Man with a vision

The Gujjars - a main tribal group of Jammu and Kashmir constitute a sizeable portion of total population of the State.
Man with a vision
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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.

Other initiatives            

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.)

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