Administration demolishing decades-old homes of Gujjar and Bakarwals
“I was breastfeeding my baby when suddenly the administration and police arrived in hundreds of vehicles and started breaking into our house with sticks and shovels. The children were scared. We women were all crying said haseena Farooq, a resident of Pahalgam, whose family had been living in a mud and makeshift house (locally called kotha) on forest land for decades.
Where is the justice? Is this the promise made by the government that sovereignty is gone and there will be prosperity?” She asked. Where can we go in the middle of the forest in the bitter cold?
Haseena’s family is one of hundreds of tribal families who have lived on the Mamal and Lidru forest lands of Pahalgam for generations. Now, however, the local government has launched a campaign to demolish the temporary homes of tribal families living on forest land.
Officials said that regular instructions were issued by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court to remove illegal encroachments and encroachments on more than 2,500 kanals of land in the town’s forests.
Hundreds of families are now stranded to escape the bitter cold and wildlife after temporary homes collapsed.
“We don’t know anything about the law, but this mansion was built by my great-grandfather. We have been living here for five generations How did we suddenly become illegal? ‘
Socio-political circles were outraged by the land ownership law, saying the government had launched a campaign to demolish the temporary homes of tribal families living on forest land. Apparently all this is being done under the Federal Law Forest Rights Act, but there is a lot of resentment in Kashmir in this regard.
Hundreds of Gujjar and Bakarwal families are being displaced by the ongoing campaign in Pahalgam area of southern Anantnag district.
The temporary houses, known as Kotha, have now been reduced to rubble, with victims protesting in various places and trying to reach out to the authorities. He wonders why the government launched a sudden demolition campaign.
Tribal leader Muhammad Yusuf Gorsi says, “If Kashmir was independent, the laws of Delhi would not apply here, but the Forest Rights Act that is being referred to was enacted in 2006.” The Gujjar and Bakarwala populations have been living in the forests of Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg for more than a century. We do not understand the real motives behind this demolition campaign.
The mansions belong to the millions of Gujjar and Bakarwal Kashmiris who graze sheep and goats and migrate twice a year on both sides of the Himalayan range.
Former minister and National Conference leader Mian Altaf considers the government’s demolition campaign illegal. “Under the Forest Act, people living on forest lands are part of the forest ecosystem,” he said. The government itself has announced through large advertisements in the newspapers that the tribal Kashmiris living in the forests will be given ownership of 30 kanals of land and will own forest produce. If it is really a matter of law, then the government is doing something completely illegal.
Ordinary people of Pahalgam are also opposing the decision. Irshad Khatana, a resident, says non-tribals stand by their tribesmen. “The government said it would end poverty, but it is clear that the poor are being eradicated,” he said.
Mushtaq Samnani, head of the Pahalgam Development Authority, said they were merely enforcing the law. “We are not only demolishing the houses of Gujjar and Bakarwal people, we are also ordering the removal of all illegal structures on forest lands,” he said. We have also demolished some hotels and huts.
Central law on forest land rights could not have been applied to Kashmir earlier. But after the repeal of Section 370, Kashmir has also automatically come under the category of this law.
Historian and analyst PG Rasool says, “There are Gujjars all over India. It is not only Muslims who are Gujjars, Hindus also belong to Gujjars and tribal castes.”
The population of Gujarat in India is more than 7.5 million and the rate of Gujarat among the listed castes and tribes is 70%. When Section 370 was removed, people openly said that people would now be evicted, on which the government explained that people should not listen to rumors.