Only a couple of days back, as I was heading to Rajouri via the historical Mughal Road, just ahead of Peer Ki Gali our vehicle slowed down to wade its way through the large flock of sheep making their journey towards the warm pastures. “We left early this year from Kashmir’s Ganderbal district and are heading to pastures in Rajouri district,” said Choudhary Salaam-U-Din, the family head, who along with entire family and a flock of around 200 sheep and few horses was leading towards Rajouri.
With the advent of autumn as the temperatures have begun to dip in Kashmir, the nomadic families along with their livestock have begun to start their seasonal migration towards the warmer pastures of Jammu region. This traditional seasonal migration by these tribal nomadic families and their livestock is etched to both history and folklore of Jammu and Kashmir: it is always a precursor to the chilly and harsh winter in Kashmir.
The migration by the tribal nomads belonging mostly to Gujjar and Bakerwal communities to Kashmir on the onset of harsh summers in Jammu plains and vice-versa to Jammu on the onset of winters is very hectic, harsh and hazardous. It tests the patience, persistence, strength and the will to move on. Often these people were left to fend for themselves by the administration under the previous regimes, and were had to face lot of hardship and problems in this seasonal migration. Getting permission from administration for this journey was a cumbersome process. In order to get permission for migration, tribals had to move from one office to another to get formalities done.
LG Govt Move For Tribal Welfare
Things have changed for good for these tribal owing to the compassionate and need based approach adopted by the Tribal Affairs Department under the directions of Lieutenant Governor Mr. Manoj Sinha.
For the first time in the history of this seasonal migration, the government has provided around 50 trucks for the transportation of tribal families and their livestock from summer pastures to winter pastures. The move is being highly appreciated. This pro-people initiative by the tribal affairs department will not only have a comforting experience for these tribal families but will also ensure smooth traffic movement on Jammu-Srinagar National Highway and Mughal Road. Earlier, the nomads would cover the distance from Jammu to Kashmir on foot in 20 to 30 days.
Ease Of Movement Ensured
Encouraged by this move, the Ramban district magistrate has banned the foot movement of the nomadic families along with their livestock on the national highway. In an official communique, the district magistrate of Ramban district said this was done to ensure hassle-free vehicular traffic on the strategic 270-km Jammu-Srinagar national highway. He also appointed nodal officers to oversee the migration plan and ensure the nomadic tribal families face no inconvenience in migrating their live stock to warmer pastures.
Every year, lakhs of people from nomadic tribes, mainly the Gujjars and Bakerwals, engage in this activity and exposes the traffic managers and district officials to diverse challenges. Their movement as also the movement of their livestock would cause frequent traffic jamming on National Highway and Mughal Road. But now they would cover the distance in trucks in one or two days.
This is bound to minimise their hardships. Transporting them and their livestock in trucks from Jammu to Srinagar was a long pending demand of the migratory tribal population, which has been finally met.
As per official figures 30,000 tribal migratory families are expected to get benefitted and 40 trucks of Road Transport Corporation (RTC) are being utilised for the purpose. More trucks will be pressed into service. Funds to the tune of Rs 6.80 crore were already released in favour of RTC for procurement of trucks.
According to officials, the trucks are being plied on the National Highway from Kathua, Samba, Jammu and Udhampur to various destinations in Kashmir and on Mughal Road from Rajouri and Poonch to various places in Kashmir.
Transit Accommodation Provided
Tribal Affairs Department is also establishing transit accommodations at eight different locations for the convenience of migratory tribal population at a cost of Rs 28 crore and two of transit camps are nearing completion.
Tribal activists demand that thins should be a permanent feature, and should be continued with this vigour in future also.
Tribal population is scattered across Jammu and Kashmir. There are 12 Schedule Tribes in J&K. The 2011 Census shows the entire Schedule Tribe population of the Union Territory as 14,93,299. Out of 12 Schedule Tribes, Gujjar is the most populous tribe having a population of 980654, Bakerwal is third largest tribe having a population of 113198.
Gujjar and Bakerwal tribes are two nomadic tribes which constitute the third largest community in the Union territory. Both Gujjar and Bakerwals are found in all regions of Jammu and Kashmir.
Of these, around 500,000 are nomads who rear buffalo, sheep, cows, goats and horses for their survival. These people are undergo the seasonal migration every year.
Tariq Ahmad Choudhary, a tribal student welcomed the new initiative of Jammu and Kashmir administration of providing trucks to tribal people for transportation of livestock and families from Jammu to Kashmir. “It would go a long way in facilitating movement of tribals from one location to another,” he said. “Somehow it will minimise the hardships of the migratory population, but this is not enough, government has to take more concrete steps for the welfare and well being of tribal community,” he added.
More Welfare Measures Needed
The tribe of Gujjars and Bakarwals lack behind educationally, economically & socially. “The need of the hour is to take concrete steps for their welfare & upliftment on first priority. They are homeless & landless wandering in the open. They are facing immense hardships. Children are lying naked & crying. One wonders if their hardships are known to the world, said Tariq.
Tribal leaders and organizations working for the upliftmennt of community are very optimistic that the conditions of their communities is going to change for good. “We have requested government many a times to provide necessary logistics to tribes including dispensaries, some health facilities on migration routes so that they don’t suffer. Now it seems that all our grievances will be addressed and we expect more will be done in times to come,” said Mohammad Saleem Bajad, an activist.
Government has already set up mobile schools and dispensaries for the tribal communities.