Years after ‘Comedy King’ Jaspal Bhatti’s satirical take on common man’s problems on his ‘Flop Show’ amazed Kashmir, a young meritorious Kashmiri found himself grappling with the ‘system’ akin to Bhatti’s struggling character while fighting the institutional deep-seated rot at the cost of threats to his life.
The pile of papers that he carries in his bag makes Altaf Mirza any other justice seeker in Srinagar’s High Court premises. But the 26-year-old meritorious job-seeker is different, given how some fraudulent officials of the ‘system’ literally ganged up “to stab him on his back”.
Although he effortlessly hides his ordeal with his cheerful face, but his campaign-hardened image is brutally blatant.
Coming from a middle-class family of Srinagar, the young man saw his name disappearing from the list he topped and watched in sheer disbelief when a ‘disqualified’ person replaced him at behest of a ‘sponsored official’ support, now devouring even the last vestiges of the plausible officialdom.
His tribulation began the day when he applied for the post of Calligrapher against the Service Selection Board (SSB) advertisement (notice no: 06 of 2013) dated May 10, 2013.
After the written exam, some seven candidates were shortlisted for an interview on 17 Feb 2016 at Zam-Zam Hotel, Rambagh. Mirza was one among them.
The candidates were interviewed as per the alphabetical order. “But one Javeed Ahmad Kumar was interviewed at serial number 2 in contradiction to his allotted serial number 3,” Mirza said. “He was disqualified from the interview after his case was found to be forged.”
Even then Kumar’s jump from the third position to second spot set Mirza thinking. It was perhaps the beginning of his struggle with the rot in the ‘system’.
Before the interview result would be declared on 27 April, 2016 on the SSB’s official website, Mirza was certain that some invisible official hand was backing Kumar’s candidature. Perhaps that’s why through an RTI, he got Kumar’s OMR Answer Sheet.
It revealed to him that Kumar had done his Calligraphy course from an ‘unauthorized’ institution: Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL). Mirza had done the same course from the Industrial Training Institute (ITI), Srinagar.
Despite being the right person for the job, even topping the selection list, Mirza had his doubts. His worry was Kumar, whose name despite disqualification had surprisingly figured on the waiting list.
The ‘scam’ surfaced shortly when instead of getting the appointment, Mirza helplessly watched SSB withhold his recommendation on the bizarre grounds: Whether his course done from ITI Srinagar can be considered as two years diploma course or not.
The board, he said, had sought the same qualification—Diploma—for other posts. And all the selected candidates were ITI pass-outs like Mirza.
“But none of the selected candidates’ recommendation was kept withheld,” Mirza rued, “except me.” While all of them joined their respective departments a long ago, Mirza had to knock doors, many of them, to fight the injustice.
Eventually it took 5 months for SBB to initiate a clarification process, he said. “The board claimed that they had sent a letter to Principal ITI, Srinagar for verification.”
But even after rigorous follows with ITI and SSB, he received no clarification. Then in a dejected state, on 29 Oct 2016, he approached the Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir with an application. The Div. Com. asked the Principal ITI to revert at the earliest. To Mirza’s woe, the principal responded that his office hasn’t received any such letter.
The denial could’ve discouraged any meritorious job qualifier from taking it any further — as by that time, many tend to give up. But Mirza persisted, and kept ‘raising his voice against the injustice’.
“To expose the rot within,” he said, “I highlighted Kumar’s bogus candidature with my representation to the Secretary and Chairperson to the JKSSB.” But till date, no action has followed.
In between, he was “pressurized” by SSB administration ‘to step back and let Javeed Kumar join’.
“Such tactics,” he said, “clearly show how Kumar was favoured by SSB’s movers and shakers.”
But after his campaign earned him intimidation, he felt alarmed the moment his personal information and qualification certificates were leaked to Kumar.
“I was surprised when Kumar submitted my personal details and educational certificates to the J&K High Court,” Mirza said. “The act was clearly a violation of RTI Act and SSB should be held guilty for this action.”
Interestingly, Kumar’s move came after the court had given an order: Mirza’s position in the selection list shall not be disturbed.
But instead, Mirza said, SSB disqualified him and appointed Kumar, whose case was directly sent to the concerned department for an appointment, despite his recommendation being ‘withheld’.
The reason for this interchange was to keep Kumar’s claim alive, Mirza said, as according to the Service rules, a waiting list is not valid after a year and cannot be operated after the expiry of one year. “The interchange,” he said, “was done a week before Kumar’s waiting list candidature would expire.”
With each new turn of events, Mirza was finding himself pitted against the ‘organized and sponsored’ campaign. But despite government officials making fun of court orders, showing him their clear biased approaches and designating a disqualified candidate at a high-level post, he was far from giving up his case.
He then decided to file a contempt petition against SSB in the High Court, pleading that the court order dated December 14, 2016 has been violated.
SSB was asked for the reason of disqualification and violation of the court order. The board submitted compliance reports with two different versions: one for the court and the other for Mirza.
The two submitted reports were different in terms of content, and the line: “Mirza’s course is not equivalent to diploma”. This line was intriguingly missing from the report that SSB submitted to Mirza.
The consequence of submitting two different compliance copies resulted in another adverse order dated November 8, 2017, leaving him with no clue or preparation against the case filed in court.
“Somehow I wanted to shout,” said Mirza, fuming, “Is this the way you play with someone’s career? Who’ll punish you for playing such games?”
However, he curtly realized that his heartbroken queries are only the obvious anguish over the merit muzzle happening in the society since long now. Even as his desperate hours threatened to derail his mental calm, he decided to fight on.
