Jammu and Kashmir | People for the Planet
Since the advent of civilisation, tribes have been the first dwellers; the first to inhabit any stretch of land, unmarked by borders. But for decades, the Gujjar and Bakerwal tribes of Jammu and Kashmir have been called ‘encroachers’ on their own land; marginalised and driven out of the forest areas they peacefully dwelled in.
Being landless nomads, they are not new to the pains of eviction, even from the land they rightfully revere, but when the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2007 was extended to Jammu and Kashmir in October, 2019, these tribes had dared to hope for rehabilitation and reconciliation; they had assumed that they would be granted the rights they deserved by virtue of their identity. Tribal leaders and activists say that despite the FRA now being applicable in Jammu and Kashmir, they are yet to receive any relief from persecution and a sense of insecurity.
There have been allegations made against the credibility of the Census figures capping the tribal population of Jammu and Kashmir at 10%. It has been said that the figures are under-represented owing to the Annual Migration of the nomadic tribes which was underway during the 2011 Census. As the result, according to the tribes, the figures reported are inaccurate and they claim that tribal communities contribute to as much as 15%-20% of the total population of Jammu and Kashmir and are being denied their rights and forced into quiet subjugation.
The Forest Rights Act (FRA) grants the right to legally reside in forest land and makes forceful eviction of tribal communities unlawful. It grants to them, rights of settlement, access to water and access to a means of livelihood. Everything they demand, they rightfully deserve and despite being promised of it by the Constitution of India, it is what they are perpetually denied. Crafty and artful narratives are built and peddled by those who intend to profit from the mis-implementation of FRA in Jammu and Kashmir, and stories are carefully sold to portray tribal communities as land-grabbers, cattle smugglers and encroachers, and as the general perception sets against them, people fail to notice that tribal communities are the first, and only, line of defence between forests and their true encroachers; between timber and its true smugglers.
Not only are the rights granted by the FRA inaccessible to them, so is the information of the rights they are promised. Soon after the theoretical implementation of the FRA in Jammu and Kashmir, nomadic tribes during their seasons of migration were not allowed to build temporary lodgings and with the massive information gap that exists, none of them had the awareness to protest against it; how could they exercise a right they didn’t know they had been granted!
Despite being promised of a stringent law protecting their rights to lead a life of integrity and purpose, the tribes of Jammu and Kashmir have repeatedly been cheated and deprived of their due, widening the socioeconomic gap that exists between them and urban dwellers. For too long, they have been deceived by promises of fair compensation to ensure their submissive contribution into developmental projects, been made to function as cheap labour, only to be abandoned after the fulfillment of selfish needs.
For too long, their hopes have been raised only to be crashed and it is time that by the implementation of the FRA, not just on paper, but in practice, retribution be made; even if it is too little, and too late.