's Baramulla district, said unemployment not only affects an individual, but the whole family economically, socially and psychologically.

"Due to unemployment, marriages are not held at a proper time. It also causes depression and pushes youths towards drug addiction. It affects families and society as well. One of the causes behind the rising trend of drug addiction in Kashmir is unemployment. When there are no jobs, it impacts society negatively," he said.

As per the Economic Survey Report of 2016, the employment rate in Jammu and Kashmir is higher than the average national employment rate. Nearly a quarter of its population in the age group of 18 to 29 years is unemployed, which is far more than the national rate of 13.2 percent.

There are hundreds of dental surgeons in Kashmir who are jobless and over the past 10 years, the government has not advertised any openings for dental surgeons in Jammu and Kashmir's health department. "It is unfortunate that the Public Service Commission (PSC) has not advertised any post of dental surgeons for the past 10 years, which has created a huge gap in the doctor-patient ratio. This has led to unemployment and consequent brain drain," said Javid Ahmad, who has received his bachelors degree in dental surgery at Government Dental College, Srinagar.

Professor Abdul Salam Bhat, Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST), Awantipora said unemployment is a serious issue not only in India, but in all third world countries. "In Jammu and Kashmir, it has become more serious as the industrial sector, which is supposed to absorb the unemployed youths, hasn't emerged," he said.

Bhat said the students in college and universities are not getting skilled education saying that the absorption rate is poor as compared to the number of students being awarded degrees in different disciplines across institutes in Jammu and Kashmir. He added that there is a mismatch between the degrees of students and jobs, and after completing their education, youths are finding themselves unsuitable for jobs.

"There are a number of postgraduates and most of them are desperate to get jobs. And those who land jobs, work for low salaries and are exploited in the private sector even in the metropolitan cities," said Bhat, going on to ask, "Why are we producing postgraduates in universities when there is no policy? There should be a policy for unemployed youths." Bhat said governments over the years have not done anything for unemployed youths and their careers, because the planning is faulty.

"We have to look at the supply side. We are not considering this issue. It is high time to have an employment policy that has to be crafted in such a way that it keeps in mind the people who are graduating from universities," he said. As the lack of jobs has hit hundreds hard, there is also large chunk of mass communication students who are jobless despite having secured their postgraduate degrees.

In the Kashmir Valley alone, more nearly 100 students complete their postgraduate studies in mass communication each year, but very few of them get jobs.

In 2017, Shafat Ahmad, along with a group of 40 PG mass communication students sent an RTI query to the government about vacancies of information assistants and it took three months to get a reply. "A meeting will be held in December 2017 in order to address the issue," the government had then replied.

He said there are around 500 posts of information assistants lying vacant in the government, but nobody bothers to fill the vacancies. Shafat said that since 2016 only 12 posts of information assistants have been advertised in Jammu and Kashmir.

Dr John Babu Koyye, coordinator, Department of Convergent Journalism at the Central University of Kashmir, said there are very few prospects in Kashmir as the local media is limited and unemployment has doubled over the years.

"After the removal of Article 370, opportunities in the local media have been completed decimated. Unless mass communication students move to other places like Delhi and other Indian cities, they won't get any jobs," he said. Koyye, who is also, a researcher and writer, said that due to the insufficient salaries offered by media organisations, most of the women media students are preferring to leave the field of journalism and look elsewhere for employment.

Koyye, who teaches media research and development communication said that in Kashmir, unemployed youths have two options: Either  apply for government jobs or start their own businesses €" something that has also been marred by uncertainties. Last year, the employment department started registration of unemployed youths, including postgraduates and those with PhDs.

Deputy Director, Employment (Central), Shahid Mehmood said that as of December 2019, at least 2.5 lakh employed youth €" including 1.5 lakh postgraduates and PhD scholars €" have registered with the department.

"We are counselling the unemployed youth and providing self-employment schemes to them under the Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI)," he said.

"We also provide funds to the women development corporation for the self-employment of women. We are, to some extent, helping youths rid themselves of unemployment," he added.

The deputy director added that they have trainers who go to schools and colleges to counsel unemployed youths about careers. "We have different schemes like the Self Help Group of Engineers, under which unemployed engineers have been registered. Similarly we have the Seed Capital Funds Scheme, National Development Financial Corporation and other meant for helping youths to become entrepreneurs. We have helped hundreds of unemployed youths, who are creating job opportunities for others too," he said.

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