He would repeatedly tell his counsels how the advertisement notice clearly mentioned: The candidates should be in possession of all the prescribed qualifications by or before the last date of submission of application forms: 10 June 2013. And any qualification acquired thereafter shall not be taken into account for any purpose.
Kumar, Mirza argued, had qualified his course on 11 January 2014. “So how come he filled in the application form when he was not even qualified?” Mirza, to the wonder of counsels, asked, thus exposing a chink in Kumar’s legal armour.
Besides the legal fight, Mirza made extensive use of RTIs to build his case.
It was through an RTI that JKAACL Public Information Officer revealed to him: Cultural Academy’s course has been mentioned as 3-Yr Calligraphy Course in official records rather than a Diploma.
“If such is the case,” Mirza asked, “then how could Chief Editor (Urdu) Mohammad Ashraf Tak issue an acknowledgment to Kumar, stating that their course is a Diploma course (in Calligraphy) and has been designed in consultation and support from National Council for Promotion of Urdu Languages (NCPUL), New Delhi?”
But in a reply to another RTI, NCPUL has clearly denied of receiving any proposal for recognition from the Cultural Academy till date, reveling that the academy itself isn’t recognized.
With each RTI, Mirza was exposing the long-standing official posturing and lies. But more was yet to come.
Then Mirza approached Director Technical Education (DTE) to confirm: Whether or not his course can be considered as a two-year diploma.
“The director while confirming my course as recognised Diploma marked the same to assistant director (PPP) DTE, Javaid Ahmed, for issuing diploma acknowledgement to me,” he said.
“But when I approached the said official for the letter, he denied it, saying the ‘director doesn’t have any knowledge of affairs and has to only obey my orders’. Later, I came to know that even that assistant director was hand in glove with Kumar and SSB.”
With each revelation, the plot was thickening — and, the deep nexus in the official ranks was getting exposed.
Then Mirza was asked to get a certificate from any candidate of Cultural Academy so that DTE can tally the subjects offered by ITI and Cultural Academy and accordingly decide, whether his course is a Diploma or not.
“Instead of verifying, if my course is Diploma or not,” he said, “DTE started comparing Cultural Academy’s course with ITI’s.” After examining, it was found that ITI’s course is more advanced than that of Cultural Academy.
“Cultural Academy teaches only one subject while as ITI teaches three subjects,” Mirza said. “Besides ITI is recognized by State as well as Central Government, while as Cultural Academy’s recognition status is unknown, even by the HRD ministry’s reply to the RTI.”
Even a Calligraphy instructor engaged by DTE to check Mirza’s case said in his report that ITI’s course is more advanced compared to Cultural Academy’s. “But even his opinion was rejected,” Mirza said, smiling.
Then DTE issued a letter to Secretary Cultural Academy, asking him to provide a copy of syllabus of 3-Yr Calligraphy course offered by the Academy, so that syllabus of both the institutes—ITI and Cultural Academy—can be examined.
The Academy could only send a piece of paper (in the name of syllabus) on which subjects were handwritten to DTE, later responding quite shockingly: You don’t even have a proper syllabus! What if the government had asked for it?
“After that,” Mirza said, “Cultural Academy changed its Calligraphy course to 2-Yr from three years. The move was a brazen violation to DTE’s guidelines, stating clearly that training through the ITIs leads to the award of Diploma certificate in craftsmanship, including in Urdu Calligraphy course.”
In other words, Mirza meant, it was Cultural Academy’s desperate move to undermine the ITI’s Diploma-issuing authority in Kashmir.
The fact is, Mirza said, ITI is the only recognized institute in the whole J&K, offering Urdu Calligraphy Course and if it cannot be considered as a diploma, “then where from the government is supposed to fill up these posts?”
Meanwhile, as Mirza’s fact-finding continued, he unearthed how the Cultural Academy had adjusted Kumar in the Course of Urdu Calligraphy in 2010 as a regular candidate, when he was already pursuing his Bachelor’s degree from University of Kashmir from 2009 to 2011 as a regular candidate.
As a rule set by UGC, AICTE or any other regulatory educational authority, one person can’t pursue two courses simultaneously, not even one regular and another on distance mode.
“I’ve his certificates,” Mirza said. “Cultural Academy can’t claim Kumar didn’t disclose his other regular course, as it is a well-settled fact that all the documents should have been assessed by the Academy before giving admission to any candidate.”
Notwithstanding all these allegations and the fact that it isn’t even recognized by the HRD Ministry, Cultural Academy is doing well, as per its Secretary Aziz Hajini.
“From past 45 years,” Hajini said, “the students who’ve done the courses from the Academy have been adjusted and also placed at Gazetted posts. But whether certificate is valid or not, that issue will be taken with the central committee.”
On Mirza’s case, Hajini said, the law will take its own course. “Since I took over as secretary,” he said, “I did not recruit anybody. I’m basically trying to make a transparent system. And that’s why an interview will now have fewer marks to check injustice.”
But after passing through twists and turns, when Mirza’s case was finally heard by a committee headed by DTE Shabnum Shah Kamili on December 12, 2017, on the directions of the High Court, an official from JKAACL was also seen present amid the glaring absence of DTE’s own Calligraphy instructor.
“The absence of the DTE’s official makes sense, as he was the one to rate ITI’s course higher than the Academy’s earlier,” Mirza said. “This only reflects DTE’s clear tilt towards Javed Ahmed Kumar.”
Today, the campaign-hardened Mirza stands on a moral high-ground. Despite facing life threats, he calls his justice campaign necessary in the times of great injustice.
“I don’t have any personal grudges with Javeed Ahmad Kumar,” Mirza said, “but it’s an important concern to be addressed — otherwise, the middle-class background candidates like me will continue to suffer.”
Altaf Mirza is not the real name of the candidate.