While campaigning for candidates of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Jammu Division’s Rajouri district, former minister Priya Sethi of the BJP asserted that the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A had ensured the political empowerment of the Gujjar, Bakarwal, and other Scheduled Tribes in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Ironically, this statement was made just weeks after the J-K administration demolished temporary shelters of the tribal community in south Kashmir’s Pahalgam area, besides issuing notices for the evacuation of such Shelters and lands across the Kashmir and Jammu divisions.
At the center stage of this controversy is the non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act of 2006, whose provisions ensure the right to shelter in forests and the use of forest products except timber. For more than a decade, the central law — that was a long pending demand of the Gujjar activists — was not extended to J-K by the erstwhile state assembly dominated by Kashmiri unionists. In our latest podcast, Sarwat Javaid speaks to Zahid Parwaz Choudhary, a tribal rights activist, and Raja Muzaffar Bhat, an information transparency activist, about the predicaments of the tribal community and other forest dwellers.