BY NASIR KHUEHAMI
With the temperature beginning to rise in the plains of the Jammu region; Gujjar and Bakerwal tribes have begun their seasonal migration towards the upper reaches of the Kashmir region where they will stay for next few Months along with their cattle.
Every year the tribes start their seasonal migration around or after April. The tradition of seasonal tribal migration has been surviving since centuries and nomadic tribes mainly the Gujjar and Bakerwal people migrate to their summer destinations.
However, this year process got delayed for some time due to closure of historical Mughal Road. Every year it takes them 30 to 40 days of travel to reach upper areas of Sonamarg, Gurez, pahalgam, Kupwara and other districts with their livestock, comprising sheep, goats, buffaloes, cows, donkeys, horses, mules and camels in search of greener pastures.
This year, migration started after Jammu and Kashmir government ordered reopening of historical Mughal road for public and vehicular movement. Mughal road, an alternative road connects Kashmir with Jammu region through Shopian and bordering districts of Poonch and Rajouri. The road reduces the distance between Shopian and Poonch from 588 km to 126 km respectively. The road passes through Buffliaz, Behramgalla, Chandimarh, Poshana, Chattapani, Peer Ki Gali, Aliabad, Zaznar, Dubjan, Hirpora, and Shopian.
Seasonal migration is important part of nomadic tradition. However, during past two years of Covid-19 and lockdown imposed by Jammu and Kashmir govt, tribal population suffered massive damage as hundreds of cattle died due to scorching heat in Jammu region.
“During lockdown, the tribal people had to sell their cattle inorder to feed their families as they failed to provide them necessary logistics support and food properly as seasonal migration practice was somehow halted for around two years due restrictions under section 144 to prevent the spread of pandemic”, said Tribal activist and Vice President Jammu and Kashmir Gujjar Bakerwal Youth Welfare conference (JKGBYWC); an organization working for tribal rights in Jammu and Kashmir.
In Jammu, tribal people are facing too many hardships before and as well as during migration. Getting permission from administration is a cumbersome process and nothing has been done to streamline the process. In order to get permission for migration, tribals have to move from one office to another to get formalities done.
Irony is when we complete our whole process, we still have to pay money as a bribe to officials. One who had get it easily and quickly, others who don’t, have to wait for a month. You can understand how system runs here”, said Mohammad Suliman Choudhary from Thanamandi Rajouri head of Gujjar family. Suliman has reached to Bandipora in North Kashmir and halted his carvan along with family. He is planning to proceed to Gurez valley to stay their for next six months.
Earlier this month, Jammu and Kashmir administration decided to provide trucks for transportation of livestock and families of migratory tribal population from various districts of Jammu province to the “highland pastures” in the Kashmir Valley. Officials of tribal affairs department said that transportation will reduce the travel time of the migratory tribal population from 20-30 days on-foot to one to two days while it will also help in smooth management traffic along Jammu Srinagar national highway.
Every year hundreds of cattle die on Jammu- Srinagar highway and mughal road due to accidents. Speedy trucks on highway and historical mughal road often crush sheep & other livestock to death and there is no accountability to compensate the loss. Human life has also been lost because of accidents along this rough terrain.
Though Police often claims arrests, but investigations do not reach logical conclusion. Health and medical emergencies are also an important area to look into. “During migration routes, when our cattle or tribal families facing health issues, they have to travel hundreds of Kilometers to reach animal dispensaries or hospitals for medical care.
Ultimately they suffer and at some occasions they die without getting proper treatment on time”, said Iqbal Khatana another tribal family head who reached Kashmir from Jammu on their own. “We don’t received any sort of help from government. We registered name as well for transportation of our cattle and families, but nothing has been done. We paid 10,000 rupees to truck driver from Poonch to Bandipora”, he added.
Official data reveal that, there are over 15 Lakh Gujjar and Bakarwal in Jammu and Kashmir. Of these, around 500,000 are nomads who rear buffalo, sheep, cows, goats and horses for their survival.
Ensuing man-wildlife conflict often leads to bloody fights mainly to protect human life and cattle.
“At times wild animals like Bear, Leopard attack us and our cattle and leave us severely wounded. We tribal people have to go through unimaginable pain every year especially during migration when everywhere and every time we have threat of wild animals, some times our movement is being stopped and halted for security reasons, we are not being allowed to move freely whenever security forces have any sort of security reasons and inputs”, said another tribal family head Akram Choudhary.
Not only this we suffer a huge loss of cattle and livestock due to harsh weather conditions like windstorm, landslides, or extreme cold. We are not getting any sort of benefits from govt which other tribes are availing in the country. The plight of the Gujjar and Bakarwal population across the Union territory is miserable”, he added further.
