Untouchables of Jammu and Kashmir- Struggle for Integration

By Samreen Tak, Edited By Adam Rizvi: Popularly called to be ‘heaven on earth’, surrounded by beautiful landscape, picturesque topography and wonderful people known for their hospitable nature. Valley of Kashmir comes to our mind instantly when somebody talks about paradise, beauty, lakes, snow and the list goes on. There is no doubt on all these affirmations and hospitality of its people. In ancient historical and religious texts Kashmir was called to be ‘Valley of Saints’ for numerous saints took birth in this land. One can find the diversity in each and every corner of the land, be it the diverse population or culture.

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This diverse community and rich culture is not devoid of stereotypes and biases. Like every modern day society, stratified into various groups based on class, caste, ethnicity, religion -Kashmiri society is no exception. The biggest and most prevalent prejudice which is not only highly common but also least talked about; is the prejudices against

Gujjar Bakerwal community of the valley. Stereotypical behaviour against this community has been normalized since decades now. Gujjar Bakerwal community is the third largest ethnic community of the India and 34 lakh are living in Jammu and Kashmir.

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Their livelihood depends on rearing sheep and goats which altogether distinguishes them from rest of the population. Having different culture, language, lifestyle makes them different. Social discrimination and stereotyping against this community has been normalized ranges from calling somebody ‘Gujjar’ literally means calling the person illiterate, idiot and backward. Common phrases and slangs against them are used widely in daily conversations. All this because of the fact that they speak different dialect, wear different, rear cattle and live in mountains.

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These people have become easy targets of abuse, mockery. Language being an important element of any culture, if faces prejudices from majority population not only devalues the society but also plays great role in its disintegration.

Giving people their due share of respect and value is what every religion
teaches us. We talk about inequality, inclusion at big platforms of wide
reputation but we forget to talk about these small everyday normalized insults and discrimination. Involving people in developmental processes in any society requires social solidarity, unfortunately this solidarity is often evaluated from the lens of majority only.

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Inclusion and Equality at global level will surely take time but starting at grass root level with these smaller perspectives is what needs to be done immediately.

We talk about assimilation of tribal people in mainstream societies with broader vision involving policy makers and governments but we ignore how small amendments can bring the big change in our societies, right from our own social settings.

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Breaking the decade old cycle of slang, stereotypes can definitely help us bringing the bigger picture of equality into reality. These people if lack education but equally qualify for being humans and that right of being humans could only be safeguarded when we treat them as fellow beings. Coexistence and inclusion could never be achieved if our work focuses on seclusion and discrimination.

Talking from sociological perspective, this habitual behaviour of majority
community provides the solid base of Marginalization of that particular section of people.

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All this does not occur straight away but takes years of build-up discrimination, social exclusion, biased nature, prejudices. Undoubtedly, this could be called as process and like any other process, it takes time and eventually forms the shape of Marginalization. This marginalization of certain people bring hatred amongst people and social seclusion or disintegration. Peaceful coexistence requires dismantling of all the stereotypical behaviour and discrimination. Gujjar Bakerwal community has been facing social exclusion in every aspect of life, they are at the receiving end of social strata where they are hardly even recognized, these people are subject are ethnic slangs and highly
lack exposure.

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This community has equally been suffering from political
turmoil let alone be its marginalization. Being the equal partner into all this, I being Kashmiri share the guilt too nevertheless I believe it’s high time to ponder upon such crucial social issues and pledge to become conscious responsible social beings where we could dream of establishing egalitarian inclusive society.

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Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai

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Samreen Tak

Samreen Tak

Samreen Tak has done Master's in Sociology from Aligarh Muslim University, Ex Youth Advisor for YuWaah UNICEF India and Young People’s Action Team member 2022-2023. Worked as Referral Support Coordinator cum counselor for UNICEF project and Intern Journalist for The Kashmiriyat.

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