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A Story of Loss: Entrepreneurs Mourn Attack on J&K’s EDI Building

The Entrepreneurship Development Institute has created several rags-to-riches stories for the people of J&K.

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India
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The assault on the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) is an ugly reminder of the cost of political turmoil paid by the people of Jammu and Kashmir who are caught between two warring nations from the last 27 years.

Set up by the state government in 1997, two years after the first assembly election was held in J&K following the eruption of insurgency, the EDI was conceptualised to address the issue of unemployment and wean away youths from the romanticism of armed struggle.

The institute, however, started actual work in 2004 when it offered entrepreneurship training programs for educated youths in diverse fields and later also arranged funding through attractive state and centrally sponsored schemes.

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At the EDI, the courses offered are as diverse as bee keeping, sheep farming, nail production and mushroom cultivation. According to officials, around 4,000 entrepreneurs have successfully passed out of the institute with hundreds of documented success stories.

In Batagund village of Kashmir's Handwara, M/S Farhan Poultry is a known name. Set up by Farooq Ahmad Shah, a graduate, in 2011 with the help of JKEDI, the poultry farm is an inspirational, rags-to-riches story.

I had never thought that I could do this well. Today, I employ at least six persons and also have business relation with poultry dealers across the region. My life changed because of JKEDI.
Farooq Ahmad Shah

Shah used to work as a daily-wage labourer with sand extractors before starting the farm.

The Entrepreneurship Development Institute has created several rags-to-riches stories for the people of J&K.
The encounter in Pampore went on for three days and EDI was under attack. (Photo: PTI)
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Located near the famed saffron town of Pampore on the strategic Srinagar-Jammu highway, the twin high-rise buildings of the institute, five-storied administrative office and seven storied hostel complex, were designed by Naqashbandi and Associates, a valley-based architectural firm.

The institute is spread over 40 kanals of prime land flanked by Jhelum River and saffron fields. The administrative block was badly damaged in a 48-hour long encounter in February. The new batch of militants reportedly crossed Jhelum using a boat and then sheltered themselves inside the hostel complex.

The attack on the complex also has an eerie resemblance to the strike carried out by Lashkar-e-Toiba militants on Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai in 2008 who tried to blow up the heritage hotel from inside using grenades and other explosives. The suspects followed a remarkably similar strategy at the EDI.
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"It is, of course, heartbreaking to see our workplaces being blown up, our private spaces being violated. We offered a window of hope for thousands of educated youths. I don't know how we are going to come out of this now," a senior officer at the EDI told The Quint.

Built at a cost of nearly Rs 27 crores, the EDI proffers a window into the struggles of lakhs of disillusioned educated youths who are starved of the economic opportunities due to rampant unemployment in the state.

Among the six siblings, Shaheena Akhtar, a resident of Srinagar, was the only one who didn't leave education midway, until a financial crisis forced her to drop the idea of pursuing a doctorate degree. After initial hiccups, she enrolled for a program at the EDI in 2011 and managed to get a loan of Rs 60 lakh for her handloom firm.

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The Entrepreneurship Development Institute has created several rags-to-riches stories for the people of J&K.
Soldiers take in the destruction of the EDI building. (Photo: PTI)
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I expanded my business and with the help of Allah (swt), it grew rapidly. Today, I employ nearly two dozen workers, most of them women hailing from different parts of Kashmir, to work on 11 looms at my firm.

In J&K where the rate of unemployment is one of the highest in the country which also boils down to political alienation and demands of freedom from India, the institute turned into a game-changer within years.

While Kashmir has been reeling under shutdowns and curfew from the last three months, few people are aware that the churning at the EDI never stopped, with the staff showing up at work almost on a regular basis.

According to insiders, the management of the institute had planned to raise another multi-storied building at a cost of Rs 30 crores to accommodate more students in newer courses. The twin assaults this year may derail that process.

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The Entrepreneurship Development Institute has created several rags-to-riches stories for the people of J&K.
EDI building under terror attack. (Photo: PTI)
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The EDI helped me realise my dream. The attack on the institute is an attack on the dreams of youths. Disturbance in Kashmir has made us economically backward. There should be a dialogue between India and Pakistan which will bring some stability in our state.
Haris Dullo, owner of City Sign Technology, an advertising firm conceptualised at EDI

Although a three-storied guest house has been left unscathed in the fresh attack, officials say it will not suffice the administration needs against the backdrop of the lockdown in Kashmir.

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The Entrepreneurship Development Institute has created several rags-to-riches stories for the people of J&K.
Soldiers take stance during fresh encounters in Pampore. (Photo: PTI)
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The scars on the walls of JKEDI may heal with a fresh coat of plaster and paint but the bruises on the idea of what the institute stands for will not heal so soon.

I would like to see it as a bad dream. And like all dreams, we will wake up to a new dawn, one which is more peaceful and where our state prospers. The attack means bad luck for our youngsters who want to stand up on their own feet.
Dr MI Parray, Director, JKEDI

For Dr Parray, the destruction of infrastructure is a "deeply personal loss":

Having started the institute from a small room in Srinagar, we now had the state-of-art infrastructure. But this is the reality of Kashmir. We have to face it and live with it. We can’t shut our doors and stop living.

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