Saleema Bano, 35, of Khokar in Samrala, married to driver Ghulam Hassan, has educated all her four daughters-Sultana, Rukhsana, Joona, and Mastana Bano-and a son, Muhammad Saleem. Fellow villager Hussan Bano, who belongs to Gandoh in Jammu and Kashmir originally and is wife of transport businessman Muhammad Yaqoob, also sent her two daughters, Nazia and Insha Parveen, and son, Muhammad Irshad, to school. Her family came out of nomadic life and made a home at the village in 1997. She said: “I don’t want my children to have my guilt of being uneducated.”
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They are not isolated nomadic women who never went to school but educated their children. Hussan’s daughter Nazia, goes to a private school and aspires to be a doctor. She said: “Mother has not studied but with father, she motivated my brother and me to join school. It is her dream that we get higher education and make it big in life. My parents led a hard life of nomads, of uprooting every few months and relocating with cattle. But since we are settled, it is easy for me to get education.”
More than 50 kilometres away at Khanpur Purkhali, nomadic woman Fakhran sits on a charpoy, teaching her two sons and a daughter, Reehana, who is in Class 3. She said: “Education is her passport to social respect.” Fakhran studied up to Class 12 and comes from a nomadic family of Himachal Pradesh. Her husband, Surmu, who tends a herd of 20 buffaloes, said: “My children don’t want to do this job, so we had to give nomadic life. Also, forest permits are harder to get now and so is moving through restricted areas.”
Surmu’s mother, Kaali, is illiterate but she put her daughter, Rajeena, in school, although she could study only up to Class IX. Gujjars are trying for a Scheduled Tribe status in Punjab like Jammu and Kashmir as well as Himachal Pradesh. Community leader Surmuddin, associated with the Congress in Dinanagar, said: “We tried out best in Punjab by the status remains due. Six days before the model code of conduct for the assembly elections was enforced, the Congress government announced Gujjar Bhalai board with Haji Sher Ali as chairman, vice-chairman from Ludhiana, and two members from Dinanagar, but it seems an election stunt.”
He said “Punjab never did any Gujjar census but our number is more than 3 lakh, of which 2-lakh-odd are settled in 10 districts (Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr, Malerkotla, Sangrur, Ludhiana, Tarn Taran, and Rupnagar) for 15 to 20 years. Also, 90% of our children study. My wife, Shalo, is illiterate but she looks after the education of our four daughters and a son.”
Board chairman Haji Sher Ali said: “Many of our children get into universities but don’t get jobs, scholarships, reservation, and other ST benefits in Punjab. They don’t want to be milkmen like their fathers, the input cost is too high. If our children get jobs and the families continue the milk business, the community can progress and be modernised.”
Researchers see multiple reasons behind Gujjar women’s educating their daughters. J&K’s founder secretary of tribal research and cultural foundation said: “Tribal cultures consider women equivalent to men and not a soft gender. It’s hard life of a nomad that shatters their hopes and dreams. Polygamy is common, and many wives have to rebuild their lives after being abandoned. It is tougher for uneducated women. Milk business can give them livelihood but no economic security. They want good pay, house, improved cattle, better clothes, and social status.”
The tribe takes those with mental illness as Pirs, seers who have a licence to beat up women. The joint family system suppresses their voice so there’s psychological pressure on them to get legal knowledge, so their daughter must study. School saves them from child marriage and group weddings. Good education brings good match, social security, and an end to the cycle of migration.”
Gujjars want ST status in Pb
Talib Hussain of Ropar’s Bela village, a private employee whose wife, Ilma, did BA-1, said: “Yes, the children of uneducated mothers also study but they don’t get jobs without a Scheduled Tribe (ST) quota in the state, so their parents are frustrated. Cattle rearing is tough, and while every other article is getting pricier, milk doesn’t fetch a good rate. The education rate of Gujjars is 70%, that too where nomadic population is 2,000-odd.”
In 2009, Punjab came out with a 350- page report based on a survey of the 12 communities, confirming that eight tribes—seven de-notified (excriminal) and Gujjars—fulfil the parameters of ‘tribe’ as the Union government and social anthropologists have laid down. Punjabi University researchers in Patiala found the living conditions of the Gujjars to be dismal compared with major Scheduled Caste communities such as Adharmis and Valmikis. To make matters worse, they had no reservation.
No nomad census
The 2011 census put the Gujjar and Bakkarwal population at 14.93 lakh in Jammu and Kashmir and 1.35 lakh in Himachal Pradesh. Since Punjab has no Scheduled Tribes, there’s no record or census for these nomads in the state.