Ethnic Gujjar’s and Ethnic Kashmiris embarked on a socioeconomic struggle together almost seventy years ago, yet we see Gujjar population predominantly living below the poverty line while the later has taken significant strides towards economic prosperity in the same political environment.
On all the parameters of human development including literacy, health, nutrition, infant mortality, deaths at childbirth, average life expectancy this community, of about three million souls, would score extremely poor among all the population groups living in Jammu and Kashmir.
The reasons could be many and only an in depth serious piece of research may be able to find at least some of the reasons. As an outsider my assessment could be only a guess. So my guess would be;
- Complete reliance/ dependence by the Gujjar community upon non Gujjar especially Kashmiri leadership and lack of quality leadership amongst its own ranks.
- Population being scattered and part of it consisting of nomads, the community could not produce a coherent sociopolitical structure that would address its needs.
- Deliberate exploitation by both the political class and the competing Kashmiri population that was probably more coherent and organised.
- Pockets of Gujjar population being used/ exploited by the local and New Delhi establishment and then being dumped once the Lawyer’s objectives were achieved.
- Exploitation by the different strata of political elite amongst the community.
- Heavy reliance on electoral politics wherein the community has been used only as a vote bank.
- Absence of pressure groups within the community that could aggressively pursue across the board development.
- Probably lack of self esteem having consistently suffered racial discrimination at the hands of the non Gujjar population.
- Inability of the community to focus on agricultural/ horticulture production/ cash crops on any sizeable scale and lack of creating any value addition to its traditional products of milk and cattle.
My guess may be absolutely wrong but the position currently is the economic condition of the community is pathetic to say the least. The community needs to address all the issues that it may be able to identify but even that may be unable to address their misery. So the community has to do something radically this time. And to me is it should demand a non territorial Gujar Autonomous Council similar to the Ladakh Autonomous Council and for achieving of that resort to both agitational as well as electoral politics. And if it is able to achieve this demand I feel there is every chance that its prosperity will improve fast.
Post Script: There are multiple theories about this community having originated as nomads from Gujarat, Georgia and Grozny/ Chechenia and having settled around the hills of Kashmir. Could it be that this community once thrived inside the valley and successive invasions by the Arians and others forced them to leave the valley and live in the safety of the hills?
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