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Rajouri: Seeds of a Silent Revolution

In 2005, the state government took a significant step by establishing a technical university in Rajouri district of Jammu. Besides having the potential to change the future of young students from this region, it can make a dent on the level of violence and militancy in the districts of Poonch and Rajouri, and perhaps, the entire Jammu region.

Rajouri: Seeds of a Silent Revolution

In 2005, the state government took a significant step by establishing a technical university in Rajouri district of Jammu. Besides having the potential to change the future of young students from this region, it can make a dent on the level of violence and militancy in the districts of Poonch and Rajouri, and perhaps, the entire Jammu region.

D SUBA CHANDRAN

R
ajouri, along with Poonch, two districts bordering the line of control (LoC) in the Jammu region were, till recently, the most militant infested regions of J and K state. Four years ago, people feared to travel on the road between Poonch and Rajouri via Surankote and Bafliaz, as the militants could easily intercept them. In the last three years, there has been a marked improvement; the operations in the Hill Kaka region during late 2003, were an outcome of this change, with the local population taking part in counter militancy efforts. This region has also witnessed women joining the village defence committees (VDCs) for the first time.

There has been a sharp decline in militancy in the Poonch district; however, the success in the neighbouring Rajouri district could only be termed moderate. While the government has been criticised for not taking firm steps to accelerate the declining trend and expand the areas of normalcy, what remain unnoticed are the significant positive steps taken. These initiatives, though outside the purview of counter militancy strategies, have the potential to transform into a larger movement for peace. Operation Sadbhavna is one such effort spearheaded by the army, both in Jammu region and also in Kashmir valley, which has yielded good results at the ground level.

In 2005, the state government took a significant step forward by establishing a technical university in Rajouri, offering MBA and MCA courses. The university is named after a Sufi saint, Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah, who is revered by the three major communities in these two districts – Hindu, Muslim and Sikh. His shrine – Shahdara Sharief, 30 kms from Rajouri in the Pir Panjal range, is a symbol of communal harmony and attracts people from other regions in the state and elsewhere. While degree colleges offer arts and science courses in Rajouri and Poonch, what was missing here were technical courses at the higher level. In most cases, courses on these subjects were not offered by local private institutions that are either recognised or have a good reputation. Since these two regions are backward and remain cut off from the rest of J and K and the country, most students educated in the degree colleges remain static. Since the standard of education is comparatively lower this has created difficulties for the students educated here getting jobs, creating both unemployment and underemployment.

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The new technical university, with courses on information technology, nano-technology and biotechnology could change the outlook and future of young students from this region. Vice chancellor Masud Chaudhry, the dynamic leader and the most important force behind this initiative, believes that this university would usher in a technological revolution in the twin border districts of this region.

Second, though the university has been established in Rajouri, it is open to students from outside the region and other parts of the country. Like the Indian Institute of Technology in Srinagar and the university in Jammu, the Badshah University has the potential to become a regional centre of learning. Though started in 2005, with only four departments, it has added two more this year and is likely to expand further to enrol students from other regions of the state and country; its graduates could be employed all over India and even abroad. A two way interactive process would be

Economic and Political Weekly July 8-15, 2006 a major milestone in integrating these two backward districts with the rest of the state and the country.

Third, any higher institution of learning has the potential to make a dent on the level of violence and militancy in these two districts, and, perhaps, the entire Jammu region. It is important to understand that though this region has witnessed a high level of violence, this has been externally orchestrated. Not many from these two districts have joined the militant groups and the level of local support to them has always been low. However, the violence continues due to government apathy towards the people living in the interior of the region and its inability to protect them. The militants have forced the local population to provide them with shelter, but the latter could not complain to the security forces. Those who complained were targeted by the militants and eliminated. The state did make an effort to create VDCs to defend themselves. However, this process did not, and is unlikely to yield any appreciable results. The training provided was inadequate and the weapons given were archaic – they were no match against the battle hardened militants.

The long-term failure of the much hyped operations in the Hill Kaka region in late 2003 is an example of this flawed policy. The local community participated with enthusiasm and the Operation Sarp Vinash was a success. In the following months, however, most of the locals who took part in the operation were eliminated by the militants. The local population could neither get protection from the security forces nor reimbursement for their participation in and sacrifices made during the counter militancy operations. The local population also complains of corruption in providing relief to the affected, leading to frustration vis-à-vis the state. The return of normalcy should not be equated with the decline in violence, and false assumptions that the region has become safe and secure. The state needs to be proactive, besides using the local population to take part in counter militancy operations. The decline in violence has a military component, but should be followed and complemented with a longterm political and developmental strategy. Operation Sadbhavna is one such effort, and creation of Badshah University is another step in the right direction.

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Though the state government initiated the move, it was the Waqf Council of J and K which made a significant contribution byproviding the seed money and creating a corpus for the university. The UGC recognised the university and has committed to itsfunding. The technical courses have also been approved by the All India Council of Technical Education. All these efforts have taken place in a short span of 15 months. Efforts have also been made to establish a biodiversity park in the hill ranges, which was once the haven for militants. This support at all levels should continue for the next five to six years. There are plans to have engineering and medical colleges in the university. Given the fact that even sand and bricks to construct the building have to come all the way from Jammu, thisisa big dream, but worthy of serious pursuit.

Second, the future also depends on the university attracting the best talent available to lead the courses. Undoubtedly, Rajouri is one of the most remote regions in J and K state. It takes a back breaking five hours journey from Jammu, which is the nearest town with a railway station and airport. Security of the family and education of their wards are two issues likely to dominate the minds of faculty. Would the talent available outside the region take up this challenge? Money alone cannot invite better talents; an element of zeal and sacrifice is essential to work in a place like Rajouri.

Third, for making any institution of higher learning a success, the educational institutions at the lower levels – schools and colleges should provide the inputs. University teaching can only shape better teaching, but cannot start from a scratch. While educational standards of the schools and colleges in the valley are comparatively better, Rajouri, Poonch and Doda districts remain abysmal in this regard. The recent years have witnessed the opening of new colleges; today in Rajouri and Poonch alone, there are six degree colleges – two each in Mendhar and Rajouri and one in Sundarbani and Poonch.Thestandardof these institutions and the schools are essential ingredients in making the Badshah University a springboardfor the students of this region.

If the present momentum of linking the two Kashmirs continues, this university could attract students from across the LoC. Recently, efforts were made to attract students from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) to study in Jammu University. There are no technical universities in PoK and students have to go to Islamabad and Lahore. If the Rawlakot road materialises and the LoC becomes soft, Badshah University should be only four hours away from Chakan-da-Bagh, near Poonch. In that case, this university could revolutionise the entire region and usher Kashmiris into the next century. m

Email: suba@ipcs.org

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    Economic and Political Weekly July 8-15, 2006

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