by Abhinav Sahay
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti on Monday accused central government of driving out Muslim nomads – Gujjars and Bakerwals- from their homes with an intention to elicit an extreme reaction from this community and to settle outsiders here.
Mufti made the comments after visiting Anantnag in south Kashmir where the administration has been issuing eviction notices for the past few weeks and demolished dozens of structures. She met the families of those whose houses were demolished.
The administration says that it was an anti-encroachment drive meant to retrieve forest and state land.
Mufti said that Gujjars and Bakerwals are the protectors of the forests and their ancestors have lived here for hundreds of years.
“The central government has started an illegal process by which our people living here–-nomads, Gujjars and Bakerwals– whose ancestors have lived here are being pushed out. They finished our domicile law and want to bring people here from across the country but they want to chase away the locals from here,” Mufti said.
Tribal activists say that some of the structures which the administration was demolishing are temporary (Kothas) which the nomads use during their annual migration in summers and winters along with their livestock. For half of the year, these structures, made of mud and wood and partially underground, remain empty till the nomads return.
Deputy Commissioner, Anantnag, Kuldeep Krishan Sidha said that they have launched the drive to remove illegal encroachers and the drive is being monitored by the high court.
“Whatever illegal encroachment we saw on paper we have removed that. No nomad was affected. We did not bring down any Kotha. This action has affected those who have constructed concrete structures in forest areas,” he said.
Mufti said that this was not only happening in Kashmir but even in Jammu’s Bathindi, Sujwa and Chatta areas.
“Wherever, there is a Muslim population or Gujjars and Bakerwals, who are the actual protectors of these forests, they are being evicted. Where will they and their children go in these winters?,” she said.
Mufti questioned whether the central government’s intention was to hand over the land to their capitalist friends. “You have already given 24,000 kanal land to industries, that land is forest land which is our resource and now you are evicting them (nomads),” she said.
“To whom do you want to hand over our land, air, water and beautiful forests? They want to give everything to their big capitalist friends who give them funds; Railways, Air-India, now, do you want to put J&K’s land also on sale,” she said.
She said that Gujjars and Bakerwals are very loyal and peace loving people. “I think the central government is deliberately pushing them out. They have never participated or opted for violence. They have always opted for peace but I think they are being forcefully evicted to force them for extreme reaction,” she alleged.
She cautioned the government of consequences if it did not stop. “I want to tell the central government, which is controlling the administration here that these nomads should not be disturbed, else you will have to face its dangerous consequences,” she said.( HT )