In the Kashmir Valley, a heated debate is on about Kashmiris joining the Indian administrative services. For a people who resist the Indian yoke, every time a Kashmiri qualifies for the Indian or even the Kashmir Administrative Service (KAS), it becomes a point of acute reflection. So how does one comprehend Kashmiris entering the civil services, which in Kashmir has become tantamount to being hand in glove with the Indian state? And rightly so, since these officials will uphold draconian laws in order to ensure the Indian State's longevity in Kashmir.
It does not help that the Indian administration and its media herald becoming a servant of the "State" as evidence of Kashmiri allegiance to New Delhi.
Over the years, after the police service, becoming a "qualified" civil servant of the Indian state has increasingly become discomfiting for Kashmiris, no matter what fosters such decisions at a personal level. It does not help either that the Indian administration and its media herald becoming a servant of the "State" as evidence of Kashmiri allegiance to New Delhi. To many capable aspirants this elevated clerkship is sold as the only option of growth, reminiscent of India's own stalwarts like Satyendar Nath Tagore or Subhas Chandra Bose who succumbed to the ICS during the British Raj. And then some Kashmiris may even buy into the dramaturgy of changing the system from within. Yes that can happen, and this I say from experience.
Among my several professional avatars, I once also qualified for the KAS. I remember the Public Service Commission official telling me I had been assigned to "community development," and he wryly added: "Wrong choice, with your ranking you could have been in the secretariat." These words were to be my first education about what civil service primarily meant. It was a ticket to an elevated lifestyle in the power corridors rather than being a servant to the public. But for me, I had returned from the BBC in London to join as the Block Development Officer of Srinagar in the naïveté of "serving my people."
[M]y job became less about poor beneficiaries and more about outmanoeuvring corrupt seniors, land-sharks and the construction mafia.
In the following months, my job became less about poor beneficiaries and more about outmanoeuvring corrupt seniors, land-sharks and the construction mafia. Several times I acted as a decoy in the stings set up by the Vigilance Department to nab corrupt officials. Later, I came to know these operations were just a farce, probably to fool me more than anybody else. I also dealt with male colleagues, thankfully not many, who felt it was beneath them to report to a "yesterday's girl." They would debate for days on whether to write "yours sincerely" or "yours faithfully" in the memos addressed to me.
Even though there were well-meaning and capable officers, the failings of the system became glaring when during meetings the contents on a lunch plate were discussed more than the matter at hand. If these usual administrative struggles were not enough, the bureaucratic hierarchy proved more exacting than the Indian caste system. Droves of Indian parliamentarians and ministry officials visiting Kashmir turned the newbie KAS probationers and even senior officers into chaperones. Also, as an officer suddenly one could not utter even a critical word against any government policy. Even though I felt I had not pledged fealty to the "Centre" in Dilli, I had become the tiniest screwdriver in India's tool-kit for fine-tuning its hold on Kashmir. I increasingly understood the bureaucratic set-up in Kashmir as what Johan Galtung calls "foundational violence", which does not always appear as a destructive apparatus and can be a practice that conventionally is considered peaceful.
Even though I felt I had not pledged fealty to the "Centre"... I had become the tiniest screwdriver in India's tool-kit for fine-tuning its hold on Kashmir.
Towards the end of my KAS run, I self-diagnosed myself with the Kashmiri bureaucratic schizophrenia. This ailment begins when you are doing what you think is just a job that includes routine civil society challenges while you steadily become aware of how strategic your role is in strengthening the Indian apparatus. At this juncture, your positionality becomes awash in moral greys, which, depending on your life options, fuel either your flight or petrification. Afterhours, I would find some kindred colleagues equally stuck in the schizophrenic funk as they took turns justifying their position in the services. Some said it was just a job to meet family obligations; others asserted that if it were not for them people would lack essential services. A few irrepressible ones thought they would change the system from within. Some loved the status the office brought with it. Others felt their presence was crucial to protect Kashmir's regional interests. A few bragged they were becoming privy to classified information which helped them understand the Indian machinations better; to what end, it baffles me till today. Also while most wanted laurels matching their competence, initially at least, their default mode was resistance to the Indian ministrations as much as any other non-civil servant Kashmiri.
[T]he aspiration for civil services in Kashmir is more a symptom of foundational violence than loyalty to the Indian system.
Maybe it was the kind of people I knew, but to me, most in this bureaucratic melee were more outside the system than inside it. Everyone was "there" and yet not. Even under the patina of "burra sahib" displaying administrative skills, it felt like everyone was getting by, which is why the system continues to be doubly inefficient, and sluggish at most levels. I am not trying to exonerate those Kashmiris who choose to inhabit these spaces of "impotent" power, but it cannot be ignored that aspirations for government jobs are also deliberately encouraged by the Indian administration. Such tenure-assured jobs amongst young hopefuls also get traction because most gainful industries in Kashmir under the current militaristic policies are either thwarted or geared towards failure. In my view, as an analytic, the aspiration for civil services in Kashmir is more a symptom of foundational violence than loyalty to the Indian system. On the other hand, the intense and increasing debate on ethical dilemmas that arise when Kashmiris choose civil services must be read as symbolic of how deep the chasm between India and Kashmir is, and how strong and nuanced Kashmiri modes of resistance have become over the years.
Also see on HuffPost: