MAKAAM – MAHILA KISAN ADHIKAAR MANCH

MAKAAM STATEMENT CONDEMNING KATHUA ATROCITIES – English

MAKAAM STATEMENT CONDEMNING THE ATROCITIES AGAINST, RAPE AND MURDER OF A MINOR GIRL FROM PASTORALIST BAKARWAL COMMUNITY IN KATHUA

AND

THE CONTINUING ATROCITIES AND FORCED DISPOSSESSION OF HER COMMUNITY,   AND AGAINST ALL SUCH ACTS THAT VIOLATE WOMEN’S BODIES AS SITES TO TERRORIZE MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES AND GRAB THEIR TRADITIONAL LANDS AND RESOURCES

MAKAAM[1] expresses grave anguish and outrage at the rape and atrocities perpetrated on the 8-year old minor girl of the Bakarwal community from Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir, as reports pour in of numerous other instances of sexual violence against minors in other cities, towns and villages. We also oppose the forced evictions of the Bakarwals -Gujjars from their customary territories by the J&K administration and condemn the atrocities committed against the community. The deliberate efforts at communalization and land grab forms the social and political backdrop of this heinous atrocity. 

 

The instance of violence against the minor girl in Kathua is not an isolated incident, but one among numerous others that bear evidence to the increasing incidence of rape and brutality against women and girls as sites for the assertion of increasingly masculinized caste- and religion-based patriarchies. In a context of exacerbating vulnerabilities of women, children, dalits, adivasis, minorities the increased resource grab across the country only serves to further worsen their situation. We condemn the marginalization, polarization and dispossession of marginalized minority pastoralist communities in Jammu and Kashmir and their denial of rights in their traditional territories where they have maintained their seasonal livelihoods.

 

Gendered Sexual Violence as an instrument of oppression

The atrocity, rape and murder of the 8 year old minor girl in Kathua brings to light the manner in which sexual violence against women and children is used as a tool to further subjugate marginalised communities. In this case, the brutalization of the minor girl is evidence of not only the grave physical insecurities within which Bakarwal women in J&K meet sustenance and livelihood needs in the context of communalization and violent dispossession from their traditional forest areas, but also exposes the perpetrators’ attempts to humiliate  the community by targeting its most vulnerable members.

 

While prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence against women and children is already fraught with challenges in a patriarchal society, the endorsement of violent and exclusionary politics and laws by the present government further compounds these challenges and offers impunity to dominant groups. In this case, these phenomena are evident in the rallies subsequent to the incident of rape and murder by some elements among the settled villagers and lawyers against the filing of the charge-sheet, preventing the community from burying the minor girl in their traditional burial grounds, as well as orders mandating eviction of Bakarwals from their customary forests and refusal to extend the Forest Rights Act to Jammu and Kashmir (details below)

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The J&K government has failed in its legal and constitutional duty to secure the life and liberty of the minor girl who  was marked by multiple marginalizations of  age, gender, religious and tribal identity, and her vulnerable situation compounded by sustained efforts to evict her community from their land,. Instead, the government was instrumental in magnifying her vulnerabilities by attempting to forcefully evict her family and community, jeopardizing their livelihood and way of life, and then failing to provide any form of redress for the sexual violence.

 

Instead of implementing the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) and the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee 2013, the central government has chosen to issue an ordinance, bypassing Parliamentary procedures, to introduce the death penalty in case of rapes of minors, further encouraging cycles of violence upon marginalized communities, despite studies that demonstrate the inefficacy of Death Penalty to curb such incidents of rape, and that a majority of those awarded the death penalty are themselves Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes revealing  a further reinforcement of the vicious cycle of oppression and discrimination.

 

Marginalised and threatened communities and livelihoods

MAKAAM views this heinous crime against the young girl as an aggression against the community and as part of systematic attempts to intimidate, terrorize and drive out the community in response to their growing assertion for forest rights and secure livelihoods, as is in evidence in other parts of the country as well where communities have staked claims to their traditional rights. The Bakarwals- Gujjars are traditionally pastoralist communities, who spend summer in the high altitude pastures of the Kashmir and Ladakh regions. In the winter, they move with their livestock to the Shivaliks and the plains of Jammu province. The community was classified as a Scheduled Tribe in 1991, and continues to remain largely marginalized owing to their nomadic lifestyles and general apathy of policy makers towards their rights and livelihoods. The appropriation of the customary lands of this tribal community by the state and some sections of the neighbouring communities on communal grounds is rendered evident by their refusal to allow the minor girl’s body to be buried on lands owned by her own family!

 

Owing to the non-recognition of the rights of the community to their customary forest lands, the Bakarwals continue to be viewed as ‘encroachers’ on the same forests where they have been practicing their traditional vocation for centuries, a fact expressly recognized by the Jammu and Kashmir government in 1975 through its executive orders in 1975. However, the control of the colonial-era forest bureaucracy continues to be legally and institutionally entrenched in the region, as the Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) does not extend to Jammu and Kashmir, denying traditional rights to the 27 lakh Bakharwal- Gujjar population. In other states in India, the FRA recognizes the authority of the Gram Sabha over Community Forest Resources (CFR) under sections S.3(1)(i) and S.5, and the historical rights of forest-dwelling communities to cultivable land, grazing pastures, minor forest produce under S.3, among others. In the neighbouring states of Himachal Pradesh, the seasonal rights of pastoralists is duly vested and recognized under S.3 (1)(d), FRA. The non-extension of FRA to J&K permits the forest bureaucracy and state administration to prevent the community from using forest land for grazing and restrict access to traditional migratory routes. Areas used by the Bakarwals-Gujjars for seasonal migration have also been cordoned off ,[2] rendering habitation, collection of forest produce and water, grazing and movement difficult and also criminalizing them in the eyes of the state. Other issues like infrastructure, development of tourist resorts and linear infrastructure projects on traditional grazing areas have also made pastoralism  difficult and risk-fraught  for the community, already enmeshed in the midst of the  other deeper issues that have plagued the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

 

Grazing restrictions and lack of access to grazing grounds implies that they have had to wander further off from camps and villages hitherto familiar to them, exposing them to unfamiliar terrains and having to establish new social relationships in an environment fraught with suspicion.[3] This has also created safety issues for women and children who are primarily responsible for tasks like collecting fodder and firewood, while also sometimes helping out with rounding off animals and collection of minor forest produce to augment family incomes.

 

In defence of their traditional way of life and to secure livelihoods, the community had recently begun to assert their rights to forests and resources, and called for an extension of the Forest Rights Act 2006[4] (FRA 2006) to J&K. We acknowledge that the implementation of the Forest Rights Act has been a long-standing demand of the Gujjar and Bakarwal associations in the state and join our voice in solidarity with these groups in demanding that the Act be extended to the state as  deemed appropriate and necessary within the context of Jammu and Kashmir, in order to secure the lives ,livelihoods and bodily safety of women pastoralists and their brethren and to allow them and other communities to live amicably in the practice of their traditional occupations in the region. We urge the government to take necessary steps to adopt the enactment of the FRA 2006 for the state ensuring that women’s rights to forests and to forest resources and to representation are secured to ensure them their livelihoods and traditional practices. We press for the issue to be taken up and settled to ensure justice urgently in the upcoming assembly session of the state

 

Communal fault lines and resource contestations

The circumstances described above are affecting the pastoral lifestyle of the community, and have led to many within the community preferring to lead a sedentary lifestyle, choosing to settle down in their villages around Jammu division and in some cases also buying land. This has led to resource contestations between the Bakarwal community and other resident villagers.[5] Since 2014, however, the situation has become increasingly tense, and the community has alleged that selective evictions and anti-encroachment drives against them have increased in the Jammu Division. They have also alleged incendiary speeches by the members of the ruling parties to incite violence against the community.[6] In this case the selective implementation of the order passed in 2015 by the Jammu Development Authority, authorising evictions of pastoralist/ nomadic and forest-dwelling communities from forest areas, has been used for further communalization and exacerbated local conflicts. Subsequently, several settlements belonging to Gujjar and Bakarwal nomadic tribal community were destroyed and the families evicted from their traditional migratory routes.[7] Incidents of desecration of religious structures of the community allegedly by the forest department, police department as well as the Jammu Development Authority for being situated on forest and ‘custodian property’ in the Jammu division have only aggravated the situation, and even led to the death of a Gujjar youth;[8] These same authorities  have also been unable to prevent the lynching of members of the Bakharwal- Gujjar community from communal mobs that attacked them on allegations of engaging in cow slaughter.[9]

 

In this context, where the security, lives and livelihood of the nomadic Bakarwal and Gujjar community are presently in great danger due to the polarization of the local communities, and in the absence of any policy to currently secure their rights of access and stay on forest and grazing land, we appreciate and register our support of the step taken by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir to  issuing a directive in February 2018, taking heed of the  crimes perpetrated, which states that no member of the nomadic communities will be evicted without prior approval of the Tribal Welfare Department of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.[10] We register our firm opposition to the demand that the order be withdrawn.[11]

 

We strongly condemn all forms of sexual violence against women and girls, as well as the attempts of the government, Lawyers’ Bar Association and vigilante groups of the majority population in the region to hinder constitutional access to relief and remedy. The non-extension of FRA to J&K, the eviction and dispossession of Bakarwals from their traditional homelands in a context of increasing communalization compounds the vulnerabilities of women and children to atrocities and violence. We stand in solidarity with the Bakarwal – Gujjar communities for their rights to sustain their pastoral nomadic lives and livelihoods and access to resources to sustain the same.

