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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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‘We just sleep and hope we don’t perish’: 2m in Tigray in urgent need of food – UN | Hunger

Voice Of EU



At least 2 million people in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray are suffering from an extreme lack of food, with the 15-month conflict between rebel and government forces pushing families to the brink, the UN’s emergency food agency has found.

In the first comprehensive assessment the World Food Programme (WFP) has carried out in Tigray since the start of the war, 37% of the population were found to be severely food insecure, meaning they had at times run out of food and gone a day or more without eating.

Families were found to be “exhausting all means to feed themselves”, with 13% of Tigrayan children under five and almost two-thirds of pregnant and breastfeeding women suffering from malnutrition.

“Before the conflict we were eating three times a day but now even once a day is difficult. I was borrowing food from my family but now they have run out. We just sleep and hope we do not perish,” Kiros, a single mother of six children living on the outskirts of the region’s capital, Mekelle, told researchers.

The assessment, which was based on face-to-face interviews with 980 households in accessible parts of Tigray, was carried out from mid-November until mid-December.

However, researchers were unable to travel to areas where fighting is impeding humanitarian access. Moreover, since the assessment was carried out, the needs of the region are thought to have become even more acute as no aid convoy has reached Tigray for about six weeks.

“This bleak assessment reconfirms that what the people of northern Ethiopia need is scaled up humanitarian assistance, and they need it now,” said Michael Dunford, WFP’s regional director for eastern Africa.

“WFP is doing all it can to ensure our convoys with food and medicines make it through the frontlines. But if hostilities persist, we need all the parties to the conflict to agree to a humanitarian pause and formally agreed transport corridors, so that supplies can reach the millions besieged by hunger.”

Across northern Ethiopia, where fighting has raged in the regions of Afar and Amhara as well as Tigray, WFP estimates that 9 million people are in need of humanitarian food assistance, the highest number yet.

In Amhara, hunger has more than doubled in five months, it says. In Afar, where fighting has intensified in recent days between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and forces loyal to the prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, recent health screening data showed malnutrition rates for children under five were at 28%, far above the standard emergency threshold of 15%.

Since the conflict erupted in November 2020, it has been difficult for the UN and other humanitarian organisations to gauge the level of need in Tigray due to a lack of on-the-ground access and telecommunications. The UN has accused the federal government of preventing food and essential medical supplies from coming into the region in a de-facto blockade. The government denies this.

On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had made its first delivery of medical supplies to Mekelle since last September. The drugs are understood to have included enough insulin supplies to last about a month, after medics at the Ayder referral hospital raised the alarm over severe shortages.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization, recently accused Abiy’s government of imposing a “hell” on Tigray by denying entry to medical supplies.

“It is a huge relief that this first shipment is reaching hospitals,” said Apollo Barasa, health coordinator at the ICRC delegation in Ethiopia. “This assistance is a lifeline for thousands of people, and I can’t emphasise enough how crucial it is that these deliveries continue.”

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Asylum applications on rise in EU

Voice Of EU



The EU Agency for Asylum on Friday said the number of asylum applications in November 2021 was the second-highest in five years, narrowly below the level in September. About 71,400 applications for international protection were lodged in the “EU+” (EU, plus Norway and Switzerland) in November 2021, up by nine percent from October. “This was the second-highest level since 2016,” it said.

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Protests flare across Poland after death of young mother denied an abortion | Abortion

Voice Of EU



Protests are under way across Poland after the death of a 37-year-old woman this week who was refused an abortion, a year since the country introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

On the streets of Warsaw on Tuesday night, protesters laid wreaths and lanterns in memory of Agnieszka T, who died earlier that day. She was pregnant with twins when one of the foetus’ heartbeat stopped and doctors refused to carry out an abortion. In a statement, her family accused the government of having “blood on its hands”. Further protests are planned in Częstochowa, the city in southern Poland where the mother-of-three was from.

“We continue to protest so that no one else will die,” Marta Lempart, organiser of the protests, told Polish media. “The Polish abortion ban kills. Another person has died because the necessary medical procedure was not carried out on time.” All-Poland Women’s Strike has called on people across the country to picket the offices of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and organise road blockades in the coming days.

Agnieszka was first admitted to the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital in Częstochowa with abdominal pain on 21 December. She is said to have been in the first trimester of a twin pregnancy when she arrived and was in “a good physical and mental shape”, according to her family, who said her condition then deteriorated.

On 21 December the heartbeat of one of the twins stopped and, according to Agnieszka’s family, the doctors refused to remove it, quoting the current abortion legislation. They waited several days until the second foetus also died. A further two days passed before the pregnancy was terminated on 31 December, according to the family.

A priest was then summoned by hospital staff to perform a funeral for the twins, the family said.

The family say that the doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy earlier, citing Poland’s abortion legislation. “Her husband begged the doctors to save his wife, even at the cost of the pregnancy,” Agnieszka’s twin sister, Wioletta Paciepnik, said on Tuesday.

After the termination, Agnieszka was moved from the gynaecological ward and her health continued to deteriorate. Her family suspect that she died of sepsis but the cause of death was not identified in a statement released by the hospital.

Shortly after her death, a statement by her family accusing the hospital of neglect was published on Facebook, alongside a distressing video of Agnieszka’s last days.

Agnieszka’s death marks the first anniversary of the 2021 ruling that declared abortion due to foetal abnormalities illegal. Abortion can now only be carried out in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life and health are in danger.

Her death comes after that of a woman known as Izabela last September, who died after being denied medical intervention when her waters broke in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. Her family claim the 30-year-old was refused an abortion or caesarean section and that the hospital cited the country’s abortion laws. An investigation found that “medical malpractice” led to Izabela’s death and the hospital was fined. Soon after, an anonymous man from Świdnica in south-west Poland came forward to share that his wife, Ania, died in similar circumstances in June last year.

While “selective abortion” is possible in the case of a twin pregnancy, it is unclear whether aborting an unviable foetus to save its healthy twin is permitted by the new abortion legislation. The Polish court has not referenced the questions raised by this situation, presented by opposition senators last year, in the new legislation.

“We want to honour the memory of my beloved sister and save other women in Poland from a similar fate,” Paciepnik said in a video appeal. The case is now being investigated by the regional prosecutors in Katowice, who also investigated the case of Izabela.

The family are represented by Kamila Ferenc, from the Federation for Women and Family Planning, who confirmed that an autopsy of Agnieszka’s body has been ordered by the court.

According to a statement from the hospital, Agnieszka tested positive for Covid before her death, although she tested negative twice when first admitted. “We stress that the hospital staff did all the necessary actions to save the patient,” the statement read. The hospital did not respond to the Guardian for a request for comment.

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