June 2004 News

Gujjars undaunted

28 June 2004
The Hindu
Our Staff Reporter

Baffliaz: Though the killing of Gujjars in Surankote may have come as a temporary setback to counter-militancy operations, members of Village Defence Committees (VDC) in the neighbouring areas have shown no signs of panic. The killings have instead underscored the need for the community to be doubly cautious as it is in the hit list of the militants. The VDCs at Baffliaz, not far away Surankote, too have played an active role in containing militancy. 'Nowhere to go' The nomadic Gujjar tribes in the remote Pir Panjal region of Jammu and Kashmir always had a twin battle to fight: livelihood and safety. Saturday's killings hence did not surprise the community leaders as the militants always described them as 'informers.' Many community leaders had been eliminated in the past by militants on mere suspicion. After facing the militants' ire for ages, the Gujjars last year dared to form Village Defence Committees. The fear of being eliminated started disappearing, at least in the lower areas in the winters. But come summer, the Gujjars need green meadows for their cattle. Despite strict instructions, they 'go to the highlands,' as a senior Army officer of 29 Rashtriya Rifles puts it, knowing full well that the militants would not spare them. On many occasions, Army officers pushed the Gujjars back when they were on their way to the highlands. Two clans of the Gujjar community which took the risk and went up the hill gave the militants the opportunity they were waiting for. Mohammad Aslam, who lost his 14-year-old son in the weekend attack, says: 'Yes, they told us not to venture up. But what is the alternative? We would have died anyway (of hunger).' Fazal Ahmed, a VDC member said: 'We have no option but to defend ourselves, and the martyrdom of people who were killed would never be forgotten. In this fight against militancy, we have to be prepared for the worst.' The fact that the militants are now coming in dozens to attack the VDCs has only stressed the need to be together. Mohammad Hussien, who has himself braved the onslaught of the militants several times says: 'We cannot think of migration. We have to live and die here.


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