Role of Gujjars and Shias in Kashmir armed struggle
It is a common refrain among Indian politicians and intellectuals that pro freedom sentiment in Kashmir is restricted to a section of Sunni Muslims living in the valley. Some call it “Sunni” idea of Azadi. A journalist-friend, some time back, told me that, according to calculations in New Delhi, just 20 Assembly segments in valley had separatist influence. A similar perception is shared by a large section of the political and intellectual class in India which one could easily understand from TV debates and newspaper columns. Journalist Praveen Swami, during 2010 uprising, crossed all borders by calling it a ‘problem of a five police stations’ in Srinagar.
One does not know how this perception was gathered and who is its real author?
No study has ever been done by any credible researcher or institution to substantiate this assessment. Yet one finds people reveling in the belief that separatist sentiment is not shared by all ethnic, religious and regional identities in Jammu and Kashmir.
In their drawing rooms, and now in TV studios, they fragment Kashmiri identity into sections and subsections—Sunnis, Shias, Gujars, Paharis, Bakerwals and other sub-regional identities Jammu, Ladakh, Rajouri, Poonch, Doda, Kishtwar and live with a belief that their political aspirations are varying.
I am yet to make out whether this is what in Urdu is called Tajahul-e-Aarifanaa—feigned ignorance—on their part or genuine belief or complete ignorance.
Some years back, I and two other colleagues Ehsan fazili and Khursheed Wani, were invited to a function of ‘Gujjar and Shia representatives) called by Congress leader Avtar Singh Bhadana in a local hotel. The Congress leader told us that he had come to consolidate the Indian support base (Shias and Gujars) in Jammu and Kashmir. He introduced the wife and daughter of then senior Dooarshan official as representatives of valley Gujars. Another Sikh Doordarshan official was presented as a representative of Jammu Gujars. A Srinagar hotelier was introduced as Shia representative.
I knew personally all these “Shia” and “Gujjar” representatives. I was quite flabbergasted to see how people are made fool of.
It would not be going overboard to say that most of the people in India including politicians, intellectuals, media persons and academicians are clueless about Kashmir. And those who know, more particularly in the establishment, tend to live in the world of self-denial rather self-deception. Swallowing the bitter pill (of facts) about Kashmir causes them constipation.
It is a public matter known to every organ of the state as also central government that Gujjars and Paharis were the first to take up the gun against Indian rule in Kashmir in 1987-88. The Kashmiri youth from the valley mainland just followed the Gujjars.
A Gujjar, Nazimuddin alias Babar—resident of Bogna village in Keran on the line of control (LOC) is deemed as father of militancy in Kashmir.
Abdul Ahad Waza, one of the pioneers of militancy, sometime back, in an interview, told me that Nazimuddin formed different cells in Kupwara to send Kashmiri youth for arms training across the line of control (LOC). According to Waza, the first bomb blast that announced the arrival of militants in Kashmir on July 30, 1988, was carried out by Nazimuddin and his two other associates from ‘Azad Kashmir’.
All border agents, who used to guide Kashmiri youth across the line of control (LoC) for arms training were Gujjars and Paharis. The Gujjar villages along the LoC used to serve as transit camps for militants.
Dardpora, a Gujjar border village in Kupwara, served as the main transit camp of militants for years. Despite being surrounded by huge army camps, the village, once, had the largest number of militants. According to locals the village had over 300 militants. This is no secret that Uri, Karnah, Keran, Gurez, Poonch and Rajouri, areas which have majority of Gujjar and Pahari population, have been serving as gateways of militancy.
In the embryonic days of militancy when militant groups mushroomed in dozens, there were seven or eight militant groups which were dominated by Gujjar cadres. Gujjar Tigers was an exclusively Gujjar outfit. Allah Tigers drew majority of its cadres from the Gujjars of Ganderbal, Kangan and Bandipora.
Al Barq was the fourth largest militant group (After Hizbul Mujahideen, Al-Jihad and JKLF) operating in Kashmir. Over 80 percent of Al Barq cadres were Gujjars and Paharis of Kupwara, Baramullah, Beerwah, Keller and upper reaches of Shopian and Kulgam.
For its familiarity with the tracks and trails of border, the group was the main source of logistics for militants groups.
Yousuf Naseem alias Tajamul Islam, a Gujjar of Lar Ganderbal, was commander-in-chief of Al Barq. He is presently in Muzaffarabad, heading Mirwaiz-led faction of All Parties Hurriyat Conference. Amjad Khan, Amir Khan, Captain Rashid, Khusheed Chalkoo and Farooq Quraishi formed the frontline of militant commanders in mid-90s. They were all Gujjars.
