The Children of Lesser God

The Children of Lesser God

Disfavoured by Kashmir, alienated by Jammu, and failed by the state

The recent surge in violence, intolerance, xenophobia, ethnocentrism and religious persecution of minorities and other groups in different parts of world is disturbing, and is growing with each passing day. The growing xenophobia and ethnocentrism in the west which led to some fatal attacks on people of Asian origin, the persecution of minorities in Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Asia and other countries is simply the violent expression of this growing trend of intolerance. Back home in India the growing environment of religious intolerance and violence has already claimed many lives. Lynching and killing people, who do not eat or look the way ultranationalists want them to, has become a norm. Our State which has by and large remained very accommodative and tolerant towards people from different religious beliefs, cultural affiliations and diverse ethnicities seems to be falling prey to this growing epidemic of intolerance as well, as the recent Kathua incident and its subsequent politicization has pointed towards a silent but dangerous trend making its way into our state. This case may not qualify to be compared with the other global incidents of intolerance and violence but the subsequent developments as they unfolded made it clear that the issue has every potential to snowball into a bigger calamity.

On one side this incident brought forth the ideological fault line between the two regions, on the other side the micro-analyses of this incident unveils the converging point in the thinking of the two regions, that is how the community is being treated in the state. The plight of the community shows that they have been continuously discriminated and alienated by Hindus and Muslims alike, hence vulnerable to such incidents.

Discriminated by Kashmir

 The Gujjar Bkarwal community always had fractious relation with the Hindu population of the Jammu, but the Muslim majority region of Kashmir apparently had never been intolerant towards the Gujjar- Bakarwals. A minor scratch on the surface reveals that things are not as good as they appear to be. The stereotypes our society believes in and the racial prejudices against the community have always developed a sense of discrimination and alienation among the community. Often the words Gujjar and Bakarwal are used  in disgust to demean  someone. There may not be violent physical attacks on the community in Kashmir like that in Jammu but given the way the community has been historically treated in Kashmir with contempt and disgrace is a matter of shame for us.

Alienated by Jammu

Recently in Gool Gujral a Muslim seminary was demolished and the local populations of Gujjar ethnicity asked to leave the place to make the land available for the construction of AIIMS. AIIMS of course is a priority but the way and the means adopted to clear the land raise some serious questions on the working of the local administration. In another incident in Sarore in Samba district a member of Gujjar community was killed as he resisted the eviction of the community from their land. More recently a family was brutally thrashed by a huge mob on the mere suspicion of cattle smuggling, though some persons were arrested for the crime but yet again it highlighted the vulnerable condition the community is living in, within that region.

There has been a persistent threat to the life and property of this nomad community, the environment of hostility created by some rogue elements is done to project the community as threat to the local population, to change the demography of the region and as land grabbers. This intimidation and abhorrence to the community is nothing new. The massacre of 1947 in the backdrop of partition, points to the fact that things in the region were always vulnerable and continue to be so.

The Kathua is only a small manifestation of the deep rooted communal hatred against the community prevalent in the region. This incident is a gentle reminder that it is only the matter of time that this bubble of communal peace and harmony can burst.

Failed by the State

The involvement of the investigating officer in destroying the crucial evidence in the above mentioned case, another police officer being the main culprit in the crime and the way parents of the victim were returned by the police officer of Hiranagar police station when they went to file the missing report put some serious question marks on the working of JKP at the ground level. In this case had police worked in professional manner and with alacrity things may have been different as they eventually developed.

The long pending demands from some Gujjar and Bakarwal leaders for the extension of some central legislations to the state of J&K or the enactment of similar kind of legislations like The demand for the extension of “THE SC and ST ( PREVENTION OF ATTROCITIES ) ACT 1989” and the “FOREST RIGHT ACT 2006” seems to be falling on deaf ears. These acts have been quite effective in developing a sense of security among the community and in the protection of basic rights over their land and property. Ironically BJP has been opposed to the extension of FOREST RIGHT ACT 2006 to the state, stating the special position of the State vis a vis Centre (art.370). 

It is now clear that the community is facing multiple problems at multiple levels. The social prejudice faced in the Muslim majority region of Kashmir reflects the low esteem in which we hold the community. The communal hatred and alienation faced by the community in the Jammu region which led to the recent incident shows the vulnerable conditions the community is living in. The state too appears to have put the concerns of the community in the back burner.

To say the community has been continuously discriminated by Kashmir, alienated by Jammu and failed by the state wont’ be any exaggeration. Sloganeering and protests on the Kathua case depicts our pain and concern as a responsive society, but this sloganeering and chest beating alone isnot enough to absolve us of our responsibilities towards the community.

Arshid Bashir is a Delhi based Lawyer