Srinagar: The Gujjar and Bakarwal minorities in Jammu are being targeted amidst increased polarisation which, a tribal rights body says, is being backed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The tribal body alleged this was being done to marginalise these tribal communities who are demanding implementation of Central Forest Act in the region.
“Since the abrogation of Article 370, the government implemented several laws but did not implement the Forest Act which would benefit the region’s third largest population, which is the tribal population,” rights activist Talib Hussain said at a press conference here on Monday.
Jammu and Kashmir’s forests were governed by a state forest policy, which was enacted under the erstwhile Dogra regime (1846-1947), much before the tribal law was implemented in the country following which the rights and concessions were settled in favour of people. The settlement was carried out under the Kashmir forest notice in 1912 to demarcate forests in the province of Kashmir concerning concession of forest produce to villagers as well as regulation of the exercise of the same. The abrogation of Article 370 in August last ended the state forest rules as the region came under the central Forest Act.
“On the one hand, the Central government is forcefully implementing many laws against the will of the people of the region, while on the other, our long-pending demand for implementation of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, popularly known as Forest Rights Act, lies unheeded” he said.
Hussain, who spearheaded the justice campaign following the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Bakarwal tribal girl in Kathua in 2018, is chairman of the All Tribal Coordination Committee (ATCC).
Hussain also alleged that an attempt was being made for exclusion of Jammu Muslims through an assault on the minorities to “engineer a demographic change” in the Jammu division.
"Assaults are being made on our identity and existence through a sustained and communally designed campaign to disarm the Gujjar community politically, electorally, linguistically and culturally," he said.
Hussain said a “deliberate branding” of nomadic communities was being done, accusing them of “land grab, forest encroachment and cattle smuggling.”
“We don’t have any issue with the land. We are just demanding grazing rights, access to water resources and forest products. These rights were granted to these communities even under erstwhile Dogra rule,” he said.
The tribal rights activists also condemned the marginalisation of local Gojri and Pahari languages which, they say, is aimed to disempower these languages which inherit the Persian script.
According to the 2011 Census, over 12 lakh tribals speak the Gojri language in both Jammu and Kashmir Valley. The language, however, was not included as an official language after a recent decision was made to include Kashmiri, Dogri, Hindi and English as official language of the newly created Union territory in addition to Urdu.
The rights body alleged that growing Right-Wing politics in the region was posing a threat to these communities.
“Secretly, under the nose of BJP (which rules the Centre), changes are being suggested in the demographics of Jammu and selective targeting of Gujjars and Bakarwals is taking place, who are the third largest ethnic group of the State and largely Muslims." Hussain alleged.