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Published in the 16-31 May 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Economic divide sets in among Gujjars

By Luv Puri

The Milli Gazette Online

Surankote (Jammu): After having worked in Gulf for the last twenty five years, Qasim Mohammad Kassana has just come back from Saudi Arabia to his native place in the picturesque Surankote valley of Poonch district of J&K and is searching for a piece of land to construct a cemented dwelling for his family. But he finds to his amazement that the land prices here have increased ten times since he left this place. 

Multiple escalation of land prices in Surankote is an ongoing trend for the last two decades and this trend has not been affected by the militancy in the area. In fact till some time back it was known as one of the worst militancy hit areas of the state. 

A Kashmiri Gujjar prays at the shrine of Shadara Shrief at Thanna Mandi in Rajouri Distt

A Kashmiri Gujjar prays at the shrine of Shadara Shrief 
at Thanna Mandi in Rajouri Distt

Reason is the continuous economic migration of the Gujjars, a nomadic community to the Gulf countries. Like Surankote other Gujjar inhabited areas in the Rajouri-Poonch border belt of the state are witnessing an unnoticed escalation of land prices as the male members of the family return back to their land of birth with the hard earned money and thus compete with each other to buy land thereby escalating the land prices. The trend in the Gujjar inhabited areas close to the Line of Control is no different.For instance almost every household of Kalaban area of Mendhar tehsil has a single member of the family living in the gulf (nicknamed as Saudi Wallas) and the main reason for this economic migration is the fact that after 1947-48 the approach of the area towards the main cities of the country was cut off as the main and shorter road routes went to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. 

Locals say that in 1960’s for economic purposes, a trend started to migrate to Gulf countries mainly Saudi Arabia and the youth mainly enlisted themselves for doing labour jobs in factories or driving jobs and later they also shifted to economically rewarding business activity. Thus began a chapter of silent migration from here and this rate has further increased in the post 1990’s scenario which was principally due to the setting in of factor of insecurity of life near the Line of Control as infiltration increased from across and bloody encounters became more or less a norm here. Every year particularly during the summers season, the Gujjar male members who had gone to Gulf return to their native villages. The hard earned money is used by them to build a cemented dwelling for their family and consequently construction business at this time of the year witnesses a boom. This is despite the fact that every night these areas till recently had a curfew like situation due to security reasons. The situation in the Surankote, which had borne the main brunt of violence, is virtually no different. The land prices are escalating every day in the town or even in the villages like Marrah situated six kilometers from the motorable road.For instance a Marla of a land can only be bought by paying more than Rupees One Lakh (One Marla is equal to 270 Square feet) and these rates are not too different from the capital cities of the state. The sum is almost impossible to pay for the poverty stricken people of the area who remained here and whose main occupation remains cultivation of maize crop or doing labour jobs for the army. 

Seeing the craze of the Gujjar youth to go towards Gulf countries number of Mumbai based immigration companies have also opened up their outlets and are presently doing quick business. Irshad Malik, a travel agent says, “I have worked in other parts of the country but have not seen the kind of enthusiasm to go towards Gulf witnessed here.” Reasons are not hard to find. Gujjars of the area who lead a nomadic life style lead a hand to mouth existence and it is the only way to escape poverty and improve the living standard of the family. 

Migration of Gujjars is leaving its societal impact. For instance the economic boom in a section of the Gujjars has created a strange situation as it is leading to inequalities in the economic -societal set up. Irshad Deedar, a local youth who has preferred to stay says, “It is making difficult for us to sustain ourselves as now we have to compete with the Saudi wallas who have made a fortune for themselves.” Irshad has a point as every contractor who deals in the construction business wants to build a house for a Saudi Walla as he would get a better bargain, while they do not want to work for the locals who did not migrate. In this perplexing situation, a dualistic economic set up is being created with one section of society building palatial houses to live in with all the comforts, while the other remaining poor; except to the extent of spillover effect of the Gulf money earned by those who migrated to the Gulf economy. 

(This article is based on a study on Gujjar community of J&K under a National Foundation for India fellowship)

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