In last few years, many Kashmiris have been recruited in central paramilitary forces. Some of these recruits share their tales of frustration and disillusionment with Majid Maqbool.
Javid Ahmad Dar, 25, from Nasrulla Pora village in Budgam was an undergraduate student in 2005 when he heard of a CRPF recruitment drive in Budgam. He had previously applied for several posts in police, but every time he was disappointed. There were problems at his home. His father had passed away. His sisters were yet to be married off. He needed to shoulder responsibilities at home and support his family.
Given his qualification and a good physique, Javid was selected in the recruitment drive held by 189 CRPF Battalion in an open playground in Budgam. Since 2006 he has been working as a sentry in the same CRPF battalion. Presently he is posted in the Indian state in Orissa.
“I have not yet experienced any discrimination but the food and environment in these states in not suitable for us,” Javid says. He has come for vacations after a long time. Having been away from his home for the past five years, he hopes to eventually find a job in Kashmir. Like other Kashmiri boys in his battalion, he wants to return home.
“Who would not want to work here,” he says. “But it is difficult to find a job here. I have to think of my family as well.”
Javid says all these years while he was posted outside the state, he has been looking for a police job in Kashmir. He often calls his friends and relatives back home to enquire about any job opening. “I keep a track of such news from Orissa, but there has been no luck so far.”
Javid married earlier this year. He can’t afford to take his wife along. His duty hours are tough. He is posted in far off locations in Orissa with a meager salary of Rs 7000 per month, most of which he has to send home every month.
Javid says it has only been a few years that the state government has been advertising some jobs here. “When I was recruited in the CRPF in 2005, there were no jobs for us,” he says. “Only influential candidates were preferred whenever some job was advertised.”
“What are ordinary people like me supposed to do then?” he asks.
In Nasrullah Pora, Budgam and in many other neighboring villages like Beerwa, hundreds of local youth have been recruited in CRPF and BSF over the years. Two big CRPF recruitment rallies were held in 2005 and 2007 in Budgam and thousands of youth were recruited. Growing unemployment and corruption means that the local youth find lesser avenues of employment. Many of them are then forced to take up jobs in central government forces like CRPF and BSF. After recruitment, they are posted outside the state. They remain away from their homes, posted in far off places like Assam, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, and some youth are even deployed in Naxal affected areas.
When Javid was recruited in 2005, he says that year around 3000 boys from Budgam were recruited in the CRPF. They were then dispatched, 50 boys each, to different CRPF training centers outside the state. Out of the 50 boys from Budgam who underwent training in the CRPF camp in Bihar, Javid says seven boys resigned and returned home. Some of the boys fell ill, while others couldn’t tolerate extreme weather conditions and unhygienic food.
Mohammad Iqbal, one of the friends of Javid, came back within four months of his training in the CRPF training centre in Bihar. He cites discrimination as the biggest reason of leaving his job. “They don’t trust Kashmiris there,” he says. “No matter how loyal you’re to them, they always suspect a Kashmiri.”
Iqbal was 24 and a first year college student when he was recruited in the 189 Battalion of CRPF in 2005 along with Javid. He didn’t expect to be recruited in CRPF. He says he participated in the recruitment drive with an intention to sharpen his skills in the competitive race. “But when I was selected, I was surprised,” he says. “I initially saw it as any other job. But I was mistaken.”
On the day of their recruitment, Iqbal was taken to Jammu along with other selected boys from Kashmir. From Jammu they travelled to the CRPF training centre in Bihar. Iqbal remembers the night he reached the CRPF camp in Bihar. “We had to sleep in a corridor of the camp as all rooms were occupied,” he recalls.
Having travelled for four days, all the boys from Kashmir were tired. Next day, very early in the morning, they we were asked to do harsh exercises in the training camp and told to participate in a race.
Iqbal remembers a day when a CRPF officer in charge of their training lined up all the Kashmiri boys in a roll call meeting in the evening. “latrine ka pani piladunga,” the officer threatened all the Kashmiri boys in presence of everyone in the camp, “yaad rakhna.”
