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Jammu and Kashmir’s Indigenous Tribes Who Worked for Indian Army Face Eviction

Voice Of EU



The Gujjar and Bakerwals community, also known as the shepherd tribe of Jammu and Kashmir, live in the Muslim dominated cold and hilly area of Kashmir during the summer, while in winter they migrate to the plains of Jammu, which is Hindu-dominated. These tribes are predominantly Muslim.

On 24 May, at least thirty people, including two women, five journalists and ten members of the Gujjar community were injured in clashes with forest officials in the Zhampatri area of South Kashmir’s Shopian district.

Among the injured, three people sustained serious injuries and were admitted to hospital. 

​The clashes erupted after the forest department officials started an eviction drive in the area; Gujjar members resisted it. 

“Forest officials are now trying to spread fear among the community, especially among women. Many of our community members received an eviction notice last year. But nobody can drive us out of these forests, they have been a home to us for ages and ages,” Showkat Shabir Choudhary, a Tribal Rights Activist told Sputnik.

“The forest department is clearly violating the rights of the forest dwellers. We demand the high court to intervene in the matter,” Choudhary said. 

What Do the Police Say? 

Police claimed that clashes broke out after Gujjar community members attacked them during the eviction drive. At least 15 officials received injuries during these clashes.

“Some locals have encroached upon the forest land, creating temporary fencing,” Muhammad Ayoub Sheikh, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Shopian said.

Sheikh accused Gujjar community members of encroaching upon government land for the past two years.

However, the tribes denied these charges and tribal activist Chaudhary underlined that it was only in March when 30 families settled in the Zhampatri forest. “Before that, they were in plains of Jammu,” Chaudhary added.

“Why did fifteen police, along with journalists, come to serve us an eviction notice? And why were only our people admitted to hospital?” Chaudhary said while countering the allegations made by police.

Who Are Gujjars and Bakerwals? 

Gujjars and Bakerwals, are a nomadic sub-tribe which moves from place to place seasonally in the mountainous pastures of Jammu and Kashmir along with their herds of goats, sheep and horses. According to the 2011 Census, they make up approximately 12 percent of the population of the Union Territory, approximately two million. 

Photo : Shared By Showkat Shabir Choudhary, Tribal Right Activist

A Gujjar family in Zhampatri, Shopian

The tribe of nomads mainly migrates to the region of Pir Panjal, Shopian, Rajouri, Chenab Valley, Kashmir Valley, and Kargil in Kashmir.

Gujjars mostly rear cattle and Bakerwals rear goat, sheep and horses for a living; both are scheduled tribes in India. Their main source of income comes from herding about a thousand goats, although some younger people have also started doing other daily wage works in cities.

Strategic Importance Of the Tribe 

“Undoubtedly these people have acted as the eyes and ears of the Indian Army,” Brigadier Rumel Dahiya (Retd), former Deputy Director-General at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses told Sputnik. 

“Be it the 1948 crisis or the 1999 Kargil war, Gujjars and Bakerwals has emerged as the trusted informant. But, over a period of time, the challenges posed by militancy are something else altogether, and the community has often been caught in the crossfire,” Dahiya said. 

The community take pride in being called the “backbone of the Indian Army for manning borders”. 

Back in 2003, around 300 militants took refuge in the shelters established by the Gujjar and Bakerwal communities in the Hillkaka area of the Pir Panjal range, in Poonch district. At the time, these militants held the indigenous community members as hostages. As a way to counter the militants, members of the Gujjar and Bakerwal communities who had managed to escape the hostage situation joined forces with security officials and led a Police Special Operation Group to the insurgent camps at an altitude of 11,000 ft.

“Operation Sarp Vinash lasted five months. Around 300 militants were hiding in shelters established in the inaccessible recesses of the Pir Panchal range. Over 60 militants were killed in the operation,” Dahiya added. 

Eviction Threat and Forest Right Act (2006) 

The tribal leaders and local media reports confirm that communities have received notices from the forest officials for 18 months, which classify their structures, whether permanent or mud houses, as being the illegal occupation of forest land.

In November last year, at least 15 temporary structures in the Pahalgam areas of Anantnag district were demolished by the forest department. The forest officials said that the land had been illegally occupied by these people.

Since the scrapping of Article 370, the Forest Right Act (FRA) 2006 got extended to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. 

​The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act gives them the rights to access, manage and govern forest lands and resources within village boundaries.

This act protects these tribes from forced displacement, and under this act, they also have grazing rights and access to water resources. 

Technically, the law should have been implemented in 2019, but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) administration delayed it. After a protest by state activists, it promised to implement the act in November 2020. Now, the act is implemented in the state, “but, only on paper. In reality, it has not yet safeguarded the rights of the Gujjar and Bakarwal communities,” tribal activist Chowdhary added. 

The BJP had cited the erstwhile semi-autonomous status of J&K as the main reason for the non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act. However, many state journalists and politicians believe that BJP doesn’t want to implement FRA 2006 in the Union Territory as they are acting against these nomadic people living in the forest. 

The government officials explained that eviction is being carried out “following a high court order”. 

In July 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court directed the government to refrain from encroachments into forest land. The region’s forestry department had stated in the court that 64,000 people have illegally occupied 17,704 hectares of forest land.

BJP Trying To Change Demography, Alleges Activist

Another tribal activist, Guftar Ahmed, alleged that BJP is trying to change the demography of the region by attacking the “most vulnerable people of society”. 

