November 24, 2008
KANGAN (KASHMIR): For Gujjar businessman from Delhi, 40-year-old Ashok Khatana, Kangan is particularly chilly this time due to early snowfall. But his devotion for the area’s most-respected Gujjar Sufi family and its scion Mian Altaf, National Conference nominee from Kangan, helps him fight the cold as he tirelessly campaigns to ensure Altaf’s win for the fourth consecutive time.
“I have been campaigning for Mian sahib since 1996. For Gujjars, kinship transcends communal barriers,” says Khatana as he sets up the public address system for Altaf’s rally at Wangat, about 60 km from Srinagar.
Altaf, confident about his fourth straight victory, says he has known Khatana since 1989 when they met in Delhi on the sidelines of a Gujjar Congress. “Since then, Gujjar Vikas Mach (GVM) has been sending men and material for my campaign,” says Altaf. “They send vehicles and other support systems.”
Khatana, a GVM functionary, says the social and political marginalisation of Gujjars is what keeps them together. “At a time when the nation is dangerously divided, communal amity among Gujjars is a lesson for all,” says Khatana adding that Muslim, Hindu and Sikh Gujjars have a long history of kinship. “Even during Partition, Hindu Gujjars protected their Muslim brothers and helped them stay back in Punjab.”
Altaf’s father and Padma Bhushan recipient Mian Bashir Ahmed is the spiritual leader of Muslim Gujjars of Jammu & Kashmir and credited with working for Gujjar uplift across India. “He is our sardar and a towering national leader for Gujjars,” says Khatana, a devout Hindu.
Gujjars in clusters across 11 states have collaborated for a long time. J&K Gujjars threw their weight behind the community’s demand for ST status in Rajasthan and organised dharnas and bandhs.
Says Jammu-based Gujjar scholar, Javied Rahi, “J&K Gujjars owe their ST status to their brothers across the country. We got the status in 1991 after Gujjar MPs and MLAs lobbied and mounted a delegation to the then PM Chandra Shekhar.”
When Muslim Gujjars came under attack in Jammu during the Amarnath land row, the country’s Gujjar leaders released a join statement seeking their protection, says Rahi.
Such is the camaraderie between Gujjars, Rahi points out, that in the last assembly elections in 2002, Congress candidate from Haveli-Poonch, Yashpal Sharma, roped in some Rajasthani Gujjars for campaigning and saw himself through. “They managed to convince local community that they should vote for Sharma in absence of a Muslim Gujjar,” he says.
Courtesy: The Times of India