[dropcap]A[/dropcap]FTER having revoked the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the border state into two Union Territories, the government is now planning to provide land and houses to native Muslim nomadic tribals, Gujjars and Bakerwals, in Kashmir Valley.
Jammu and Kashmir Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Chief Ravinder Raina announced it during a closed door meeting with a group of community members last month.
These pastoral tribal nomads— who constitute about 12 per cent of the total population of the former state —traditionally move with their livestock to the upper slopes of the northern Himalayas during the summer, and return to the plains in winter after covering hundreds of miles on foot along serpentine tracks.
The twin communities which are the third biggest ethnic group happen to be the most marginalised segment of the society in Jammu and Kashmir. They have the lowest literacy rate, at just 5 to 7 per cent compared to 28 per cent among settled members of their tribes.
“Every Bakerwal and Gujjar families must have a house. People have landed on moon…for how long will you continue living in tents,” Raina can be heard saying in a video with other BJP leaders sitting by his side.
Watch the video here:
Speaking in their language, Gojri, Raina said, “We will build 10,000 flats for Bakerwals and Gujjars in Kashmir in the midst of lush green forests. We will build ten colonies in ten cities for the homeless and each household would have three rooms, kitchen, bathroom and other facilities. We will get a package of Rs 10,000 crore from (Prime Minister) Modi sahab.”
Sharing details of the proposed move, he further said, “Every family would be allotted a plot measuring 10 kanals. BJP is your party, it knows your worth. Let a BJP Chief Minister come to power, we will give you political reservation. And the funds aimed at the welfare of tribal communities which were earlier diverted by the previous governments for the construction of roads and bridges, would be spent on them only. The money would be directly transferred to the accounts of Bakerwals and Gujjars.”
“Farooq Abdullah raises Kashmir issue in Parliament. Had the Bakerwals and Gujjars from Ganderbal and Kangan not voted for him, would he have still won the election? He never talks about you. This NC (National Conference), PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) and the Congress are the biggest enemies of the Bakerwals and Gujjars. They have committed atrocities on you. Stop supporting them,” he added.
The twin communities grabbed media attention in January 2018 when a teenage Bakerwal girl was abducted, gangraped and brutally murdered in Kathua district of Jammu region. The gruesome incident had angered the community after many BJP leaders including MLAs and two ministers in the state’s former coalition government openly supported the accused.
Amid growing acrimony, local residents in many areas had stopped renting out land to the nomads besides selling fodder or buying wool and dairy products from them following repeated calls for economic boycott of nomadic tribes by the Hindutva groups in Jammu region.
The BJP’s proposal to set up special townships for the Muslim nomadic tribes in Kashmir is seen as a tactical move with the twin objective of placating them and also weaning them away from the other mainstream political parties, namely the NC, PDP and the Congress.
Over 37 percent of nomadic tribal people have already abandoned their traditional lifestyle in the last 25 years, according to a study by Jammu based Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation. The study claims that a combination of worsening climate stresses, border conflict with Pakistan and the Kashmir insurgency against the Indian government and urbanisation have pushed the tribes into an identity crisis, with adverse impacts on their economy and culture.
Kashmiri Pandit rehabilitation plan
Pertinently, in 2015, the Centre had announced its plan to build townships for nearly 62,000 families of Kashmiri Pandits—who fled from the Valley in the wake of militancy more than three decades ago—to facilitate their return to their homeland.
The government proposal, however, got delayed, following a cycle of violent protests in Kashmir Valley over supposed fears of demographic change.
“Setting up separate township for Kashmiri Pandits is a necessity,” governor Satya Pal Malik told the Hindustan Times in an interview recently. “We have to give them a nice place to stay, of their choice,” he told the daily, adding that the land for the proposed townships had been identified.