Army offers vocational courses to Kashmiri youth to dissuade them from militancy
Jammu: In 2013, 24-year-old Rubina Akhtar lived in a small hamlet of Mahore in Reasi district of Jammu, had recently started taking knitting and sewing classes at the Nari Niketan by the Rashtriya Rifles Battalion of the Indian Army. She underwent this course religiously and took to the nuances of knitting and sewing very soon. In just over a year, she had been instrumental in running the Nari Niketan while imparting knowledge of sewing and knitting to other women of Mahore for which she received a small stipend from the Army.
In most of the far-flung areas of Jammu and Kashmir, where terrorism has left a scar on the psyche of the residents, many women like Rubina have benefitted from the different programmes launched by the Indian Army. However, the focus of the Army has now shifted to jobless young men who are natural bait for the ultras. While reports in the media say that the Kashmiri youth are getting drawn to terrorism, the Indian Army is trying to wean them away from weapons through many outreach programmes. The Army is also reaching out to far-flung schools by organising picnics for students and apprising them about the Army and their activities.
Countering extremism with outreach programmes
Terrorism in Kashmir valley erupted in 1989 after sustained propaganda by Pakistan against the Indian government. The initial wave of terrorism saw hordes of young Kashmiris crossing over to Pakistan and receive arms training before returning and unleashing terror on this side of the border. Scores of ultras and Indian soldiers were killed during the conflict that ensued for years. Later, most of the locals were replaced by foreign (mostly Pakistani) extremists. However, recently local Kashmiri youths have been persuaded through propaganda by Pakistan to take up guns that have also rung alarm bells among the security apparatus in India.
As reports indicate that Pakistan is trying to incite feelings of hatred among the youth in Kashmir against India, the Army has intensified its outreach programme. The forces in the olive uniform are not only focusing on youth in Kashmir region but also in the areas of Jammu region which used to be a hotbed for militant activities like Rajouri, Poonch, Doda and Kishtwar districts.
The Army’s Northern Command based in Udhampur has made a complete list of events and activities that take place throughout the year in these far-flung areas of the state. From conducting essay writing competitions to organising medical camps and taking school students from Kashmir on a tour of the country, the frequency of such activities has only grown over time.
The Army had recently conducted an essay writing competition at Government Middle School, Nirojal in Rajouri district, which witnessed massive participation from the students. Lt Col Devender Anand, PRO (Defence), said that the competition aimed to encourage the students and help them in personality development. “Such events in remote localities encourage the students to understand the importance of enhancing their written expression and communication skills,” he added.
Participation of locals important: Army Officer
Understanding that the youth stays away from the mainstream due to lack of job opportunities, the Army has started training young job-seekers in vocational courses such as welding, mobile repairing, stitching, carpentry, basic computer courses, plumbing and vehicle repairing. The Army also conducted driving courses in different parts of the state. Lt Col Devender Anand said that after completion of this training, the Army also facilitates the participants to obtain learners and permanent driving licenses from district transport authority.
Apart from the courses, the Army also regularly organises awareness lectures on special issues. A recent lecture on cold-related diseases and their precautionary measures was held at Government Primary School, Lehran in Ramban district. Ghulam Ahmad, 42, a local from Ramban, said that while everyone is aware of the measures needed to protect oneself from harsh winters, the Army also provided valuable information on personal hygiene during the cold.
Col Rajesh Kalia, officiating PRO Northern Command, Udhampur said that lectures strengthen the bond and generate goodwill between the local populace and the Indian Army. “It is always heartening to see such zeal, enthusiasm and interest among the locals who request for such events,” added Kalia.
Other than saving lives, protecting the social fabric of India also on the Army’s agenda
Although the Army has to face stone pelting often from miscreants in the valley, the force never shies away from extending a helping hand to the people in the valley during the time of need. Be it the flooding in various parts of Kashmir in 2014 or taking on the enemy, the Indian Army has always remained on the forefront in Jammu and Kashmir. During the time of emergencies when local administration completely collapses, the Indian Army is called in. A massive search and rescue operation, ‘Operation Khardung La Rescue 2019’ was launched to rescue ten civilian workers who were in an avalanche near Khardung La Pass in Ladakh on January 18 this year. Troops from the Siachen Brigade were mobilised along with avalanche rescue dogs for the operation. Though none of the ten individuals survived, the Army was able to retrieve their bodies.
The state has a history of communal tension in areas having a substantial population of Hindus and Muslims. To promote harmony between the two communities, the Army organises communal harmony meetings. Keeping in view the festivals of different communities, the Army has often hosted Iftar parties for the people of Muslim faith during the holy month of Ramzan. Salim Ahmad Chaudhary, a government school teacher and resident of border district of Rajouri, said that the Army has been protecting the people of the area from armed ultras that cross the Line of Control. “Army has also played an important role in creating awareness about the different cultures and customs across the country. Hosting of Iftar party also brings out their secular sentiments,” added Chaudhary.
[The author is a Ludhiana-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters]