Srinagar: Authorities in Jammu on Tuesday ordered the demolition of homes of nearly a dozen tribal families in Roop Nagar, triggering widespread condemnation and protest against the move in the area.
Officials of the Jammu Development Authority (JDA) and security personnel carried out the eviction drive in the outskirts of Jammu on land that they claim belongs to the State and was being illegally occupied by several families.
The families belong to the Gujjar-Bakerwal tribe, one of the region’s most marginalised communities, which has mostly lived as nomadic pastoralists for centuries. A local of the area, Choudhary Nazir, told NewsClick that the drive was carried out on Tuesday morning and it was for the first time that such an action was being taken against the residents.
“These are nearly a dozen families who have been living here for last 70 to 75 years, and we are witnessing this for the first time. They did not inform any of the families ahead of time, neither did they send any prior notice,” Nazir said.
Faisal Raza Bokda, JKGBYWC provincial president, Jammu said that the families had been left frightful with no access to food and shelter amid the winter season. “There are children and elderly persons in these families who are out on the road now,” he said.
Following the eviction drive, members of the Gujjar-Bakerwal community held a demonstration in Jammu on Wednesday, terming the action against these families as “arbitrary”. Dozens of protesters raised slogans accusing the authorities of partiality while condemning the demolition drive.
Showkat Choudhary, the vice-president of Gujjar Bakarwal Youth Welfare Conference J&K (JKGBYWC), termed the JDA drive as “selective” and urged action against its officials.
“Selective eviction of tribals and making them homeless is a new way to uproot this downtrodden community. I strongly condemn the inhuman act of JDA and seek strict action against the officials,” he said.
Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who is also the president of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), termed the demolition drive as “selective” and part of policies that she alleged were “communal”.
“J&K admin’s selective demolition of houses in Jammu & rendering tribals homeless is yet another method to vent their hatred by targeting minorities. Seemingly these communal policy decisions are sanctioned at the top. People need to stand up against such atrocities,” she tweeted.
However, Pankaj Magotra, Vice Chairman of the JDA, told NewsClick that the allegations against the department about being selective were “not correct”.
“We have only followed the procedure and we are a government body, so we cannot be selective. It is not the case, and it can never be the case,” Magotra said.
The official added that the case was lost in the court following litigation. “We have already allotted plots in that colony, and we have sold them to people who are waiting, and we are answerable to them also,” he said.
An advocate at Jammu high court, Shahid Choudhary, who also belongs to the affected community, said that the authorities should have treated the families on a “humanitarian basis”. He also accused the administration of targeting the marginalised community.
“Authorities say ‘we are doing our work’, but this is not justice when they uproot people from their places. The area is properly connected by a road; there is water and electricity supply as well. How were these families allowed to settle in the area and provided with these facilities in the first place?” Choudhary asked while speaking to NewsClick in Srinagar.