‘Roshni Act Has Not Benefited Jammu Muslims’

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Gujjar activist Talib Hussain who went to jail for his activism in Kathua is finally contesting the DDC election from Kokernag in South Kashmir. In an interview, Hussain tells Umar Mukhtar that the government is evicting nomads from their natural habitats by design and with ulterior motives

Bakerwal Lawyer Talib Hussain

KASHMIR LIFE (KL):  How do you look at the recent demolition of nomad hutments?

TALIB HUSSAIN (TH): You need to understand (that) this is being done in a planned manner. The government is playing a divisive hand. They want to pitch communities against each other. When they say that at someplace they have retrieved the lands that were grabbed by some community, obviously another community judges them and will definitely create a bad notion about that particular community.  In Pahalgam, the same has happened. They said they have retrieved this much of illegally occupied land from the tribes. They want to create a gulf between the Gujjars and non-Gujjars. I saw many people commenting about why they are grabbing forest land which is not the case. Also, when the Kathua incident happened, the Kashmiri community supported us so now they are after them.

KL:  Has it made nomadic community fearful?

TH: When I along with other members visited Pahalgam after the demolition of the hutments, the whole village ran away. They thought probably some team had come to demolish their homes. I am contesting in the Kokernag area, where people have been given the notices to evict from their lands and homes. There is deep fear among the community.

Law of The Jungle

KL:   What about the Jammu region. How is the situation there?

TH: In the last two to three years, government machinery was used to malign the image of our tribe, like we are land grabbers, cattle smugglers, and forest encroachers. Once a narrative was created, our community was harassed by members of the RSS.

In Jammu for the last some years, if a crime took place, they linked it to Gujjars. Crimes do happen in society and individuals do them and not the tribes.

Since the BJP has come to power, such incidents have become more frequent. When Lal Singh was minister, the un-demarcated and the open forests were demarcated and razor wires were laid around them. It added to the miseries of nomads.

It is unfortunate that a perception was created in Jammu region that if Gujjar and Bakerwals are allowed to avail forest rights, it will result in a demographic change in the non-Muslim majority districts of Jammu, Sambha, Kathua, and Udhampur.

Talib Hussain, the Bakerwal lawyer

KL: Why do you think it is being done?

TH: Basically, they want to mobilize Hindus against the Muslim community. In Samba Kathua, Hiranagar, Akhnoor, RS Pura area, more than 80 per cent of lands are custodian lands. They belong to our ancestors who were killed and forced to migrate in 1947. Till now there was a law that these lands can be given to them for timely use but not registered in their names, which now I am sure will be changed.

KL: It is said that the Roshni Act has benefited Jammu Muslims mostly. How true is this?

TH: Roshni Act has in no way benefited Jammu Muslims. In fact, the tribes have lost a good portion of land to this. Because a large chunk of forest land used by tribal people was transferred to other people.

KL: There is a perception that the mainstream leaders who claim to represent the nomadic communities haven’t agitated the issue beyond a point?

TH: In the Gujjar community, there are some clans where the leader’s pop up from. They are from the elite class. The people of our tribe are mostly unaware of the things. These clans take full advantage of their ignorance and innocence. The ironic part is that they do not want to get Forest Rights Act implemented. The MLA Qamar Choudary once wanted to table a bill for the implementation of the FRA in the erstwhile state. That time Choudhary Zulfiqar was the minister and was heading the nodal agency but he did not even let the bill be tabled. They want that people should remain in the darkness so that they can protect their hegemony. Now, this is going to change.

KL: Whats are the current issues the community is facing right now?

TH: As of now implementation of the Forest Right Acts is our priority. This will give us identity and rights. In Jammu, there is harassment from the communal forces. Also, many people especially youth from our community have been imprisoned under PSA on frivolous charges.

KL: Now that Article 370 has been revoked, central laws are applicable here now. Do you think the FRA would be implemented in J&K soon?  How it is going to help the community?

TH: No, they are not going to implement it any sooner.  They want to include some changes in it that will suit them only and we will not let that happen. We have already started a movement for its implementation. Even I, in protest, walked barefooted for many months for its implementation.

They have brought many new laws whether that is a land law or any other law but are hesitant to implement the Forest Rights Act.

Its implementation is definitely going to help the community. This would put halt to what is happening in the Pahalgam and what has been happening in the Jammu region.

KL:   There is a High Court order which says the people who have illegally occupied the forest land should be evicted. The Government says they are following the high orders. How do you see this?

TH: This order is not basically for the nomads. We have told the government to make a survey to show us how much land have we illegally occupied. To date, they have not provided us the data. Supreme Court says half concrete shed in forests cannot be dismantled. They even do not honour that. They are basically misguiding the high court by saying that they have retrieved the lands. They have demolished the hutments of the nomads who have migrated to  Jammu regions. Once they will be back in the summers where will they go.

KL: You have been an activist. What prompted you to join politics? 

TH: Firstly, I was of the view that I will not contest the elections and will do the activism. Then I thought these leaders will again come and do the same thing. So, I decided to join politics.

I believe that activist only raises issues but you will not get the solution till you get the political power. Ambedkar has rightly said that political power is the master key to open all the locks.

My first priority will be the struggle for the implementation of the FRA. There are also other local issues like schools, water, that I will take care of.

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About Author

Umar Mukhtar is a Srinagar based journalist. He is covering human rights and the changing political landscape of the valley.

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