|Tribal Ministry, Advisory Board go in vain as nomads remain uncounted in J&K|
Early Times Report
Jammu, Mar 25: The Jammu and Kashmir government has a separate Tribal ministry along with J&K Advisory Board for Gujjars and Bakerwals but both have no data about the number of tribal population, still nomadic.
A RTI application was filed by this correspondent to the department of Tribal Affairs seeking information of total number of Bakerwals as per last three census reports. It was also sought that out of total population of Bakerwals how many were semi-nomadic and settled?
The Department of Tribal Affairs forwarded the RTI application to J&K Advisory Board for Gujjars and Bakerwals, which in turn furnished data of whole tribal population in the state, which stood at 14,93,299, in which Gujjar Bakerwals and over dozen other tribes are included.
The department further informed that there was no separate data of the Bakerwals population even in the Census of 2001 and 2011 respectively.
In response to the question of categorization of Bakerwal nomads such as nomadic, semi nomadic and settled, the department replied, "No such census has been conducted by the Board separately for Bakerwals".
A Jammu University Scholar Shrief Ahmed, who is pursuing M Phil on tribal issues, lamented that Census reports spoke nothing about the population of Bakerwal tribes. There are some third party research reports, which claimed that the Bakerwal population as 2.24 Lakhs', Shrief Ahmed said, adding that it was most unfortunate that so far department has not conducted any census, to know about the tribal population in changing world.
Secretary of Advisory Board for Gujjars and Bakerwals, Mukhtar Ahmad Choudhary says that two years back the issue of conducting special census of tribal population was taken up in a meeting of the Board.
"The proposal was forwarded to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and it was proposed to keep some separate funds for conducting census of Gujjars as well as Bakerwals by Census department or by some other independent agency", Choudhary said, adding there was no further development over the proposal.
An official pleading anonymity said that under a well planned conspiracy the census of Bakerwal as well as Gujjar population has not been separately conducted.
"The ST population can be divided into settled, semi-nomadic and full-nomadic. Fully nomadic population includes cattle rearer Dodi Gujjars as well as livestock rearers (Bakerwals). These fully nomad population is most marginalized and actually deserve ST reservation benefits but same exploited by the settled population of STs, who are extremely rich, living in posh localities," the official said, adding that the settled ST population has monopoly over all political, religious, social bodies as well as in administrative decision making bodies, so they never allowed such census to be conducted.
He further alleged that some people have been doing politics in the name of tribals but did nothing to empower them. "They usually celebrate the traditional aspect of tribals but keep mum on political and social empowerment, employment' share etc", he rued, adding that separate census of various type of tribal population must be conducted as reservation benefits must trickle down to most deserving tribal population.
The official further alleged that efforts have also been made by some vested interests to eliminate the nomenclature Bakerwal and brought it under an umbrella term Gujjars, so that after few decades, there would no Bakerwals and it would further marginalize the tribals, who are still nomads.