It was a protest with a difference when nomadic Gujjars, including men and women along with the livestock, held a sit-in outside the residence of Forest Minister Choudhary Lal Singh Jammu on Tuesday morning in protest over the demolition of their “kullas” (thatched huts) in Lakarmandi area on the outskirts of Jammu city.
As the forest minister had to go to Basohli and the protestors were not prepared to lift their blockade from main entrance of his official residence, police resorted to lathicharge and even apprehended seven of the protestors. They included Gujjar leader Nazakat Khatana, Talib Hussain, Shahruk Choudhary, Mohammad Ibrar, Rafaqat Ajaz and Haq Nawaz Choudhary.
While Station House Officer of the Gandhi Nagar Police Station, DySP Suniya Wani, said that all the protestors have been bailed out, none of them had been released till late evening.
Trouble erupted when a team of forest officials accompanied by strong contingent of police force demolished nearly half a dozen kullas of Gujjars saying that they were built on forest land. The Gujjars, however, claimed that they have been living along with their cattle and livestock in the area for the last 70 years and they had not raised any permanent structure.
They even approached senior forest officials in the matter, but no one listened to them. On Tuesday morning, they gathered outside the residence of forest minister along with their livestock.
Pointing out that Gujjars and bakerwals being nomadic tribe have been living along with their cattle in forests since centuries, Irfaqat Hussain, one of the protestors, said that “we wanted to ask the minister as to where we shall go as forest officials are adamant on evicting them from their present places of living?’’ Another protestor Faiz Mohammad accused the minister of being anti-Gujjar and bakerwal community.
The forest minister was not available despite repeated calls.