Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Ghettoization of Muslim Gujjars in Kashmir

Born into the world’s largest transhumance Tribal family (Gujjar & Bakerwal), being a religious-linguistic minority, and a militancy-affected child left agony and pain in me. As a child of an economically underprivileged and geographically disadvantageous Gujjar family, it pinches me in a post-modernist society of rationality, equality, justice, and free will. Stigmas of tribal identity largely introduce, define, and leverage/deleverage me at each point of my life. It reflects my being before others without knowing who I am.

I live on the border of India and Pakistan where the repercussive current of partition erupting tension on the divided line ruptures lives and forms stories of pain. The recent screams of innocent civilians from the Gujjar community, “O Nabi go vasto mina namarro,” O please do not beat us for the sake of the Prophet (PBUH) in Topa Peer village, still echoing in the hills of Pir Panjal. Jammu & Kashmir, where the identity of being Kashmiri (when you are out of the state/UT), is enough to be targeted, threatened, and beaten.

Though modern democratic states have brought various uplifting schemes for socially marginalized classes in the form of reservation, the Sachar Committee report of 2006 says that the Muslim social system has yet to admit its caste-based multi-layered society of ‘Ashraaf’, ‘Ajlaaf’, and ‘Arzal’. And it has yet to adhere to the last sermon of the Prophet (PBUH), “hajja-tul-vida“, which grants equal status to every caste, region, and race except for piety, “Taqwa”.

A region like my background is marked by ghettoization based on the stigmatization of tribalism, casteism, regionalism, and linguistic prejudices that have historical trajectories which lured my intellectual curiosity. It pushed me to think about seeded inequalities and complexities in society based on culture, region, and language.

It has a long tale of slandering to tribes, hatred against lower castes, regional and language-based stigma & prejudices against the Gujjars & Bakarwal, which seems to be institutionalized hatred to suppress & marginalize the targeted communities like Gujjars & Bakerwal (though the ST population comprises other tribes including Beda, Boto, Brokpa, Drokpa, Dard, shin, Burusho, Changpa, Gaddies, and Garra, etc.). And their areas like Poonch-Rajouri. “Concerning Violence” (Fanon, Film and Liberation in Africa, selected takes 1965-1987, also a documentary of 2014) said, “You were black because you were poor, and you were poor because you were black. You were white because you were rich, and you were rich because you were white.”

In Kashmir, where Muslims are living in the majority and once had been victims of marginalization, suppression, and deprivation of the same rights which they snatched away from the Gujjar & Bakerwal (a Tribal lower-class Muslim “Pasmanda” community of J&K) after gaining the same power and privileges that were earlier deprived to them by the then state power (Dogra rule). It is similar to the oppressed justifying the suppression if it happens at his hands. From the accession of J&K with India (26 Oct 1947) until now, the ruling class of J&K discriminated against and deprived the Gujjar & Bakerwal of state privileges, denied them as stakeholders of a particular region and community, and refused to bargain in power-sharing and decision-making setups.

They were geographically put in isolation where water, electricity, roads, and schools still take us back to old age. Their inhabitants in Kashmir are ghettos which developed the mindset of “Gujjar gaon” Gujjar village. They consider them primitive & uncivilized men. Amidst the idea of cultural preservation, the Gujjar language (Gojri), their cultural identity (topi, basket, pagheri, and dress) traits (khaslat), food, and occupation are identified as barbarous and savage. Their youth like us always (either on social media or on a public platform) feel like victims of untold & undone wrongs that make us curse ourselves and make us apologetic in our subconscious about our caste identity, culture, language, and traits.

Gujjars were systematically made a disadvantaged & underprivileged community which led to the victimization & marginalization of the whole community to serve these upper-caste Muslims (as a popular phrase in Kashmiri, ‘Gujjar kott ya gujjar koor gasay’ meaning ‘we need a Gujjar boy or Gujjar girl as a servant’). They systematically put us in an inferiority complex to remain apologetic and unquestionable in our subconscious about these elite classes ‘Ashraf’. The recent chain reaction was seen on Twitter and other social media sites where Molvis, online teachers, political leaders, singers, and other upper-caste people were comparing the abysmal & unsuitable activities of their respective groups with Gujjars! Furthermore, they were called ‘Mukbir’, ‘smelly’, ‘unclean’ like ‘happut’ meaning ‘bear’ and one who takes money for voting in the election, or what they call ‘Gujjar Siyasat’, etc. Of course, it’s not something new which developed recently, rather the whole Kashmiri society believes that ‘leaves the snake, kill the Gujjars’.

Taking it on the broader canvas of the world, for example, Africans have faced and still face racial discrimination like apartheid, considering them as primitive tribes unable to possess the human qualities that the rest of the world has set as criteria to be called human. One can also find similarities to some extent in the Bloch Movement led by Dr Marang Baloch against a long and similar tyrant and brutal dominant socio-political class of Punjabis, which was also responsible for the partition of East Pakistan. Similarly, the Palestinians, the Kurds, the Rohingyas, the Uyghurs, the Chechens, and the Bosnians are some historical examples of identity victimhood due to being in the minority. The Jewish Holocaust was also associated with their identity, and Muslims of Palestine or even in every corner of the world, including India, have been identified, labelled, and made afraid owing to their religious identity!

And the recent vicious cycle of very stigmatic and slurry language of upper-caste Muslims in J&K is, I believe, an institutional outcome that Gujjar & Bakarwal had faced & have to face in the future until the religious ‘Ulemas’ and the state institution do not come with affirmative action to take it hand in hand to retrospect and admit own grave mistake which they borne, to being a largest Muslims population with claimed to be historically suppressed and marginalized society which wants its due right.

Ghulam Server Shaheen is a student of History at AMU and belongs to Surankote Poonch J&K.

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