Jul 19, 2008

India - Looking for a silver lining beyong Valley

A car pulls up, rather noisily. Pulwama villagers stop and gape: it’s Iqbal Yaqoob at the wheels. And he is driving a Honda City, a sign of success in these parts.
Yaqoob had disappeared on a cold tense morning in January 1994, shortly after an encounter between security forces and militants and the following cordon-and-search operations in his village. Youngsters like him had been rounded up by the security forces and taken away. They returned after a bit with telltale signs of torture — cuts, bruises and welts. The family decided this was no place for a young man and he should leave, except there was no safer place in Kashmir then.
The young man, who had studied till Class 12, headed for Srinagar, which was in a worse situation than Pulwama. Yaqoob kept going. And has not stopped yet — even after setting up a pharma business spanning several states including Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. He is a rich man today.
Ghulam Ahmad Ghani, similarly, would never have left his village, also in Pulwama.
Life was good. He made a living rearing cattle. And then suddenly militancy started and everything changed, very fast. He left for Srinagar, and started work as a dyer in a small carpet factory. Now, he is a successful businessman making and selling carpets.
Kashmiris are an inward looking people. They are happiest at home, which could be anywhere from the remote villages of Kashmir to the bustling Jammu and Srinagar. But militancy changed that quite drastically -- it were as if someone came home and turned it upside down, but left it looking rather good.
"The exposure to outside world affected a psychological change among them, and they began to think and act in new terms," says Khursheedul Islam, a sociologist. He says that many Kashmiris sent their children to the cities for quality education.
There are no official figures but estimates show that over three lakh people -- other than Kashmir pandits -- moved out of the valley in the years of trouble, of whom many set up businesses in places like Delhi, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore, Goa and Kerala.
Imran Tak, an MCA student from south Kashmir, landed jobs at Indian airlines and IT company HP in Bangalore simultaneously. He chose HP and returned recently after three years in Saudi Arabia and London. "It was a great experience. I had never thought that I would get such a position and exposure," he says.
It's been the same for thousands of Kashmiris, not all of whom left the state but they did leave the numbing comfort of a simple village life for the state's urban areas -- like the capital Srinagar.
Around 50 new colonies came up in and around Srinagar during the insurgency years, which mainly house migrants from rural Kashmir. And this coming out has not been just geographical.
"The exposure to outside world affected a psychological change among them, and they began to think and act in new terms," says Khursheedul Islam, a sociologist. There was a gradual acknowledgement of the importance of education, for one. An official of Kashmir University says that students with rural background account for 80 per cent of in the post-graduate classes.
And there is more. Irfan Ahmad, executive director of Jamkash, a big car dealer, says that out of 300 cars they sell every month over 200 are bought by Kashmiris from the villages. "Money was never a problem in rural Kashmir. But they hadn't the exposure to such things," Ahmad says, adding, "their (village residents) outlook has broadened by way of their interaction with the outside world, and now a car appears to them as a need."
But for some Kashmiris, the outside world was not good enough. It could offer just nothing to offset the longing for home. Mufti Wajid, from Shopian, worked for a while at Patni Computers as a software engineer. And then gave it up all up, returned home and joined the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, at a much lower salary.
"Kashmir is a landlocked valley with moderate climate. People are not used to hot and humid climatic conditions. They prefer to stay back than moving outside," said Shoukat Hussain, who teaches geography at a local college.
And for some, it was the pull of the old family home, teeming with relatives -- the big joint family. "We have a deep family system in place. Many people still prefer joint families," says Mufeed Ahmad, a research scholar in sociology. "Even those with nuclear families love to live in neighbourhood of their relatives," he adds.
Even those who came back, did not completely erase whatever they learnt or saw outside. Wajid is not the same person as he was when he left to become a software professional. He has changed, he has grown up, and is a lot less insular than he was.

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