“So far education of tribals is concerned, it is at the verge of devastation. Seasonal schools are just failure and futile exercise. There is no infrastructure or staff and facilities in such schools. There is no accountability, no proper facilities available which include books and stationary items. Believe me, if any community is suffering badly, it is tribal community”, says Showkat “Vice President of JKGBYWC.
90% of our population are residing in those areas where there is no internet connectivity. They fail to avail benefits of online education during Covid-19”, he added. Commenting on the hardship of tribal community vis a viz their Education, Shahid Ayoub who is research scholar of of Kashmir University said that Gujjar Bakerwals face many problems during their migration and even during the course of their stay in meadows and pastures.
Their major concern is the education of their kids who rarely go to schools and lack basic education and it adds to their sufferings more. Though mobile schools were started for the education of tribal students upto a certain level and teachers have been recruited as well but due to zero accountability and less facilities, quality education cannot be given to tribal students unless a special policy formed which aims at the overall development of tribals. Special seats for nomadic Gujjar Bakerwal students in Gujjar Bakerwal hostels should be reserved, so they cannot suffer due to lack of education in this digital and global world.
Commenting on the new initiative of Jammu and Kashmir administration of providing trucks to tribal people for transportation of livestock and families from Jammu to Kashmir; Tribal activist Irshad Samoon termed it as a welcome step and would go a long way in facilitating movement of tribals from one location to another.
“Somehow it will minimise the hardships of the migratory population, but this is not enough, government has miserably failed to take any concrete steps for the welfare and well being of tribal community. Restrictions are being imposed sometimes by the security agencies causing problems in their seasonal migration and has impacted the livelihood of nomadic shepherd community”, he added.
Living standard of tribal people, especially during migration routes is very critical. They have poor standard in every aspect including Food, shelter, healthcare, education and Security. There is no mechanism from the Government side to address their grievances and miseries.
The status of mobile schools and Dispensiers is very miserable and in pathetic conditions. Lockdown and post 370 abrogation restrictions have disrupted seasonal livestock migration.
It caused cascading effect on the lives of the nomadic communities and their traditional businesses. During the summer months, tribals live in the roughly made stone, wood and mud huts commonly called koothas’ and no matter how severe weather conditions prevail, they survive it.
“Living in the vicinity of the borders, our community people are being forced to live like refugees in their own territory. Are not we part of Jammu and Kashmir that we have to seek permission from our own administration to move from one region to another. This exercise of permission should stop once for all or government should issue one time certificate (like Movement pass) to facilitate their movement. Government although claimed that they are taking measures for their welfare, medical healthcare and education but all these tall claims have fallen flat. These trucks either should be for all or for none. Because only selected or political connected people get these vehicles. This is nothing but a photo-op exercise”, said Guftar Choudhary Prominent Tribal rights activist.
“The tribe of Gujjars and Bakarwals in this era of development & upliftment, is still educationally, economically & socially backward. The need of the hour is to take concrete steps for their welfare & upliftment on first priority. They are homeless & landless wandering in the open. They are facing immense harships. Children are lying naked & crying. One wonders if their hardships are known to the world, said Anees Lone Tribal head J&K Students Association.
“Tribal leaders and organizations working for the upliftmennt of community said that they have requested government many a times to provide necessary logistics to tribes including dispensaries, some health facilities on migration routes so that they don’t suffer, however our grievances remain unaddressed and nothing has been done till now, added Anees.
Officials in Rajbhavan Jammu and Kashmir said that Lieutenant Governor Manoj sinha has committed to provide transportation support and transit facilities to the migratory tribal population.
There was a demand from the migratory tribal community that they face lot of hardships during migration due to traffic jam & other problems and to make their journey smoother they should be provided some sort of transportation facility. Sufficient funds have been released in favour of the J&K Road Transport Corporation (JKRTC) for procurement of trucks to provide transportation facilities to the migratory tribal families.
This initiative has been taken to minimize the hardships during their journey. Also it has been clearly directed that, action will be taken against the officers found guilty of any delinquency during the movement of Gujjar-Bakerwal community members.
Pertinent to mention that in Jammu and Kashmir, there are 12 Schedule Tribes. According to 2011 Census, it shows that the entire Schedule Tribe Population of the Union Territory is 14,93,299. Out of 12 Schedule Tribes, Gujjar is the most populous tribe having a population of 980654, Bakerwal is third largest tribe having a population of 113198.
Gujjar and Bakerwal tribes are 2 nomadic tribes which Constitute the 3rd largest community in the Union territory. Both Gujjar and Bakerwals are found in all regions of Jammu and Kashmir.
Nasir Khuehami is the National Spokesperson of the J&K Students Association. He tweets @NasirKhuehami
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.