That was the day, Iqbal says, he made up his mind to resign from the CRPF job.
On another day during his training, another CRPF officer asked Iqbal to come forward and tell him how the AK-47 rifle works. “He deliberately singled me out and asked me these questions in front of everyone,” he recalls. When Iqbal told him that he doesn’t know much about the rifle, the officer shot back: “All Kashmiris know how to fire from the AK-47 rifle.” When he again asked Iqbal to open the magazine of the rifle, Iqbal politely said he can’t. The CRPF officer got angry and slapped Iqbal in front of everyone.
“He would often say that Kashmiris can never be loyal and will be harmful for them in the end.”
For the first three months, Iqbal says, Kashmiri boys were not allowed to leave the camp. The CRPF officers were much lenient on boys from other states, he says. They were allowed to goon leave whenever they made a request. Within four months of his training, Iqbal made up his mind to resign from his job. “But they didn’t allow me to leave for a long time,” he says. “They were harsher on me as they came to know that I had decided to resign.”
Iqbal had to face a “social boycott” in the camp as the CRPF officers told other trainees not to talk to him as he is a “bad influence”. “They would tell other soldiers to stay away from me, calling me an athankwadi,” he recalls. “No one would talk to me in the camp.”
One day Iqbal was woken up at five in the morning and asked to run in a 16 kilometer race. “I fainted. I wept. I asked them why I am being treated like this,” he says. “They said because I am leaving, I will remember this treatment forever.”
On the same night, Iqbal decided to leave the CRPF camp at 1 am in the night. “I left the camp in June, 2006 and reached the railway station to board a train for Jammu where a relative was waiting to take me home,” he recalls. Since then Iqbal has been home. He now earns his livelihood by running a small shop outside his home.
Another youth from Nasrulla Pora, Ishfaq Ahmad was employed by BSF in a recruitment drive held in January this year. Around 200 boys were recruited in BSF that day in Budgam. Presently, he is undergoing training in a BSF camp in Humhama. His grandfather, Saifudin Dar, sits in a small shop outside their home. Ishfaq had come home for Eid, but he had to rush back to complete his training.
Ishfaq had earlier applied in police, says his grandfather, but they asked a bribe of Rs 1 lakh from them. “We are a poor family,” says Saifudin. “How could we afford to pay them this much of money,” he asks.
“Educated boys here don’t get civilian jobs easily,” he laments. “And even if some boys are selected in government jobs, they ask for huge bribes,” he says. When Ishfaq was recruited in BSF, they didn’t ask for any money and immediately sent the appointment order. “Since police didn’t employ him, he was forced to work in BSF,” he says. “It is just a job for him and now he can earn for his family.”
Ishfaq’s father was a tailor. In 1992 he was killed when army opened indiscriminate gunfire, killing 14 people, including a father and son inside their home. “One of their officers was killed when militants lobed a grenade on their convoy that was passing by from this village,” remembers his grandfather.
“My son was killed in front of me,” he says.
“That night was terrible,” he recalls. “The army took revenge and killed people. We had to run for our lives and stay away from our homes for a month,” recalls Saifudin.
Iqbal believes that a CRPF job is not meant for a conscientious Kashmiri. Many of his friends who are employed in CRPF battalions and posted outside the state often tell him that they want to come back. “If government takes a step to employ them here, all of them will leave their CRPF jobs and come back,” he says.
A kilometer away from Nasrulla Pora, in Garyan village, around 15 boys out of 18 selected in a CRPF battalion came back within one year of their training outside the state. Their reasons were the same: discrimination, unsuitable food, and extreme weather.
When Iqbal was undergoing training in the CRPF camp in Bihar, he remembers his uncle’s words over phone. “They don’t even trust us,” he would often tell Iqbal in every phone conversation. “How can they trust you then?”
His uncle is a constable in J&K Police.