Kashmir's new all-India elite

Last month, a record 10 applicants from Jammu and Kashmir cleared the prestigious all-India civil services examination — six of them Muslims from the conflict-torn Kashmir valley. The State ranked third, behind Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, in its contribution to the civil services pool. Ever since Shah Faesal topped the exam in 2009, seven years after his father was gunned down by terrorists, his status as a media icon appears to have motivated ever-greater numbers of young Kashmiri Muslims to apply. While none of Kashmir's new civil servants come from the dying old city neighbourhoods which now form the core of the secessionist movement, there is little doubt something significant is happening. The civil services have been a key instrument for the making of the pan-India elite, giving access to power and networks of opportunity. For decades, Kashmir's Muslim elite was at the margins of these networks, excluded both by its own choices and by ethnic-religious discrimination. In recent years, though, emerging middle-classes from the hitherto marginal states have clawed their way into a circle once dominated by an overwhelmingly metropolitan elite.

Kashmiri Muslims have long been present in India's core circle of bureaucratic power — but they were few and far between. In 1968, Muhammad Shafi Pandit became the first Kashmiri Muslim to join the Indian Administrative Service. He was followed by Iqbal Khandey in 1978, Khurshid Ganai in 1982 and Asghar Samoon in 1993. In 1994, Abdul Gani Mir and Javed Geelani joined the Indian Police Service. Their success was a turning point. Mr. Mir conducted a survey of 1,000 college students in the Kashmir valley, and discovered few believed they had a shot at success. His findings, published in the newspaper Greater Kashmir, provoked interest — leading Mr. Faesal, among others, to approach him for advice. In 2009, Mr. Mir and a group of other bureaucrats set up the Initiative for Competition Promotion, which helps students prepare for the big exam. In the years since, the numbers of successful Kashmiri Muslim applicants to both the Central and State civil services have risen steadily — a generational transition from their parents, for whom resisting the influence of the Central services was a key political article of faith. The birth of this new elite won't solve the complex web of ethnic, religious, political and economic problems that together constitute the Kashmir conflict. It does, however, demonstrate an opening of minds in both Kashmir and elsewhere in India — and a small step forward in the making of a more representative Indian elite.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2020 11:07:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/kashmirs-new-allindia-elite/article3480620.ece

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