Blurred Distinctions

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Rulers for ages pitted a hungry peasant against a city dweller who paid double the cost to the autocrat for every grain of fleece he purchased for his family. With education level up and equal opportunities abound, this distinction faded fairly but for the vested interests in politics, writes Saima Bhat

It was a traffic mess around Jahangir Chowk when an Islamabad bound Tavera hit another vehicle that was going towards Harwan. Both the drivers came out of their vehicles and were assessing the damages to their respective vehicles but suddenly a passerby commented ‘eiman graistein cha paye gaed kya gaye (these rural folks don’t know what a vehicle means).

What was going on peacefully turned into a big fight with verbal abuses and a few blows as well? The accident was not an issue but the groose became the main crisis.

Groose in Sanskrit means the people who cultivate the land. In Persian, they are called as Zamindaars or Dehbaash or Dehkaan as well. The name was given to them for their hard work.

Shahar e Khass with 5500 years old written history has been a small population living on the two banks of Jhelum. Rest of the land was open. Historians say the land was given to two classes of people: Dar’s, were given mountainous areas, dry fields where they could cultivate the crops like maize, and Bhat’s, were given the land which was fit for the cultivation of rice.

Over the years, the classification of this groose changed. Srinagar started identifying everybody as groose who lived outside the City of Kashmir. Interestingly, residents in peripheral towns would, within their own cultures, distinguish themselves from the cultivators. But the Afghan settlers call all Kashmiri speaking people as a hatoo or a groose.

Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a noted poet-satirist, says during Hindu period Kashmir was divided into three districts only, named after three sons of the King: Maraaz, the south Kashmir; Sairaaz, the central Kashmir; and Kamraaz, the north Kashmir.

“Cultivation was a profession for the rural folks because they had lands,” Zareef said. “Government job was a profession for the city dwellers. Over the year’s rural people first converted their land to horticulture because that needed less work and they got time to study. Later they shifted to city claiming they don’t have facilities in their areas.” They had a reservation and they got adjusted at various positions. Later they shifted to Srinagar and settled here. He believes the change in the profession could be a reason why a divide was created between rural and urban people.

Most of Kashmir’s seven million population is mostly living in rural areas. But over the years they have migrated for various reasons. Migration to Srinagar has been a consistent process since 1900.

A woman walking through a paddy field.

As per a research paper,Measuring urban sprawl of Srinagar city, Jammu and Kashmir, India’ by Zahoor A Nengroo and his other associates, published on September 12, 2017, suggests that during first three decades of the last century (1901–31) it recorded a steady increase in population which grew 2.9 percent in 1911 and 11.4 percent in 1921 and 20.16 percent in 1931. During the same period, Srinagar experienced a moderate spatial growth, its size increased from 12.80 sq kms to 14.48 sqkms. During 1941–61, the growth of population slowed down mainly because of the widespread epidemics (in the year 1921), political unrest and partition of sub-continent in 1947 which led to the large-scale migration of people.

Srinagar witnessed an accelerated growth in its population. It increased from 2.85 lakhs in 1961 to 4.57 lakhs in 1971, 6.06 lakhs in 1981, 11.10 lakhs in 2001 to 20.84 lakhs (Srinagar Metropolitan Region) in 2011.

The authors believe main factors for migrations for these two decades have been “immigration, territorial annexation, auto-urbanization and definitional changes. The increase in growth rate of population has also brought in its old excessive concentration of economic activities which provided great impetus for the growth of subsidiary urban activities.”

The other reasons of the migration, these authors claim based on their sample survey, suggest migration were because of business and employment opportunities (44.35 percent) followed by education facilities (30.82 percent), ecological reasons (24 percent) and political reasons (0.9 percent). The socio-economic survey depicts that out of the total migrants to the city about 81.86 percent are from within the Valley, 10.21 per cent outside the Valley but within the State of Jammu and Kashmir and 7.94 per cent are from outside the State.

Even if there is a change in society but still it is believed rural people take the word groose as a taunt or abuse even if they have become more prosperous in terms of education and economic conditions.

It was 1997 when the parent’s of Shakeela was not able to find a perfect match for her. She was rejected by almost a dozen families in three years just because she was illiterate and had a wheatish complexion.

Finally, it was 2000 when she tied a knot. But instead of celebrations at her home in Chattabal (Srinagar), her father was not looking happy. When the groom was at their entrance, Shakeela’s father, Ghulam Qadir, was still in a fix if his decision was right. “The groom was actually a resident of Handwara. The thought of future that how my daughter will manage with him and his family was a big concern. Marrying Shakeela in a ghaam (rural area) was like a taboo. It was only after she delivered a baby that her relatives came to know that her in-laws actually belonged to Handwara.”

