Problems and needs of Gujjar Bakarwal community are different from other communities in J&K. This difference is markedly in language and culture. On this and many other counts Gujjar Bakarwal community has its distinct identity.
This community mostly inhabits pastures on hilly areas within forests ranges and along the Indo-Pak LoC in J&K. Originating from Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Kathiawar, the Gujjars of J&K migrated to far north in hoary past owing to natural calamities. Rajatarangini mentions their presence around 9-10th centuries across Kashmir’s north-western borders. After conversion to Islam they split into two factions.
These people live in the lap of nature and by the side of mountain lakes on Pir Panjal. Pastures where they graze their herds and flocks are called bahak in their dialect, which is a mix of Punjabi, Pahari and Sanskrit/Hindi. These pastures are unique and breath- taking and for generation after generation, have remained the home of this migratory community. They are fully acquainted with mesmerizing topography of these mountain and their pastures, forests and gorges where they raise their cattle, families and progeny, far away from the madding crowds. On these pastures they are born, brought up, spend the life and pass away. Panjtari and Sari Mastan are the most popular pastures among scores of them known to the Gujjars and Bakarwals.
J&K Government has rebuilt the ancient Mughal Road which connects the district of Rajouri with Kashmir valley over the heights of Pir Panjal. With the passage of time the Mughal Road will gain immense importance because it is not only the alternate to BC Road but is much more motorable and physically stable.
Historically speaking, the history of Kashmir is more the history of Pir Panjal than the valley itself. In medieval times, the strategic importance of Pir Panjal was immense to the warlords on both sides. Any Kashmiri warlord called Damara chief would seek protection across Pir Panjal if he was defeated in a battle with his rivals in the valley. On the southern side of the Pir, he reassembled his men and carried a counter attack to regain supremacy in Kashmir.
On 19 April 1991 through an ordinance, the Govt. of Bharat announced inclusion of Gujjars and Bakawals among scheduled tribes. Despite a gap of over 25 years the state government of Jammu and Kashmir has not implemented it in letter and in spirit to give them full benefit of Scheduled Tribe status. For many decades, the State government has deliberately obstructed efforts of the Central Government for the development of Gujjar and Bakarwal community of J&K. This discriminatory attitude has thrust the community into political, social, economical and educational backwardness.
Representation of Gujjars and Bakarwals in state services is a no starter because of their educational backwardness. Illiteracy among women has not been tackled as it should be, and the community cannot make any progress unless the women are educated.
Keeping in view the aforementioned circumstances and to ensure the all round development of Gujjar & Bakarwal community of J&K state, whose overall population is almost half of the J&K State, a separate geographical entity to be called “Gujjarsthan” must be created. Bharat’s Constitution does provide for reorganization of a federating State and the creation of Telangana in Andhra Pradesh is a living example.
Only then their economic, educational, political and social backwardness could be removed and they will get justice. It has to be asserted that patriotism of the community has been established by the post-independence history of our country and the State.
The community dwells along the LoC. Once their geographical entity is established, they will be most effective in scuttling any effort by our enemy to cross the border clandestinely and indulge in sabotage as has been happening now.
During the tribal attack of 1947, they worked hand in hand with army and security forces. In the process many laid down their lives in 1947, 1965 and 1971 wars. Besides, many Gujjars and Bakarwals were eliminated by the terrorists during the ongoing insurgency. Nothing deterred them from supporting national cause.
Far from being a dividing line, the well known range of Gujjar habitat is in fact the major link of hills and mountains around which the saga of heroic Gujjars and Bakarwals is woven from times immemorial. Strange as it sounds, this watershed has bound together rather than distanced the two climatically and topographically varying regions of the State, viz. Kashmir valley and Jammu Division. In a sense, Pir Panjal is the westward extension of the Shivalak Hills.
Kashmir history tells us that this was the region that formed the kingdom of Queen Dida and her faithful and chivalrous Gujjar warriors in the 11th century. Rajatarangini tells us that this queen was connected by blood to the Shahi rulers of Udhbhanda, the Waihind of ancient history, and Gandhara or modern Kandahar. The ancestors of Gujjars and Bakarwals inhabiting the slopes of Pir Panjal were witness to great events of history like the march into these areas of the troops of Mahmud Ghaznavi and Timur.
Gujjarsthan is the region beginning with southern mountain ranges of the J&K State, making continuous series of ranges from Jawahar Tunnel towards Uri to the west. On its southern side we have the districts of Poonch and Rajouri including tehsils of Mahore and Gulab Garh of Reasi district and tehsil Gool of Ramban district. Towards its north and north- west lie the valley of Kashmir and the Gujjar regions beyond. Between the parallel ranges of these mountains, there are narrow valleys and gorges carrying in their laps streams and nullahs of pure cold water from the snowy peaks of the mountains. Among the high places of the range are Tata Kootian, Neel Kanth, Keeran, Haji Pir, Ganga Choti and Atoli Pir. The Pir Panjal carries a number of passes connecting Kashmir valley with the northern and north-western areas of Poonch and Rajouri.
Thus historically, geographically, linguistically, culturally and topographically this is a region which deserves to be given its identity as a territorial unit with fullest autonomous status as Gujjarsathan. That is the only way how its backwardness can be removed and the region will become part of national developmental programme of the Government of Bharat.
By – Shamsher Hakla Poonchi
(The writer is a resident of Poonch district living close to the LoC. He is a well-known Gujjar leader who has been awarded for his deep nationalistic views. Email: Shahidhakla firstname.lastname@example.org)
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