The Indian Army is pulling crowds, and the crowd is not here to throw stones at them, but to join them. Hundreds of young men lined up for Army’s open recruitment rally in the volatile south Kashmir’s district of Anantang, which has been the epicenter of an ongoing unrest in the Valley that has left over eighty people dead and more than ten thousand injured.
“We want to change the perception about the youth of Kashmir. If given an opportunity it would be an honor to serve this nation,” said Irshad Ahmad, who travelled 30 kilometers from Pulwama district to attend the recruitment rally in Anantnag.
South Kashmir has been the epicenter of the pro-azadi protests in the Valley since they broke out in July after the death of militant commander Burhan Wani. Wani was from south Kashmir; so were most of the victims of the unrest. Few hundred meters from the Army camp, where the recruitment was being carried out, curfew and restrictions remained in the place in the main market of the Anantnag town for the 75th straight day.
More than 6,000 youth from south Kashmir had applied for the different jobs using online registration system but only 400 could turn up at the High Grounds in Anantnag due to the ongoing unrest. But for the Army the response was “mindboggling”.
“The movement boys started gathering outside the camp, we realised we have won in our mission,” an Army officer said at the rally venue.
Those who made it to the recruitment camp had to leave their homes in the dead of the night to escape the wrath of stone-throwing crowds. Some of the aspirants had to face the fury of pro-azadi protesters, who thrashed them and tore apart their documents, a sign of the anger on the streets. A majority of these cases were reported from Pulwama district were protesters caught hold of aspirants and beat them up at many places.
“It was not easy to reach here but I had long waited for this day and come what may I would not have allowed this opportunity to go to waste,” said Tariq Qurashi, another aspirant who qualified the test, no less enthusiastic than the thousands like him who have joined pro-azadi protests.
"I want to request the youths to leave stone-throwing and instead prove their talent," said Zakir, a youth from Kokernag, in Anantnag district.
As the Army officers at the venue called out their names, these young men would pounce on the space reserved for the aspirants. Most of the recruits carried certificates in plastic bags and without an iota of fear on their faces of stone pelters who had called for a boycott of the rally.
“This rally is being conducted for the youth of Kashmir valley. The online response to the registration saw 11,500 youth applying for the jobs. The number of aspirants who had applied from south Kashmir is 6,000,” said Brigadier JS Sanyal, Deputy Director-General, Recruitment (Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir), who is overseeing the recruitment drive in Kashmir valley.
"The candidates are being screened for physical fitness... and documentation. Successful candidates will undergo a written test on 23 October at the same venue. Basically, our aim is to provide an opportunity to unemployed and educated youth. That is the reason why even those aspirants who had not registered online were provided the opportunity ,” Brigadier Sanyal added.
Hundreds of youth also lined up for SPO (Special Police Officer) posts during the recruitment rally organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Police in violence-torn Pulwama district, defying separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani's call for Kashmiri youth not to join the police force in the state.
“We came here to make our future secured and earn some money," said Adnan Ahmed, a resident of Tral village. The SPOs are engaged on a monthly salary of Rs 6,000, which was raised from Rs 3,000 a month since January this year. They are given a training and work with the Kashmir Police in maintaining law and order situation.
"We got a very good response. Many youths from Tral, Awantipora, Lethipora areas have appeared for fitness tests for SPOs post. Many have qualified as well," said Iftikhar Chaudhary, DSP DR, Member Recruitment Board of the Jammu and Kashmir police.