The Gujjars – a main tribal group of Jammu and Kashmir constitute a sizeable portion of total population of the State. They have significantly retained their centuries-old traditions through practice. As a tribe they still prefer segregate areas for habitation to maintain their distinctive cultural inheritance and inimitable nomadic life-style .
Owing to their migratory practices, they are faced with many challenges in their day to day life, thereby as the problems and issues of this tribal community are entirely unique as compared to other groups. Such problems need appropriate solutions through certain bold decisions and initiatives at the highest level.
The Gujjars (including Bakerwals) continue to count memories of all such big leaders, in their community gatherings, who have immensely contributed to welfare of their tribe with consideration and sympathy. Former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, Begum Akbar Jahan-wife of former Chief Minister Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed were the three tallest non-Gujjar leaders who with their vision, actions and broad based initiatives have created an important place in the hearts and minds of this community.
For marginalised groups, especially the Gujjars who live in hilly and border areas of the state, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was a real far-sighted leader, who in the short span of his Chief Ministership of Jammu and Kashmir state created a number of opportunities which has contributed to their economic, social and educational growth in last few years. Some of his initiatives are listed as under:
Establishment of Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University
During his first tenure as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed initiated and established 'Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University' . First ever University in Pirpanchal area, it is located in Dhenor village, a Gujjar populated area of Rajouri. He appointed a Gujjar IPS officer, Masud Chowdhary, retired ADG Police as its first Vice Chancellor, who later built this premier institution with his wholehearted efforts under the guidence of Mufti Sahib. The University came into existence by an Act of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly in 2002.
BGSB University, since its establishment in the area , has contributed significantly to educational upliftment of all the communities including Gujjars and other marginalised groups residing in twin border districts Rajouri and Poonch. The University, was named after a renowned saint, Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah (RA) of Shahdara, Rajouri who is the most revered saint in the area. The university campus is located at the foothills of the Pir Panjal range of north western Himalayas at a distance of 180 Kms from Srinagar and 154 Km from Jammu, the two capitals of Jammu & Kashmir State. The main objective of the University, as said in the Act, was to impart quality education and undertake research in basic and job oriented fields.
Construction of Mughal Road
Another gift of Mufti sahib to nomadic Gujjars was the construction of Mughal Road parallel to tribal migratory route on Pirpanjal mountains range. Prior to construction of this road, every year, many lives (human and livestock) would be lost during while crossing through high altitude mountains for bi-annual tribal migration. The present 'Mughal Road' passes through Poonch of Jammu province connecting to Shopian in Kashmir over Pir Panjal Mountain range, at an altitude of 11,500 feet at its highest.
The road has not only brought the twin districts Poonch and Rajouri, closer to Srinagar in Kashmir valley but has also helped a lot in bridging social distance existing between the people of valley and population residing in these areas.
Creation of Tribal Affair Ministry in J&K
During his second tenure as Chief Minister of J&K, in 2015, Mufti Sayeed created a separate Ministry for Tribal Affairs in the State separating it from Social Welfare Ministry. This was done with an objective to provide justice to the tribes by creating a more focused approach on the integrated socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes (STs), the most underprivileged part of the Society, in a coordinated and planned manner. After ,1991 when Gujjars were declared Scheduled Tribes by Government of India under article 342 of the Constitution, creation of Ministry of Tribal Affairs in 2015 by Mufti sahib was the biggest step in the history of tribal development. This was done with an aim of overall development of STs through policy making, planning and coordination of programmes. Mufti with this gesture guaranteed empowerment to weaker sections, especially Gujjars and Bakerwals which are the main tribal communities of State. He was keen on making economically weak and socially disadvantaged communities equal partners in State's development.
Revamp of education system for Tribal Gujjars
Chairing 34th meeting of State Advisory Board for Development of Gujjar and Bakerwal community held at SKICC , in October 2015, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed suggested that since education is the key for empowerment of Gujjars and Bakerwals, the existing Gujjar and Bakerwal Hostels at Srinagar and Jammu be upgraded as 'institutes of excellence, on the pattern of Model School Scheme in the Education Department'. Further, during his tenure, the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry decided to open 3 new residential Schools in low literacy pockets: one each in Chatro in Doda, Khawas in Rajouri and Uri in Baramulla district for Gujjar-Bakrwal community and to construct 5 new hostel buildings.
Confidence building among border people
A big chunk of Gujjar and Bakerwal population lives near Line of Control (LoC) and international border (IB) has to face the brunt of day to day firing and militancy. During his tenure as Chief Minister, Mufti played a key role in confidence building initiative among tribal population residing near border belts. He , time and again not only visited their houses on border but also as head of Unified Command and head of the State directed security agencies and civil administration to build a sense of security among them.
Further, to ease the fight on borders, he paved way for a regular Srinagar-Muzafrabad and Poonch-Rawalakote Bus services for divided families. Even in 2015, he sought to develop Suchetgarh sector in RS Pura tehsil as a major border tourism spot like Wagah border in Amritsar, Punjab, where large number of people and tourists visit daily. The opening of Suchetgarh-Sialkot route for trade between India and Pakistan was also his dream.
Rehabilitation of nomadic Gujjars
Besides other initiatives of rehabilitation of nomads, Mufti in his tenure ensured a hassle-free movement of livestock and nomadic Gujjars in the State who migrate to upper reaches especially in forests areas which is the main source of their livelihood, in summers. Mufti wanted that a sense of security must prevail among the Gujjar and Bakerwal community alongwith their social empowerment and economic upliftment. Concerning their economic growth, he was of the view that a dairy cooperative movement must be initiated to contribute to it. He was of the vision that the livestock insurance is among several confidence building measures which are immediately required for giving the community a sense of inclusiveness.
Personal association with Gujjar community and leaders
Besides his associates, workers, social activists, the leaders of the Gujjar community were the great admirer of Mufti Mohammad Syeed. Among Gujjars he will be remembered for his contribution in development for all times to come. Tribal elders including most revered saint Mian Bashir Ahmad, Late Ch. Muhammad Aslam of Lassana Poonch, Late Ch. Mohd Shafi Khatana , Late Haji Buland Khan, late Ch. Mohammad Hussain of Darhal Rajouri, Late Haji Israel Khatana, remained close to Mufti sahib for the cause of their community.
Mufti sahib was of the view that preparation of a separate Tribal Plan and flow of funds from Normal Plan to Tribal Plan can give a new direction to tribal development in the State. Further, conversion of existing GB Hostels into residential schools on pattern of Jawahar Navodalayas, inclusion of Gojri language in the VIII Schedule of the Indian Constitution, setting up of model tribal villages, construction of dwelling units, free vaccination for animals, mobile livestock and healthcare centres for nomadic population, availability of power and water and proper road connectivity to areas where Gujjars reside were the thrust areas of his government.
With the sad demise of Mufti sahib the tribal and nomadic Gujjars lost a visionary sympathiser.
(The author is Chief Editor Gojri, J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.)