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Difficult Lives Of Nomadic Gujjar-Bakerwal Tribe In Jammu

A look into the lives of the nomadic Gujjar tribe

People of Nomadic Gujjar tribe in Jammu
People of Nomadic Gujjar-Bekarwal tribe in Jammu. IANS

At a height of 10,000 feet surrounded by mountains lies Padri in Jammu, a lush green grassland with traces of snow. Tourists are generally unaware of this area and visit the place under recommendations of locals from Bhaderwah, the nearest town and 40 km from Padri. This region in Jammu is gaining traction among tourists from northern Indian states.

After a short stroll in Padri, one stumbles upon the graves on the slope of a hill guarded by barbed wire. The graveyard belongs to the members of the Gujjar-Bakerwal, a nomadic community in Jammu and Kashmir, who put up their huts in Padri during their seasonal migration. They bury the dead, most of whom died owing to the absence of proper medical care, in the graveyard.

While the area buzzes with tourists during the summer, it is deserted during the winter as it receives heavy snowfall. Gujjars move to the lush green meadows in mountainous regions during the summers and come back to the plains of Jammu and Punjab during the winter season. During the move, many get injured and even contract diseases.

Javed Rahi, the General Secretary of Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, said many Gujjar women contract tuberculosis, which sometimes results in death as they have to work on temporary mud stoves, which they build for their temporary halt during migration. He added that bronchial problems arise from the smoke emitted by the stoves.

Rahi, who has conducted several studies on the Gujjar population of Jammu and Kashmir, said many Gujjars bring their sick animals inside their settlement during harsh winters and that too gives rise to many diseases.

He revealed that sometimes the nomadic tribe is forced to bury their dead even in forest areas in case of death. While funds are released for the health and education departments to set-up infrastructure for the Gujjar community on their migratory routes, he said, “nothing is visible on the ground.”

Gujjars, despite constituting nearly 12 lakh (as per 2011 census) of the total population of J&K, have not been able to become a vote bank due to their migratory nature. This has led to them being neglected by almost all the political parties in the state. They don’t receive medical attention at their halt points during migration leading to many deaths in the community.

A look into the lives of the nomadic Gujjar tribe (Photo Credit: Jamsheed Malik)
The picturesque valley of Jammu which is home to Nomadic Gujjar tribe. IANS

Many attempts have been made to make Gujjars settle in parts of the state, but they refuse to shun their nomadic nature.

Rehman Ali, 59, a nomadic Gujjar who had come to Padri during seasonal migration, said an ailing member of the community is sometimes taken on a cot for several kilometres for treatment. He revealed that he has witnessed the deaths of many owing to the shortage of healthcare facilities while adding that they can avail proper facilities after reaching the Jammu mainland in winters.

No Education 

Unseasonal snowfall and heavy rains put the lives of nomadic Gujjars and Bakerwals at high risk. The tribal community has to travel through mountain ranges of Pir Panjal, Shivalik and even Zojila pass in north-western Himalaya, usually with the whole family and livestock. It is during this time that Gujjars face an acute shortage of medicines, food and blankets as well as fodder for their livestock.

Not only health but even the education of nomadic Gujjar children are affected as they are usually on the move.

The state government had set up mobile schools for Gujjars in which a teacher who belongs to the community would travel with the tribe and teach the children. However, according to a study conducted by the University of Jammu, these mobile schools exist only on paper.

“As the armed conflict erupted in Jammu & Kashmir, a total of 175 mobile schools out of the total 263 were closed down and converted into regular schools. Out of these, 88 schools are still mobile. However, the field research for the present study threw ample light over the fact that most of the schools which were still mobile, were only on paper and majority of those were not moving with the nomadic communities. Besides, all the mobile schools in Poonch district meant for the nomadic population have stopped moving with the migrating population, while few schools in Rajouri still move with the nomads,” noted the research report.

Gujjars are considered to be the first line of defence for the country as they are the ones who inform the Indian Army and other security forces about the movement of terrorists entering India from Pakistan through Pir Panjal.

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Anwar Chaudhary, a Gujjar activist, said during the recent past there have been attempts by separatist forces to divide the Hindu population of Jammu and Muslim Gujjars who have lived closely without any communal incidents.

“However, such separatist forces in the valley should know that even today people in Jammu trust Gujjars and buy milk for their children from them,” he added. (IANS)

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India Needs to Define Special Placement of Function of Intelligence in Interest of National Security

The Pulwama attack on a CRPF convoy, in February last, by a suicide bomber of Jaish-e-Mohammad, was a case more of inadequate response

India, Intelligence, National Security
Terrorists would always have a lead in springing up surprises -- it has to be appreciated, therefore, that the agencies using both human and technical means have produced information to preempt them in most cases. Pixabay

It is a matter of deep satisfaction for the people of India that our Intelligence agencies moulded in a non-political work ethos and practising the dictum of ‘working with urgency even when there was no emergency’ enabled the first Modi regime to successfully deal with the threats to national security — particularly in Kashmir where they helped the security forces to pursue Intelligence-based operations that guaranteed minimal collateral damage in counter-terror work. Terrorists would always have a lead in springing up surprises — it has to be appreciated, therefore, that the agencies using both human and technical means have produced information to preempt them in most cases.

