COVID-19 impact: As unemployment rises, girls in Jammu and Kashmir queue up for police recruitment

Srinagar: Girls dressed in bright clothes sprinted as they took part in a police recruitment drive for the first time. At least 1,500 Kashmiri girls took part in the drive this week, marking a departure from the past when girls would take part in pitched battles against government forces.

In 2017, hundreds of girls had taken to streets in Srinagar chanting pro-freedom and anti-government slogans. They were seen throwing stones at the police and paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Srinagar’s business hub of Lal Chowk.

Stone-pelting incidents have dipped since the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, which was marked by months of communication blockade and shutdown in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.

Earlier this week, the Jammu and Kashmir Police held a recruitment drive for constable rank posts at a training ground in the Humhama area of Srinagar for a woman battalion.

The participants broke social taboos to take part in the drive organised in response to an advertisement from the police asking Kashmiri aspirants, who had applied for the constable posts, to take part in a physical test from 28 June to 30 June.

The physical test took place inside the Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF’s) Recruitment Training Centre (RTC), which is manned by thousands of paramilitary force personnel.

Several of the girl participants said that they were joining the police force due to unemployment, while some said that that they had a liking for the force.

“I was always interested in joining the police force and hope that my dream will be fulfilled,” said Munaiza, a resident of Pulwama in south Kashmir.

"I am not scared of joining the police force and would like to serve society,” she added.

Earlier, several women special police officers (SPOs) had quit their jobs after attacks by the militants on some of their colleagues.

Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Co-ordination, Danesh Rana, said that it was for the first time that the police was holding recruitment at a battalion level in Kashmir.

"We have seen that girls were keen to take part and serve in the police,” he said.

Rana added that the recruitment was being held for two battalions of police, one each for regions of Jammu and Srinagar.

A senior police official said that the new battalions would be used in routine law and order problems involving women.

However, another senior police official speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that women battalions are being raised based on the pattern of several battalions in Jammu and Kashmir which are used for anti-militancy operations.

Civil society activist Raja Muzafar Bhat said that people in Kashmir see the police department as an "avenue for employment".

"The level of unemployment has increased significantly in Kashmir, particularly on account of COVID-19, which is responsible for women joining the police force. The Government of India has otherwise been very harsh and even detained former chief ministers.”

According to officials the recruitment couldn’t be undertaken earlier due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 disease and was postponed in March last year. The COVID restrictions remain partially in force in Kashmir with shops and business establishments only functioning on designated days while schools and colleges remain closed in Srinagar.

A police spokesperson said that those who took part in the rally carried COVID-19 negative certificates with them.

A police official said that they had also asked the participants to bring with them their admit card signed by “candidates and countersigned by parent or guardian" to take part in the recruitment.

“The COVID real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RTPCR) test must have been conducted within the last 48 hours. Besides, the candidates are required to bring along with them admit cards, valid (identification) ID proof and all original testimonials,” read a police notification.

Rana said that the recruitment of women battalions was taking place alongside the two border battalions of men in Srinagar to beef up the security along the border.

For the border battalions, separate recruitment will also be carried out for the northern Kashmir districts of Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara starting 3 July, a police official said.

Parts of these districts have a running Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan and have seen a rise in militant activities recently.

Senior Superintendent of Police, Kulgam, Gurinderpal Singh, said that women are joining in good numbers in the police force.

"In the past, we have seen a fairly good number of women also join the police as special police officers (SPOs) at the district level,” he added.