Her family was a case of inter-state mass migration because of the conflict that started in Kashmir in 1989. “Shakeela’s brother-in-law was a militant and different government agencies were repeatedly threatening and harassing them. And ultimately they decided to shift to Srinagar and they informed none of their relatives knew where they had shifted.”

The security situation in last three decades sent hoards of rural populations to Hyderpora, Peer Bagh, Baghe Mehtab, Gulshan Nagar, Bemina and Narbal followed by Ahmad Nagar, Habbak, Zakura, Nishat, Harwan and Saderbal area. This happened at a time when Srinagar also witnessed migration within to almost all these places.

Srinagar has historically remained a sort of “pampered” Kashmir population. For centuries, the rulers had created an interesting wedge between the two people and simply commerce was the main reason. Cultivators were tilling the fields and the harvest was taken by the government for most of the century-long misrule by Dogras. The same fleece was being sold to the city. This money was making most of the fleece that would fill Dogra coffers. Why the rulers were keeping the city in good humour was because it was a huge population and they did not want any rebellion.

People started living in Rajbagh in 1931 under the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh, who sold the land to administrators, who belonged to rural areas, at Rs 100 per kanal when its market value was just Rs 50. “Each administrator was told that they have to dig wells for water as they can’t claim water from the only water supply from Harwan, which was started in 1892, for the people of the old city,” says Zareef. The King did not want there should be a dearth of anything for the real inhabitants of the place.

“These greese! They are bloody parasites. If they get jobs under a reserved category then why can’t they serve in their areas.” These were the words a senior KAS officer from Srinagar reacted with when asked if the rural-urban divide has created problems in Kashmir. “They first get a job under a vacancy in their respected districts, then quickly shift to Srinagar thus blocking a job that could have gone to a Srinagar youth.”

In the last budget session of the state assembly, the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti informed the house that of the 4.8 lakh employees working in 41 government departments, 108412 are from different categories:46270 from Reserved Backward Areas (RBA), 34721 from Schedule Tribe, 17350 Schedule Caste, 4702 from OSC and 5369 from Actual Line of Control, all working up to the level of Deputy Secretary levels. The most crowded departments with category people are education (42993), Home (17831) and Ladakh Affairs (11904). But the officer, despite being KAS does not know that Kashmir being hugely homogenous does not have many categories as most of the SC and ST belongs to Jammu and Ladakh. RBA is restricted to certain pockets across the state and mostly it is political in nature. In last eight years, almost 901 SC candidates from Jammu were recruited in government departments against the district and divisional cadre posts of Kashmir in the past eight years. Of them, 43 have managed their transfer to Jammu from Kashmir, possibly along with their posts.

Women with wicker basket moving through a mustard field in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district.

This divide may not be political but politics uses it more often. Ruling PDP, for instance, is always accused of treating Srinagar district differently, by the National Conference. Given the place of birth of the founders of these two parties, PDP is considered rural based an NC urban-based! Interestingly, nobody seems to be taking numbers seriously. This argument seems to be reducing NC to a city party, which it never was, and would never aspire to be.

But it was Shahr e Khaas visit that cost PDP’s founder member, late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed his life. Reportedly his condition deteriorated that day. “It was 2nd day of Chilai Kalaan (the harsh 40 days of winters) and he started his work at 9.30 am which ended at 9.30 pm after visiting 16 different spots of Old City. Next day his condition deteriorated and he was shifted to AIIMs where he breathed his last on January 06, 2016.”

But one thing is sure: the rural politician lacks any stakes in Srinagar because it is just her shelter and not essentially his home. A robust city government can only manage a strong city. The ruling party once offered a detailed idea on this front but nobody knows if that idea is still practicable in absence of the “idea man”.

But over the years, sections in the society are using this divide to serve their own interests. Most of the agriculture is from the periphery and most of the trading is city-centric. Both complement each other. Have-nots and vested interests are usually using this divide. They always discover the new elements to fuel the debate. It could be job market in the morning and tehreek in the evening.

With education and economics playing a key role, Srinagar has almost one-fourth of all its marriages outside the city limits. With the city getting costly for the middle class, urban folks have movpeed in hoards to Pampore, Budgam, Ganderbal and Pattan belt. For making money, city businesses are expanding deep into the rural market. Now, groose does not come to Srinagar for getting the new Maruti car, he moves to the nearest town. Ninety percent of the personal car market is now rural.

Zareef believes Kashmiris should not get involved in this divide. “We are Kashmiris and we should not allow outsiders to divide us into different lines and then rule us.” Adds a journalist: “People must distinguish between rural and urban populations the same way a crackdown and the deluge make a difference between the two.”

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