Army to Educate Gujjars and Bakerwals

KL Report
Srianagar

After Sadbhawana  programme, the Indian Army has adopted a project to educate the children of Gujjars and Bakerwals, tribal goatherds and shepherds who inhabit the Pir Panjal range in the state’s Jammu region.
The classes were held for a month at Bhattadurian, Chhatral and Poshiana villages of Poonch district, about 260 km northwest of Jammu.

The army personnel conducted lessons in elementary arithmetic and reading. For many children, it was their first taste of school and they were left deeply touched by the experience.
Defence spokesman  Col RK Palta said in Jammu  that the aim of the classes was to encourage parents to send their children to school.

“The requisite study material, including stationery, books and appropriate teaching aids for these classes were provided by us. The aim was only to encourage parents to send children to school,’ Col Palta said.
The Gujjar and Bakerwal tribes inhabit Pir Panjal range. Traditionally, their lives have been nomadic. They face lack of basic facilities like schooling and children often accompany their parents to graze sheep and goats and gather fuel wood.
According to government statistics, of a total population of 1.25 crore, there are about 20 lakh Gujjars and Bakerwals in the state, of whom 500,000 continue with their nomadic life. The nomads move to mountainous pastures in summer and spend the winter in the plains, along with their animals.

While the state’s literacy rate is 68.7 percent according to the 2011 census, only 21 percent of Gujjars and Bakerwals are literate. Among those who continue to be nomadic, there are barely any literates at all.

Palta said that the army’s teaching initiative began after a request was made by the elders of the three villages during one of the regular amity meetings that the army holds.

“Besides providing an exposure to basic education to the children of the area, these classes would also act as a catalyst in kindling the desire amongst children for education. We hope to also generate an interest in education in the parents. The immediate benefit of these classes would be only rudimentary knowledge for the tribal children,” the spokesman said.

Separatists have been time and again accusing that army is interfering in the day today matters of J&K people. These leaders even accuse that education is being used as a  tool of what they call “cultural aggression” by army.

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