 

Our DEMANDS:

 

We call upon the J&K and central governments to:

  • Bring perpetrators of the heinous crime of rape and murder of the minor girl to justice.
  • Extend the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Forest Rights Act), 2006 to Jammu & Kashmir with full provisions for securing community and individual forest rights and rights to forest produce and to representation of women at least to the extent provided for in the FRA Act 2006.
  • Ensure continuance of directive of February 2018 until a policy is in place to safeguard rights of pastoralists.
  • Withdraw the Central Government Ordinance introducing death penalty for rape of girls below 12 years, and demand that the POCSO be duly implemented to address such crimes against minors.
  • The state government should enact a law to protect the rights and livelihoods of the Pastoralist communities.
  • Restore the Bakarwal- Gujjar community rights to their traditional livelihoods and ensure the security of their community and especially the girls and women as equal citizens.

Endorsed by MAKAAM MEMBERS

  1. Action India, Delhi
  2. Akole Tsuhah, NEN, Nagaland, National Facilitation Team (NFT) Member
  3. Alice Moris, Gujarat
  4. Anita Paul, Ranikhet, Uttarakhand
  5. Anurita Hazarika, Assam, NFT Member
  6. Archana Singh, Madhya Pradesh, NFT Member
  7. Ashalatha S, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, NFT Member
  8. Jyothi, CCC, Telangana
  9. Bhavna Rabari, Gujarat
  10. Bhavya Sharma, Gujarat
  11. Bhishakha Bhanja, Odisha
  12. Bimla Chandrasekaran, Ekta, Madurai, Tamil Nadu
  13. Chhaya Datar, Maharashtra
  14. Dinesh Pandya, Gujarat
  15. Dinesh Rabari, Gujarat
  16. Gnana Prakasam, CWS, Telangana
  17. Fatima Burnad, SRED, Tamil Nadu, NFT Member
  18. Geeta Gairola, Dehradun, Uttarakhand 
  19. Ginny Shrivastava, Rajasthan, NFT Member
  20. Govind Desai, Gujarat
  21. Govind Kelkar, Haryana
  22. Guliben Nayak, Devgadh Mahila Sangathan, Gujarat
  23. Hema Swaminathan, Bangalore
  24. Hiral Dave, Gujarat
  25. Jahnvi Andharia, Gujarat
  26. Jaya Iyer, KHAANA, Delhi
  27. Jeevika Shiv, ​G​ujarat
  28. Jyotsna Tirkey, Gujarat
  29. Sajaya, Telangana
  30. Kavita Gandhi, Maharashtra
  31. Kavitha Kuruganti, Bangalore, NFT Member
  32. Keerti, Bihar
  33. Sujatha, CCC, Telangana
  34. Mahila Samakhya Society, Kerala
  35. Malika Virdi, Maati, Munsiari, Uttarakhand 
  36. Meera Velayudhan, Gujarat
  37. Monisha Behal, Assam
  38. N Indira, Telangana
  39. Nafisa Barot, Gujarat
  40. Namrata Daniel, Delhi​
  41. ​Neerja Bhatnagar,
  42. Neeta Hardikar, Gujarat
  43. Neeta Pandya, Pastoral Women’s Alliance, Gujarat
  44. Nikita Sonavane, Gujarat
  45. Nupur, Centre for Social Justice, Gujarat 
  46. Pallavi Sobti Rajpal, Gujarat
  47. Ponnu Thai, Kalanjium Women Farmers’ Association
  48. Poonam Kathuria, Gujarat
  49. Pravin Bhikadiya, Gujarat
  50. Purabi Paul, Shramajivi Mahila Samity, Jharkhand
  51. Lakshmi, Telangana
  52. Swetha, CCC, Telangana
  53. Radhika Chitkara, Uttar Pradesh
  54. Ravi Kanneganti, Telangana Rythu JAC, Telangana
  55. Rengalakshmi, MSSRF, Tamil Nadu 
  56. Renu Thakur, Village Helpiya, Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand
  57. Richa Audichya, Janchetna Sansthan, Rajasthan
  58. Ritu Dewan, Centre for Development Research and Action, Mumbai, Maharashtra
  59. Rukmini Rao, Telangana, NFT Member
  60. Sabita Parida, Haryana
  61. Samatha Valluri, Telangana
  62. Samhita Barooah, Guwahati, Assam
  63. Sanghamitra Dubey, Odisha
  64. Sara Ahmed, Gujarat
  65. Seema Kulkarni, Maharashtra, NFT Member
  66. Sejal Dand, Gujarat, NFT Member
  67. Sejal Dave, Gujarat
  68. Sharanya Nayak,​ Humane Team, Odisha
  69. Sheelu Francis, Women's Collective, Tamil Nadu​ 
  70. Shilpa Vasavada, Gujarat, NFT Member
  71. Shubhada Deshmukh, Maharashtra
  72. Soma KP, New Delhi, NFT Member
  73. Sucharita, CWS, Telangana
  74. Sumi Krishna, Bangalore, Karnataka
  75. Sumitra Sharma, Himachal Pradesh
  76. Suneeta Dhar, Delhi​
  77. Sunita Rao, Vanastree, Sirsi, Karnataka
  78. Suvarna Damle, Prakriti, Maharashtra
  79. Ulka Mahajan, Sarvahara Jan andolan, Maharashtra 
  80. Usha Seethalakshmi, ​Andhra Pradesh and ​Telangana, NFT Member
  81. Vaishali Raj Patil, Mahila Atyachar Virodhi Manch, Maharashtra
  82. Varsha Ganguly, Gujarat
  83. Vasavi Kiro, former Member, State Commission for Women, Jharkhand
  84. Vimala Morthala, Telangana

