“Over two lakh tourists in the valley and only 25 thousand rooms available,” screamed the headlines of a newspaper in the Kashmir Valley. The ever-green tourism sector of Kashmir has seen unprecedented growth in the last 3-4 years. The people of the valley are re-discovering and realizing the potential of the valley to attract tourists from around the world, especially the mainland India. Every person talks about it and says that, “Kashmir will not see the dark days again as we realize what we can be, now.”
What we can be now, is taking a different meaning all together, among the youth of Kashmir. I was once again in the valley for my annual pilgrimage of addressing and motivating youth at its most prestigious venue, SKICC on the banks of the DAL. This conference was with a difference though as it focused on helping youth to challenge the civil services.
From one civil services entrant in the last decade, in 2013 J&K sends 17 charged youth to IAS/IPS/IFS. Hundreds want to, now! This is transformational! This is what I meant when I repeated, “We are realizing now, what we can be!”
More youth exceling at the national stage, will see they taking greater responsibility in Kashmir and in India, and resulting in more opportunities and greater integration.
While last years conference was inaugurated by the young CM, this years conference to facilitate more youth to get into CIVILS SERVICES, at SKICC, Srinagar on June 7th had Mr. Iqbal, Chief Secretary J&K; MR Wahid ex-VC University, Mr Shafi Pandit first IAS qualifier (1968) and ex-chair J&K public services commission, Dr Shah Faesal first IAS Topper from the valley in 2010; Dr Sehrish Asgar (2011 IPS, 2012 IAS) first woman from J&K to enter civil services) and Dr Ruwida (2012 IAS), another inspiration who qualified this year.
In the last couple of days, I came across a newspaper article in a national daily, that Over five hundred children from Valley have enrolled in various coaching institutions for engineering and medical entrances at Kota, Rajasthan. Over sixty percent of these children are girls. They all want to excel in life. The institutions in Kota have created provisions for classes and their stay, even taking care of their cultural needs like prayers, food etc. This augurs very well for the aspiring youth of Kashmir.
At the Career Launcher centre in Srinagar, I met a young lady, Sumaira, a post-graduate from Kashmir university, very articulate, and got to know that she has been picked up by Saudi Airlines as an airhostess. In all, this year, about 17 young women have been recruited by international airlines from the Gulf to meet the needs of their services. She was so overwhelmed by the facilitation CL has done in infusing her confidence that she even chose to come with us on a spectacular train journey in the valley, to interact more with her mentor Mr. Vijay Jha of CL who was accompanying me, as I chose to get the insights of train travel in the valley for the first time. More about it down under.
While with Sumaira, in the office, another youth walks into CL, asking for the coaching that he could get for Civil services at CL. While interacting, he was very effusive about the education, attitude of co-learners and the environment he got in the last four years of his engineering under-graduation at an institution in Jabalpur. In fact, he was countering the pessimism that Sumaira was expressing, about the outlook of youth in mainland towards the youth from Kashmir. The interaction was very healthy and enlightening.
In 2009, Kashmir was blessed with railways, a long delayed initiative, that could have been at the heart of integration with the mainland. I took time off to experience the train journey in the valley on this visit of mine. The train runs between Kazigund at the southern tip of the Valley to Baramullah in the northern end. The frequency is of every two hours.
By the schedule published, we reached the station closest to Srinagar, on its outskirts and found the station empty as we were an hour before the scheduled train. But we got a great opportunity to see the beautifully decorated station. This station has be declared the most beautiful station of our country and figures in the Limca Book of records.
Within no time the station was bustling with crowd, as we neared the departure of the train. The train arrived and we found it to be jam-packed. Within a couple of years of the introduction of the train in the valley, it has become the most preferred transportation mode for the valley. A distance of about hundred kilometers by road (Baramullah to Qazigund), that used to be covered by shared rickety-taxis on a bumpy road, at a cost of over hundred and fifty rupees, now, gets covered by the air-conditioned train in a little over two hours, in a comfortable way, at a mere fifteen rupees. Why will not this be most sought after?
The whole circuit of Srinagar-Kazigund-Baramullah-Srinagar took us about five hours. But it was a great eye-opener for me in every respect. Each one talks about the difference this train has made to them. As I am writing this article, Dr Manmohan Singh is going to inaugurate the extension of railway track further south of Kazigund. By 2017, the Valley will be completely connected with Udhampur, Jammu and the mainland.
Train connectivity to the mainland is going to make a huge difference. The mobility of citizens for the valley to the mainland is going to be smooth, comfortable and economical and the tourism inflow will be multiplied. That’s when we will see the true potential of the valley being realized.
While on the train, I noticed a couple of youngsters having a few sheets of paper that looked like an entrance exam question paper. I took it from them to have a look, then realized that it was the entrance exam paper for undergraduate programs of Aligarh Muslim University. I had a wonderful interaction with the youth. Realized that over 2000 youth appear in the exam. Vijay had extensive interaction with the students and even helped them figure out what their true scores in the exam could be.
I have been addressing youth of J&K since 2007, almost twice a year. In the last 6 years I have experienced immense changes in the outlook of youth. They now realize that they are as good as anyone across the country and they want to show what they can do. I am sure Kashmir is on the verge of realizing its intellectual potential.
All these developments on the intellectual front, will impact social, cultural, physical and economical development of the valley. We will see many entrepreneurs emerging too, as a couple of our own IWSB students started contributing to the economy there. It augurs well for J&K and of course for India too.