We Saw It All, But Political Parties Don't See Us'
6 August 2005
The Indian Express
Srinagar: They are the people who are witness to the first stirrings of militancy in J-K: they saw Kashmiri youth crossing the Line of Control in droves for armed training in 1989 and were even seen as its facilitators. They are also the people who played a role in the resumption of electoral activity in the state by participating in the process and thus, call themselves the harbingers of the normalcy. But despite all this, they feel they have never been made part of the main political discourse. At the Jammu and Kashmir Gujjar Bakerwal Conference (GBC) today, they tried to define themselves as a distinct ethno-linguistic group and decried the lack of political representation for them, either in the state government or on the separatist platforms. 'We have been exploited by every political party over the past 50 years. Time has come for us to be recognised as an ethnic minority with a stake in the future of Kashmir,' said the provincial president of GBC, Choudhary Siraj-ud- din. 'We also demand a proportionate share in the development funds which are consistently denied to us. As a result, we are still the most backward community in the state while the world around us has moved ahead,' he added. In a new twist to the reigning discourse on the representative character of various political formations in the state, the GBC said no party or organisation in the state, including the Hurriyat, should claim to represent them. 'Hurriyat has nobody from among us to represent our community. The grouping has never felt the need to approach us,' said the spokesman Choudhary Farooq Ahmad Chachi. 'Nobody from the Central or state governments asks our opinion. We have borne the brunt of violence. We have also a role in restoring normalcy. If we had not cast votes, there would have been only 10 per cent of polling,' he added. The Conference wants to be recognised as a separate entity in the ongoing dialogue between India and Pakistan on the future of Kashmir, claiming that Gujjar and Bakerwal constitute one-fourth of the total population of the state. 'We have a populaiton of 25 lakh in the state and there is no representaive leader to articulate our stand,' reasoned Siraj-ud- din. 'We are present in significant numbers in all districts of the state, except in Leh and Kargil and thus, form an important vote bank. If we cannot make any political party win, we can at least make it lose,' he said. When it was pointed out that the Gujjars and Bakerwals are a traditional vote bank of the National Conference with its leader, like Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, always claiming to have a family relationship with the community, Siraj-ud-din said times have changed and the Gujjars and Bakerwals cannot be taken for granted on the basis of a distant relationship. 'They (NC) exploited us for 50 years because we are loyal to the relationship. Now, we won't allow them to do this to us again. Our yardstick has changed. Development, not relationship, would matter,' he asserted. Siraj-ud- din also made a case for empowering the State Advisory Board for Gujjar and Bakerwals on the lines of Leh and Kargil Hill Development Councils. 'We did not pick up guns, that does not mean we should be ignored,' he said.