Dr Kavita Suri, & Deepshikha Hooda . (2014); Gujjars and Bakkarwals of Jammu & Kashmir—In the Shadows of Conflict; Gurgaon Shubhi Publications; Pp 142; Rs 1,995
The ethno-religious conflict that ravaged the State of Jammu & Kashmir in 1989-90 has done tremendous damage to every sphere of human activity leaving the people at the receiving end of terrorist violence. The people of all the three regions—Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh—suffered at the hands of the enemies of the nation especially those sections of the society who never compromised their commitment towards the Indian nation. Either they were subjected to internal displacement or persecution.
Gujjars and Bakkarwals of Jammu & Kashmir—In the Shadows of Conflict by Dr. Kavita Suri and Deepshikha Hooda is an important contribution towards highlighting the pain and agony of the Gujjars and Bakkarwals who have been in the forefront of this turmoil in the State. These people have enriched the cultural landscape of Jammu & Kashmir with their colourful traditions and culture and are the living example of entrepreneurship in terms of their sustenance. Their nomadic lifestyle is the hallmark of their personality. In the ethno-religious conflict that brought the security forces and the militants face to face, had a tremendous effect on the lives of these people who are always on the move due to their nomadic pursuits. Gujjars and Bakkarwals have the access to the higher reaches of the Shivaliks and are familiar to the mountain passes which are unknown to even the experts. This attribute made them the victim of the militant barbarity as jihadis often held then at ransom in order to co-opt them for their inhuman deeds.
The book gives an insight into the multitude of problems faced by these people. The first chapter traces the origin of the people and explodes the myth that these people are just adherents of Islam but shows they are having an all India presence and practice Hinduism and its other variants. It has traced the trail of the people from 100 BC till the present times. Cultural moorings and traditions of the tribes have been highlighted with great insight.
Second Chapter is a tribute to the chivalry of the tribes who in spite of having been on the terrorist radar have not lost hope in their brave spirit and have given apt affront to the Wahabi radical Islam propagated by the jihadis. The militants from across the border have exploited Gujjars and Bakkarwals both in terms of religion and livestock that has forced them to sell their assets at throw away prices. Despite the unwanted pressure from the terrorists these people have lived up to their tradition of loyalty towards India. The upshot has been the valour of the Gujjar and Bakkerwal women who have formed the frontline in weaning away the militancy in the upper reaches of the Himalayas and Shivaliks by being the members of the Village Defence Committees (VDCs).
Third Chapter showcases the valour of the tribes, their spirit of nationalism and the swift action of the Indian Army to erase the militants from the strategic Surankote area under the operation “Hill Kaka”. It should act as a case study in other areas of India where terrorism has posed challenge to the national security. Popularly known as ‘Operation Sarp Vinash’, it has acted to reinforce the security grid of the State. Fourth Chapter analyse the period after the successful culmination of the ‘Operation Sarp Vinash’ and rehabilitation of these people by the army.
Chapter five is a tribute to the people of Salwa located in Mendhar. Bakkarwals were wonderstruck when militants started showing signs of their presence as it was never expected by the tribes in this region.
Chapter six deals with the seasonal migration of the nomads to their Dhoks in the higher reaches. Chapter seven brings to the fore the problem of imparting education to the children of these tribes as mobile schools have ceased to be mobile.
The last chapter is again of strategic value and should be taken into account by the policymakers and the national security grid. Gujjars and Bakkarwals are the most vulnerable section of the society and have faced the problem of terrorist menace head on.
Mahesh Kaul (The reviewer is a PhD scholar at SHTM Faculty of Business Studies, University of Jammu)