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Why Kashmir's Obsession With the Civil Services Is An Unhealthy Trend

19/05/2016 9:04 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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It fills my heart with joy to see some of our Kashmiri youth qualify in competitive exams held at the all-India level. It is clear that these people are committed, dedicated and hard-working. It's also true that in times when the youth of Kashmir face bleak opportunities for employment, securing a lifelong, prestigious and well-paying job is a matter of jubilation for the candidate and his or her family and friends. Unlike the competitive examinations for medicine, engineering or management, you don't even have to attend years of school for professional training, after you qualify. You're simply appointed, having done an undergraduate degree in anything from humanities to the life sciences. You're a government administrator now. That's pretty quick. Great! However, there are some related issues, which we need to understand as a society.

There are opportunities which are way more lucrative, tough to crack and empowering for you to be able to positively influence others...

One is the problem of hype centred on "exclusive" jobs. In Kashmir, it's a long-standing tradition to eschew diversity when we set career goals for our children. When I was in high school, the pinnacle of success was to crack the entrance examination for the MBBS. At that time, the IAS hadn't quite caught our eye yet as an aspiration (with some exceptions). But when it did, everyone thronged for a chance, some even abandoning their MBBS in the process (though there's nothing wrong with switching careers).

I believe that this kind of reverence for particular career streams has two reasons. The first is lack of knowledge of opportunities and the second is our propensity for herd behaviour - mob mentality, if you will. We adopt certain trends and behaviours simply because everyone else is doing it, without exploring alternatives ourselves. There are many avenues for bright people right now which they're not aware of, because of the hype given to the IAS (it was the MBBS before that).

Trust me, if you're that dynamic, there are careers that are far more important and relevant than becoming yet another middle-class 'sarkari babu'.

The fallout is that we rank something as No.1 and everything else as a consolation prize. As an individual, it's great to challenge yourself but as a society, we know that only 0.0025% are successful in qualifying for the IAS (for instance). So, more than 99% of our youth are forced to think that they've got to compromise with their lives now, as they haven't been able to achieve the best. Thousands of them waste years trying for it, when they could've taken advantage of other equally good or even better opportunities. Not only is this unhealthy for society but it's also a blatant lie. As I said, we rank things as per our limited knowledge. There are opportunities which are way more lucrative, tough to crack and empowering for you to be able to positively influence others and lead by example. We need to know about such opportunities spread awareness about multiple career pathways rather than projecting one option as a success, out of ignorance.

My second problem is to see the most capable of our society being consumed in the wilderness of India's babudom, when they could've tried to explore better options, internationally. That would've been more rewarding for them as individuals and for Kashmir as a whole. I find it quite logical when I say I want to see the best and brightest of Kashmir to prove their mettle in international competitive exams, rather than restricting themselves to serving the Indian administration. It would be less painful to see our second or third best in the Indian bureaucracy.

[I]f you're going to burden [civil service entrants] with your unrealistic hope of them being a new dawn for Kashmir, you're mistaken.

Those who I call the "most capable" are the ones who have demonstrated a capacity to do wonders, possibly in innovations, inventions, research and much more. They have not reached their potential yet. They need further education in their area of interest to do those wonders. Contrarily, in the case of civil services, everybody's ability -- be that in science, arts, engineering or linguistics -- is being put to administrative use. These bright kids may not necessarily be great administrators. Their brightness might actually lie somewhere else. It would've been prudent to test the administrative aptitude of the candidates along with the required knowledge for administrative services, rather than marking them on the basis of how well they have mugged up history dates or zoological terminology. At the same time, it would've been beneficial if these students pursued their dreams in their fields of interest, given the fact these are not ordinary kids but brilliant ones. I assure you that would have been more advantageous for themselves and the world we live in. Trust me, if you're that dynamic, there are careers that are far more important and relevant than becoming yet another middle-class 'sarkari babu'.

It doesn't empower you. Your best and brightest go to serve those who you politically oppose.

My third and the most important reservation with my society is to view an entry into the civil services as a change of destiny for Kashmir. If you are happy for an individual for having made his career early on, great; but if you're going to burden them with your unrealistic hope of them being a new dawn for Kashmir, you're mistaken. Even our Chief Ministers, right from 1947, although being Kashmiris, have not and will not be in a position to take Kashmir out of the quagmire in which it's entangled. For you to seek a solution to the problems of J&K from these kids who would most probably be engrossed in some bureaucratic files in Bihar or down south, is unfair. Let them enjoy their lives the way other government officers do. It doesn't empower you. Your best and brightest go to serve those who you politically oppose.

Lastly, it's quite axiomatic for any society to take someone as a hero or icon if they have helped take people out of a difficult situation. Unfortunately, we Kashmiris might have had some sincere people but we don't have a role model at all since no one amongst us has actually been able to deliver. If you're hankering for an icon of personal success, then I reckon there are careers much more fascinating than being an Indian bureaucrat. I don't say it to demean anybody but purely with the hope of seeing the best among my people at positions much higher than what they've achieved. Hope this inspires some to explore greater heights and to open up more avenues for our youth to show their potential and brilliance.

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