Lashkar-e-Toiba, in initial days, operated as a unit of Al Barq.
Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Al-Jihad and JKLF too had their share of Gujjar cadres.
Hizb-ul-Mujahideen had an exclusive Gujjar regiment which used to operate in the upper reaches of Danew Kandi Marg (Kulgam) joining Gool, Gulabgarh, Reasi, Udhampur, Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu. The group was known as Pirpanjal regiment. Hizb had a large number of Gujjar and Paharis in its cadres in Doda, Kishtwar, Banihal, Ramban, Bhadarwah and other areas of Jammu.
The gujjar mainland of Uri and Karnah, despite garrisoned by army from all sides, have never hid their political affinity with the Kashmiri speaking valley people. They showed it at every crucial moment—1990, 2008, 2010 and 2016 street rebellion. So have the people of Rajouri, Poonch, Kishtwar, Banihal, Doda and Bhadarwah. They have suffered much more than the valley people throughout the years of armed struggle.
The story of Shias is no different.
The prominent Shia leader Molvi Abbas Ansari is known as one of the senior-most pro-freedom leaders in Kashmir who has been espousing the cause of “azadi” since the days of Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah. Beside Qari saifuddin (late) of Jamaat-e-Islami, he was the only leader to have challenged Shaikh Abdullah for changing his stand during Peoples’ Convention in 1967. Shaikh Abdullah, till then, was championing the cause of plebiscite. He indicated his change of mind and position vis-à-vis Kashmir, for the first time, in that convention, which provoked serious resentment from Qari Saifuddin and Molvi Abbas. Both, Molvi Abbas and Qari Saifuddin were forced to leave the convention for opposing Abdullah.
During 1965 India-Pakistan war Shias provided hideouts, shelter and food to hundreds of “Pakistani Mujahideen” in Budgam and Beerwah areas.
Hizbul Moomineen and Paasbaan-e-Islam were two exclusively Shia militant outfits fighting security forces in 1990s. Around 400 activists of the two outfits died while fighting security forces. Hizbul Moomineen, though inactive presently, still has its command system intact and Usman, currently based in Muzaffarabad, is its chief commander. The group is a constituent of militant platform United Jihad Council.
Tipo Sultan (Sonawari), Aarif Hussain (Higam Sopore), Ali Theka alias Abu Qasim (Gund Khwaja) and Hyder Ali (Newa) included among top Shia militant commanders. Qurban Ali, another prominent Shia guerilla, was district commander of Al-Jihad. JKLF too had a number of Shia militants in its cadres. Shamsher Khan, a Pakistani Shia, acted as divisional commander of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen’s Jammu regions for over two years. Shamsher Khan was a key figure in introducing militancy in Jammu region.
Over the years the number of militants has gone down, and their presence in towns and cities has thinned but this is not true about Gujjar dominated valley highlands. Whatever residual militancy (though it has numerically picked up in the past two years), it still exists in Gujjar and Pahari belts of Shopian, Tral, Kupwara, Baramullah, Pulwama in Kashmir and Rajouri, Poonch, Doda, Kishtwar and Udhampur in Jammu region. The militants still find shelter and support in these areas.
The Gujjar population, as per Census 2011, was around 9.8 lakh while the Bakarwals, a related community, numbered 1.1 lakh. Both are almost entirely Muslim. A study of the 2011 Census data by the Centre for Policy Studies shows that the population of Gujjars and Bakarwals had grown by about 33% over the previous decade, much higher than the state’s average growth of 23.6%.
In 2008 during Gujjar agitation in Rajsthan, attempts were made to project the community as a part of larger Indian mainstream when a section of them were prompted to hit streets in support of Rajasthan Gujjars. Some 3000 Gujjars under the banner of United Gujjar Front took out a protest march in Jammu city in support of Rajasthan Gujjars. Attempts were also then made to form an alliance of Gujjars of Jammu and Himachal as well. But for the inherent contradictions, the move crashed before it could take off.
Today, Gujjars are the most unwanted people in Jammu. Under the growing Hindutwa assertiveness, they are increasingly being harassed which peaked early this year when an 8-year old Gujjar girl was allegedly kidnapped, kept captive in a temple, gang-raped for days and later killed in Kathua. This, however, has helped them awaken their Muslim identity and connect with the valley politically and emotionally.
The impact of hartal calls issued by Hurriyat Conference, of and on, in Chinab valley is a tell-tale story of Gujjars’ proximity with Kashmir.
Nothing can be more a brute lie than saying that Gujjars, Paharis and Shias do not share political aspirations with the people of the valley.
(This an updated version of the article originally written for the Honour magazine which was later published by Kashmir Monitor also. Photo–representational image)