Beneath the wave of protest marches and curfews that have engulfed Kashmir of late, a less visible revolution has been taking place. Behind it are some of its brightest youth, who had left to study and work elsewhere during the worst years of militancy. One emblem of this other revolution is the Airtel call centre—in operation since 2004 and just 100 yards from Srinagar's Lal Chowk. About a hundred young Kashmiri men and women are busy at their terminals in this state-of-the-art office, which Airtel now ranks as its best call centre in the country. Much of that success can be linked to 33-year-old Kumail Ansari.
Ansari returned to Srinagar five years ago, determined to carve out a niche for himself using the skills he had acquired working in the IT sector in Pune, Bangalore and Chennai. At first things were tough—more than fifteen years of violence had resulted in the near-disappearance of the corporate sector. Ansari's father, who owns a car dealership, had gone from selling 300 cars a month to about three in six months. "A bloated government structure was the only way to secure a decent job for most people," says Ansari. But conversely, the violence had also led to the creation of a highly educated young population, as parents felt schooling was the best way to keep children out of the conflict. The training and skills were there; all that was needed was a break. And then Ansari's cousin secured a deal to set up the Airtel call centre in Srinagar.