SRINAGAR: In many places in the Valley, Kashmiris from Gujjar families are mostly earning their livelihood by working as labourers and livestock herders. As compared to other communities in Kashmir, Gujjars have been denied many basic facilities and are demanding the right to remain in equality.

The government has initiated many development projects for Kashmiri Gujjars, such as under the Tribal Sub Plan and the PM Gram Sadak Yojana, but people say that a lot of these projects have been pending for years.

Zahid Parwaz Chowdary, a Gujjar scholar and social activist, says that Gujjars have faced a lot of problems in Jammu and Kashmir for decades. “Only assurances are being made, but on the ground no developments are taking place.”

He says the public funds Gujjars are entitled to are not being properly utilised by the government.

“The authorities had decided on a 10% share in every department for the development of the Gujjar community. But Special Central Assistance to Tribal Sub Plan funds are not being properly utilised on the ground, due to which our development got halted badly. The 10% share to every department seems to be nowhere on the ground. This is a matter of concern,” says Chowdary.

There are many Gujjars without land or a house to live in, he says, and no steps are being taken to rehabilitate them. “Colonies should be made to rehabilitate all such Gujjars so they do not face any problems,” he tells The Citizen.

There is also the Forest Rights Act, which could entitle Gujjars to land and its resources, but “despite the FRA now being applicable in Jammu and Kashmir, the authorities are yet to implement it officially” he says.

In a recent move the Union Cabinet approved the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill, 2020 under which Kashmiri, Dogri and Hindi were added as three new official languages in the UT, besides the already existing English and Urdu.

Gujjars in the state say discrimination is the reason their language was not added to the list. They said the government seems to be “making fun of” Gojri by not declaring it an official language.

According to Haji Mohammad Yousuf, president of the J&K Gujjar Bakerwal Conference, Gojjari is Kashmir’s third most spoken language, and one of the oldest languages still spoken in many parts of the Valley as well as Jammu.

Similarly, Rabiya Shafiq, a Gujjar activist from Rajouri, says Gojri must be added to the list of official languages. “We always face discrimination, that is the reason our language was not added to the list.”

Shafiq further said that people in her community migrate from one place to another to rear livestock or perform other work, but the authorities never provide them with tents or any other kind of sustenance.

“We keep on migrating from one place to another. So the authorities should take care of it and should provide tents and other stuff for free,” she said, adding that the community’s art, work and culture must also be propagated.

Shafiq shared that Gujjar students’ education is badly affected as most of them don’t get teachers in their mother tongue. “There is a dire need for Gujjar teachers in schools as it’s very hectic for kids to understand other languages in the beginning. Lacking a teacher from their own community, Gujjar kids aren’t able to proceed with their studies,” she explained.

As regards livelihood, she said that solar-powered lighting systems and full-time veternary doctors must be made available in every Gujjar-dominated place to treat their cattle.

Hajan is a Gujjar dominated village in the Aripal tehsil of Pulwama. According to sources not a single person there has passed their matriculation exam in the past decade, a matter of grave concern. The village has around five people who graduated from school, all of whom are in government jobs.

Sources said the village of Hajan has only one school, which those five people attended, a few of them going elsewhere for further studies before securing a job.

They said the school has been upgraded since then and new schools also constructed, but no one is passing the matriculation exams.

A resident of Hajan said that students were being passed up to 8th class without any knowledge being imparted among them, due to which they are not able to clear the high school exams.

Zakir Hussain, state coordinator for the All India Confederation of SC, ST & OBC said there should be a well-knit policy for behaks (pastures), health facilities, and insurance cover for loss of lives and livestock during calamities.

He also demanded that the relevant central laws be made applicable in the UT.

His organisation has demanded an increase in the home district points under recruitment to 10 and 15 for the divisional and district level respectively; reservation of seats for Tribal students in PhD programmes at Kashmir University; lIfe insurance schemes for Gujjars and other tribals of hilly pastures; a formal policy for seasonal teachers with proper wages; adequate infrastructure for schools with teachers; promotion of Gujjar language and culture in schools, colleges and universities.

They want the government to establish Eklavya Schools in tribal regions; increase the representation of Tribals; make operational the PG Hostel established in Srinagar for students from Tribal families; and to bring out a model law for the UT under the Forest Rights Act and make it applicable immediately, to provide justice to Tribal groups living near forests.

“The government should also increase the intake capacity of Gujjar Bakerwal hostels in various districts, so as to promote inclusion, and provide scholarships to Tribal and other backward students,” Hussain told The Citizen.

A resident of Tral, Pulwama said that villages in the area like Shojan, Gujjar Basti Karmulla, Pura Nigam, Wazilkulnad have long been deprived of basic amenities like roads, electricity, network connectivity, and health and education facilities. “Many road projects have been pending for years with no action from the higher-ups,” he said.