“Even the 24 May eviction drive was launched after a local BJP leader, Javid Ahmad Qadri, addressed a press conference in Shopian saying nomads have encroached upon the forest land,” Ahmad said. 

According to Ahmad, his tribe has become an eye in the storm of the BJP since 2018.  After an upper-caste Hindu murdered an eight-year-old Bakerwal girl in Kathua, a district in the Jammu division, right-wing activists had called for a social and economic boycott of these communities. 

Mohd Zulkarnain Chowdhary, a community activist and advocate by profession, also feels that BJP is trying to change the demography of the state before holding assembly elections. Even after implementing the Act, “they are saying nomads are illegal encroachers. No, those nomads belong to the tribal community of the state.” 

“The authorities are sending eviction notices selectively to the people of the Gujjar-Bakerwal tribal community. They just want us to settle in the Jammu plains, which is Hindu dominated area, which will also change the voting demography,”  Zulkarnain Chowdhary alleges.

The former chief minister of the region, Mehbooba Mufti, who had formed a government in alliance with the BJP in the past, said the eviction is part of an illegal process that started with the stripping of the region’s special status last August by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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Global Affairs

[Ticker] US to lift Covid travel-ban on EU tourists

Voice Of EU



Fully vaccinated travellers from the EU and the UK will be let back into the US from “early November” onward, the White House said on Monday, ending an 18-month ban and prompting airline firms’ shares to climb. “This new international travel system follows the science to keep Americans … safe,” a US spokesman said. The EU recently recommended increased restrictions on US visitors, amid anger at lack of US reciprocity.

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Ten women and girls killed every day in Mexico, Amnesty report says | Global development

Voice Of EU



At least 10 women and girls are murdered every day in Mexico, according to a new report that says victims’ families are often left to carry out their own homicide investigations.

The scathing report, released on Monday by Amnesty International, documents both the scale of the violence and the disturbing lack of interest on the part of Mexican authorities to prevent or solve the murders.

“Mexico is continuing to fail to fulfil its duty to investigate and, therefore, its duty to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity of the victims as well as to prevent violence against women,” says the report, Justice on Trial.

“Feminicidal violence and the failings in investigation and prevention in northern Mexico are not anecdotal, but rather form part of a broader reality in the country,” the report adds.

Femicide has been rife in Mexico for decades – most notoriously in an epidemic of murders which claimed the life of some 400 women in the border city Ciudad Juárez during the 1990s. In recent years, a growing feminist movement has held massive street protests against the violence, but authorities have proved unwilling to take action to stop the killing.

“It’s always a question of political will,” said Maricruz Ocampo, a women’s activist in the state of Querétaro.

Ocampo has been part of teams lobbying state governors to issue an alert when femicides reach scandalously high levels – a move to raise awareness and mobilise resources. But officials often resist such moves, she said, as governors worry about their states’ images and investment.

“They refuse to recognise there is a problem,” she said.

The president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has also downplayed the problem. He branded the women protesting on 8 March, International Women’s Day, as “conservatives” and alleged a dark hand manipulating the demonstrations.

When asked last year about rising violence against women, he responded, “Tell all the women of Mexico that they are protected and represented, that we’re doing everything possible to guarantee peace and quiet and that I understand that our adversaries are looking for ways to confront us.”

Mexico recorded the murders of 3,723 women in 2020. Some 940 of those murders were investigated as femicides.

The Amnesty report focused on Mexico state, a vast collection of gritty suburbs surrounding Mexico City on three sides. It has become notorious for femicides over the past decade – and for the way the former president, Enrique Peña Nieto, a former Mexico state governor, ignored the problem.

The report found cases of families carrying out their own detective work, which were ignored by investigators. In many cases, authorities contaminated crime scenes or mishandled evidence. They often did not even pursue leads such as geolocation information from victims’ mobile phones.

In the case of Julia Sosa, whose children believe she was killed by her partner, two daughters found her body buried on the suspect’s property – but had to wait hours for police to arrive and process the crime scene. One of her daughters recalled the subsequent interview process, in which “the police officer was falling asleep”.

Sosa’s partner hanged himself, prompting police to close the case, even though family members said there were more leads to pursue.

In states rife with drug cartel violence, activists say cases of femicides go uninvestigated as impunity is commonplace.

“The authorities say it’s organised crime and that’s it,” said Yolotzin Jaimes, a women’s rights campaigner in the southern state of Guerrero. “Many of these aggressors find protection under the excuse of organised crime.”

The persistence of femicides is a stark contrast to recent gains by the women’s movement in Mexico. The country’s supreme court decriminalised abortion earlier this month. A new congress recently sworn in has gender parity and seven female governors will be installed by the end of year – up from just two before last June’s election’s

The decriminalisation of abortion “let off some steam” from the pressure driving the protests “because part of the demands was over the right to choose,” Ocampo said. “But when it comes to violence, we still see it everywhere.”

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US official urges EU to speed up enlargement

Voice Of EU



Gabriel Escobar, the US’ newly-appointed acting deputy secretary of state for South Central Europe, has urged Europe to speed up Western Balkans enlargement. “To return 20 years later and see that there hasn’t been much progress on that front was a little disappointing,” he told the RFE/RL news agency Friday, referring to his last post in Europe in 2001. “We would like to see a more rapid integration,” he said.

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