Bakerwals pin their hope on new census to claim land rights


By the end of winter, nomadic tribes of J&K, the Bakerwals and the Gujjars, will for the first time be counted in a state-level census. The 2011 census did survey J&K’s nomadic population but a large number were left out because they were camping in remote high-altitude areas during the survey.
This has meant that they were deprived of essential schemes and services including their rights over open pastures and forests. The new census it is hoped will facilitate the community’s rights over forest land. “All district Collectors have been directed to begin the Census. But at the moment the nomadic communities are in high altitude pastures. They will come to the plains during winter and that is when the exercise can be completed,” said Chowdhary Zulfkar Ali, tribal affairs and school education minister.
The Kathua gangrape and murder case in January had brought into focus the fact that lack of land rights had resulted in marginalising the community — but the PDP-BJP state government has not committed to implementing the forest rights act in the state.
A private member’s bill on forest rights was moved by PDP’s Qamar Ali Choudhary but was opposed by BJP, which said the central Act cannot be implemented in the state because of its special status under Article 370.
Now the state’s forest department is opposing the tribal affairs department’s proposal to implement the Act. “It’s the same position as in many states — the forest department opposing the proposal. Nomadic communities and forests share an inter-dependence. Forest dwellers are also a part of the ecosystem and play a role in conservation. These communities will not harm forests,” Zulfkar Ali told TOI.
Forest minister Rajiv Jasrotia is tight-lipped, saying “no formal talks have taken place on this issue since I took charge.” Jasrotia has replaced former forest minister Lal Singh Chaudhary who was pushed to resign after he attended a rally in support of the accused in the Kathua rape case. BJP’s Lal Singh had opposed the forest rights act claiming that it was not successful elsewhere in the country.
“India has more than 200 pastoral communities. It is important to develop a system of census for migrating tribes to ensure recognition of their rights,” says Tushar Dash of Community Forest Rights-Learning and Advocacy (CFR-LA).
The nomadic tribes are understandably unwilling to settle for any fixed location or move away from their lifestyle as it will impact their livelihood opportunities. Thus, implementing a tribal policy with no focus on pastoral communities will be of little use. Zulfkar Ali says government is planning Ekalavya model residential schools (Centre’s scheme for tribal children) to facilitate education among tribal children. But mobile schools meant for those in migration have long disappeared from the state. Farrukh Aman Ghursi, resident of Bakerwal-dominated Nagbal village in Budgam district and imam said “Our children remain uneducated because there are no mobile schools. They stopped those long ago. There are only seasonal educational centres where there are no teachers most of the time.”


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