WHEN the Srinagar parliamentary constituency registered 7.1 per cent polling, a new low, its Kangan Assembly segment saw the highest voting. Most of that was driven by its Gujjars. Like they do every time Kashmir goes to polls, the Gujjars came out in droves to vote, again disregarding the separatist call.
That has earned them the tag of “gaddars (traitors)”. However, as the Gujjars of Kangan explain, casting a vote for them is like a nazrana (offering) to their peer. Their loyalty is not to a political party but their “spiritual leader”, Mian Altaf, who is the sitting National Conference MLA from Kangan. Altaf holds the title that is held by his family.
Unlike the Bakarwals, J&K’s other nomadic tribe, most of the Gujjars now live a settled life, including the ones in Kangan.
“For us, casting a vote for the Mian is a kind of obligation,” says Ghulam Nabi Bejard, 76, who was among the first Gujjars to do his matriculation in Kangan. “It has never been a question of development for us either.”
However, Bejard also admits that it may not remain the case for long. In the 2014 Assembly elections, less than 1,400 votes separated Altaf and his non-Gujjar rival, fielded by the PDP.
Farooq Ahmad Bejard, 31, a teacher at Chariwani government school, says it is mostly the old Gujjars who now vote. “The youth remain away. We can’t remain secluded to what is happening in Kashmir. We have friends there.”
The memory of last year’s incident in Saroore near Bari Brahmana, in Jammu region, where Gujjars were attacked by alleged Sangh activists also remains fresh.
The Reasi attack on a nomadic family by “cow vigilantes” is confirming some of those fears. Almost one in two Gujjars in Kangan has relatives in areas of Jammu. They say every time they receive calls for them, they find “there is a sense of apprehension” among them.
Warns Barkat Ali of Shashpatri village, “Gujjars are a peace-loving tribe. We believe in Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence. But the current spree of hatred that is being spread by enemies of humanity is giving rise to lava (volcano) in Gujjars. The kind of lava which will be hard to control.”
Adds Mohammad Yaqoob of Wangat village, “We are being treated like a football. Here in Kashmir, we are Hindustanis, in Jammu, we are Pakistanis, and for Delhi, we are Kashmiris. They are forgetting that we are jungle people, who only want to live in peace.”
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