‘First Boys’ of Proud Kashmir: Is that a reason enough to celebrate?
Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad
Bibi Ishrat Hassan
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
This small commentary is in reaction to an ongoing debate echoing loud through the columns of various local dallies in Kashmir related to the future of valley youth. While some “established” columnists have started touting the presence in foreign universities, of a handful of Kashmiri students hailing from few elite families and portraying it as something like ‘Kashmir at its zenith of achievement’. However, this drama of ‘Kashmir Shining’ is grossly overlooking and overshadowing the real prosaic picture of Kashmir. Is this spectacle of ‘elite success’ a deliberate design to ignore the dead present and dark future of millions of poor Kashmiri youngsters who are condemned to an unceasing struggle with the unfair institutional barriers erected and strengthened by state and its elite masters ? Celebrating the success of few individuals hailing from certain elite families and applauding their “achievements” by overlooking the cobweb of deprivation and disempowerment the majority of Kashmiri youth finds itself enmeshed in, is certainly an intellectual blooper, a joke and a misleading discourse. Which generation are our columnists referring to in their articles as future change agents? As per our understanding, these are a handful of boys and girls whom the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has appropriately referred to as the “First boys” and “First girls” owing to their lineage with the privileged families, thereby having had an opportunity of studying in London, Germany and other expensive places around the Globe. Aptly, reflected in their book An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions by Sen and Dreze and reasonably relevant to this ongoing misleading discourse is that “the privileged by and large do very well to their credit, they typically don’t waste opportunities. Their success comes, first, in the educational establishments themselves, and then in the world at large. The Country then celebrates with abandon the ‘nation’s triumphs’…Meanwhile the last boys, and particularly the last girls, can’t even read or write, not having had the opportunity of any kind of decent education”.
We ask, though politely, what about the millions of children who had not the advantage of being born in ‘royal echelons’ and are liable to go off-track without a capability of utilizing their talent in the hostile environment of the society they are a part of? What about the small, subaltern and underprivileged families who live a stressed life and can’t afford Convent/Biscoe brand of education, let alone the traditional Delhi wali padhayi or Washington stamped education’? We argue that through various tantalizing techniques, the elite in nexus with the state have irresponsibly sapped all of the intellectual capacity and have wasted the creative energy the underprivileged and underdog posses. Rather than trying to strengthening these threads each one of which is essential to the weaving of the social fabric, they have been pushed to squalor where they can barely recognize their innate capability.
The public intellectuals who should have been reflecting upon the social reality of dismally falling standard of public education in Kashmir ironically have resorted to a rhetoric by which they are sweeping the misery of majority under the red-carpet of the high accomplishments of an elite minority. Shall this scenario make for an assumption that these intellectuals and known columnists have never bothered to know the truth of our society or they are intentionally avoiding to reveal the factual scenario? But we must realize that we are avoiding, at our own peril, the discussion about our universities, colleges and schools that are churning out an army of useless graduates without any market and non-market value. Who shall give voice to those voiceless, unsung and unheard Edisons and Einsteins living in oblivion in the peripheries and suffering because of the inimical tactics of the rich politics?
Going to USA and Tokyo is not a bad thing, we, like Sen and Dreze want to make it clear here that we have nothing against these First boys and First girls of Kashmir. We welcome their “making Kashmir proud” but what should be avoided is judging the overall performance of a ‘generation’ by cherishing the performance of minor elite, and ignoring the rest. Education, as it appears in Kashmir is right of everyone; everyone seems to be going to school or college but going to USA and Biscoe has always been the privilege of the selected few. Inequality, injustice and inhumane treatment of the financially poor classes is presenting a horrendous picture of Kashmir; a yawning gulf between the rich and poor is clearly visible in Kashmir and that is what we all should mourn. Discrimination, corruption, nepotism and favoritism by some kleptocrats have pushed the masses into a cobweb of inhumanness, a trap of poverty. Politics, education and decent employment is increasingly becoming the right of the elite. The subaltern, poor are mere small vegetables overshadowed by the big ones in a garden called Kashmir. Buttressing the arguments further, one can even refer to the recent trend of our so called “young turks” joining Indian politics too. Who are these young turks, if one may again ask this question politely. The answer will same- our globally exposed elite fellows, who have managed to study in the west and have now come to dominate and capture income generating institutions back in valley, which they know are inherently mired with corruption and are great green pastures. This trend of rich joining the politics of the poor (politically) for expropriating the resources of the society (as we have seen in the past) is again somewhere closing the doors for our local Abraham Lincolns. You necessarily have to be filthily rich to join even an established political forum. These coercive and ‘extractive institutions’, where unfair- rules of the game are explicitly being decided by certain elite individuals thus leaving behind a nation in misery, poverty, inequality and trauma are well in place in Kashmir too. The need of the time thus is not to celebrate the success of few, not to show infatuation for glitz and glamour rather to encourage inclusive institutions, which in return will help create a level playing field for all of us. It is time to descend from the ivory towers to face the ground reality and should fight for a just and fair Kashmir devoid of opportunistic trends and hackneyed discussions.