 

Contact for queries:

Soma KP: 9811405539; Shubhada Deshmukh: 9420419828

shubhadadeshmukh1505@gmail.com; somakp@gmail.com ; radhika.chitkara@gmail.com

sonavane.nikita16_llm@apu.edu.in  

MAKAAM Secretariat: SOPPECOM, Pune 91 20 2546 5936

[1] MAKAAM-Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch - is a nationwide informal forum of individuals and organisations of women farmers, women farmers' collectives, civil society organisations, researchers and activists, drawn from 25 states of India, to secure recognition and rights for women farmers in India.www.makaam.in 

[2]Gupta, S. (2018).The micropolitics of Forest Use and Control.In. New Spaces for Cooperation and ConflictIn Contesting Conservation: Shahtoosh Trade and Forest Manangement in Jammu and Kashmir in India. Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research.Springer International Publishing.

[3] Id.

[4]Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Forest Rights Act), 2006

[5]https://scroll.in/article/875888/kathua-in-focus-slogans-and-outrage-must-not-wipe-out-the-specifics-of-the-crimehttps://scroll.in/article/869164/hindu-groups-rally-for-accused-in-a-muslim-childs-rape-and-murder-sparks-communal-tension-in-jammu

[6]https://scroll.in/article/872826/can-the-forest-rights-act-protect-tribal-communities-in-jammu-from-eviction;

https://scroll.in/article/853144/a-people-without-voice-why-gujjar-muslims-in-jammu-are-feeling-under-siege

[7]http://www.milligazette.com/news/12670-conspiracy-to-uproot-jammu-muslims;  

https://thewire.in/204966/madrassa-demolition-jammu-nomadic-communities/?utm_source=alsoread;

http://www.dnaindia.com/locality/srinagar/gujjar-bakarwal-community-threatens-countrywide-stir-against-forced-eviction-61822;

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/jk-gujjars-agitation-against-anti-encroachment-drive-continues-traffic-hit/

[8]https://scroll.in/article/853144/a-people-without-voice-why-gujjar-muslims-in-jammu-are-feeling-under-siege

[9]https://www.firstpost.com/india/gau-rakshaks-attack-gujjar-family-in-kashmir-outdated-laws-arent-helping-muslims-in-jammu-3402524.html;

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/the-walk-bakarwal-udhampur-cow-vigilantes-jammu-4654582/;

https://scroll.in/article/853144/a-people-without-voice-why-gujjar-muslims-in-jammu-are-feeling-under-siege

[10]http://indianexpress.com/article/india/jammu-and-kashmir-no-eviction-of-nomads-without-approval-of-tribal-affairs-dept-5090074/

[11] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/jk-govt-told-to-withdraw-tribal-directive-ram-madhav/articleshow/63763353.cms

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