Hundreds lined up for physical tests for recruitment as Special Police Officers (SPOs) on Tuesday and Wednesday in Kashmir’s Pulwama and Anantnag towns, the hubs of the ongoing runaway upsurge in Kashmir. They stood in long queues – around 26,553 of them – waiting eagerly for their turn to be tested.
With job as their sole goal, they are even comfortable with the idea of fighting youth protesters, should they be recruited.
“If I am selected, I will do my job as other police men do,” says a youth who didn’t want to be identified. “Our job is to maintain the peace and peace is in everybody’s interest”.
This is not the first time that Kashmiris have lined up for the employment during the course of a sweeping separatist unrest or immediately after that, something that has often run contrary to the dominant understanding of the situation in Kashmir.
In January 2011, immediately after the five-month-long separatist strife, more than 6,000 young men from downtown Srinagar waited in the bone-chilling cold in the hope of landing a job with the Jammu and Kashmir Police. About 80 per cent of the men who swarmed the road at Khanyar outside the police station were from downtown city itself, a good number from nearby Nowhatta, which just three months before had then been the origin of the Azadi upsurge.
This time, however, the recruitment rally has been organised in the thick of the ongoing unrest and again the response from the youth from the strife-torn areas has been overwhelming.
The SPOs receive just Rs 6,000 honorarium. Up to last year, they received just Rs 3,000. The honorarium is paid by the state government and reimbursed by the Central government under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme. J&K has 25,827 SPOs against the sanctioned strength of 30,000. The SPOs, who make exemplary contribution to law and order, are promoted as followers or constables.
The SPOs were recruited in police force in the early nineties and a significant number of them comprised the surrendered militants or Ikhwanis, the pro-government gunmen. Recruited mostly from the militant dominated areas, the SPOs proved very effective in dealing with the militancy due to their local knowledge and intelligence network.
The Home Minister Rajnath Singh recently gave approval for the engagement of additional 10,000 SPOs in the state police force. Singh, on his recent visits to the state, had talked about creating employment opportunities for the youth to tide over the recurrent unrest.
The central government is also recruiting 5,000 youth in five newly created India Reserve battalions in the state, a majority of them from border districts of the state. Another 1,300 youths will be recruited by different paramilitary forces in next six months.