The Pulwama attack on a CRPF convoy, in February last, by a suicide bomber of Jaish-e-Mohammad, was a case more of inadequate response than Intelligence failure. In security, failure of ‘action’ not of ‘information’ does happen often enough to remind us of the need to improve coordinated responses to Intelligence alerts and to never be dismissive about information. No Intelligence is ‘non-actionable’ as it should rightly be presumed to be the tip of the iceberg warranting all possible preventive measures, howsoever tedious these might seem to be for the action takers.

Most of the serious threats to national security have external and internal dimensions and the Multi Agency Centres at Delhi and in the state capitals with years of functioning now, make sure that the available actionable information is passed on to the concerned functionaries without delay and that further lines of pursuit to dig out more intelligence were specified as an ongoing task. Our Inteligence agencies — inheriting a British tradition — exercise the sovereign power of identifying the emerging threats to national security and initiating the effort to ‘cover’ them to ensure a constant flow of information on them without waiting for a clearance from the political executive. They have to keep the latter fully informed at the same time. This is what enables the agencies to go on without change of pace even when a new government assumes charge at the Centre after a General Election.

The system in India has upheld the position that national security was above politics and this principle was in play for most times since India became a democratic republic in 1950 — except for spells when the Intelligence chief of the day himself fell short of the highest levels of objectivity and independence. The natural changes brought about by the country’s democratic process enabled me to serve as Director Intelligence Bureau with three Prime Ministers of different political backgrounds — Congress, BJP and the United Front. Since the institution of National Security Advisor did not exist then, that function was also built into the DIB’s working in my time. I can say with emphasis that all the three valued IB’s information on national security even when they chose to run their politics in their own ways – by and large without involving Intelligence agencies in their political agenda.

India, Intelligence, National Security
It is a matter of deep satisfaction for the people of India that our Intelligence agencies moulded in a non-political work ethos and practising the dictum of ‘working with urgency even when there was no emergency’ enabled the first Modi regime to successfully deal with the threats. Pixabay

Because of the ever enlarging threat scenario, Intelligence agencies were in need of more manpower, funds and logistical support. As a historical legacy Intelligence Bureau was manned and led by officers of IPS — this made for the agency’s close cooperation with and a much-needed mentoring role in regard to the state police organisations. The Bureau was regarded as a Central Police Organisation for cadre management but was not otherwise bracketed with the investigation outfits or the para military organisations of the government. Intelligence agencies have a bulk of operators directly recruited from amongst the best through a rigorous examination and thoroughly trained in the trade craft.

The IPS officers leading them are on a turf of anonymity, covert operations and delicate information gathering — entirely different from the sphere of visible legal action handled by men in uniform including investigators. The Intelligence set-up, therefore, ought to have its own performance and promotion parameters. This is what gave Director IB the status and pay grade as the most senior police officer in the country in keeping with his function as the Chairman of the DGPs Conference even when IPS officers with longer years of service headed the state police or other police organisations at the Centre.

Intelligence agencies in Indian conditions handle only ‘information’ accessed through trade craft techniques and the responsibility of taking ‘action’ against a suspect in a legally empowered way would fall on the state police or a central investigation body like the NIA. The Intelligence agencies act as the eyes and ears of the sovereign power ruling the democratic state and could be scanning any other functionary — high or low — in the national interest under the express authorisation of the highest political executive exercising that power. Since Intelligence agency does not dictate ‘action’ or ‘policy’ it cannot be blamed for any legally untenable response of the police. The Centre needs to define the special placement of the function of Intelligence in the interest of national security.

The internal security situation in the country and the developing threat scenario around the world justify a quantum jump being made in the manpower and resources provided to the Intelligence set-up in general and Intelligence Bureau — the mother agency for counter intelligence work — in particular. IB watches every nook and corner of the country where terror agents and other anti-national elements might be harbouring taking advantage of the free society offered by Indian democracy. Kashmir, typically, illustrated the challenge to national security created by the paucity of ‘Intelligence from below’. Now that the J& K has been fully integrated with the rest of the country the Centre must raise enough trained professionals of the state to cover every Panchayat circle and town from the angle of counter terror watch. Failure to quickly identify the local masterminds behind the organised stone pelting was a major reason why the J&K government could not effectively handle the civic disturbances occurring in Srinagar and elsewhere in recent months. The collusion of the Valley parties ruling the state with the pro-Pak Hurriyat was the principal reason why the state administration remained infested with separatists and failed to work for the development and uplift of the average Kashmiri.

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A hard-pressed organisation like IB should have no ‘vacancies’ caused by procedural delays arising out of the issue of equivalence of batch positions of IPS officers serving elsewhere. An officer is inducted and kept in IB purely on a special evaluation of merit and suitability and a faster career graph for him or her during the stay with the agency should be a part of the deal. IB, in any case, was expected to be ahead of the state cadres in matters of promotion. National security is the joint preserve of the Centre and the states. Cadre management complexities should not, therefore, be allowed to come in the way of central Intelligence agencies getting the best of the available manpower at any point of time. The new global terror targeting the Indian subcontinent adds urgency to this requirement. (IANS)