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Grim time for Gujjar kids
Tejinder Singh Sodhi
Tribune News Service

Jammu, November 13
A survey conducted by the Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, a national organisation working on Indian tribes with special focus on Gujjars, has presented a grim and pathetic picture of the children of nomadic Gujjars in the state.

According to the report of the survey, the Gujjar children are suffering from extreme poverty, child labour, early marriage and nomadic way of life and even bonded labour.

“Factors such as poverty, child labour, early marriage and nomadic way of life is spoiling the future if the children of the nomadic Gujjars residing in the most backward, hilly and border areas of Jammu and Kashmir,” says the report submitted by Dr Javaid Rahi, national secretary of the foundation that conducted the survey.

The report said out of 100 nomad Gujjar and Bakerwal families that were surveyed in Poonch, Rajouri, Baramulla and Kupwara districts of J&K, 74 per cent of Gujjar children aged between 7 and 15 were engaged in physical labour.

Speaking to The Tribune, Dr Javaid Rahi said, “The children are being exploited by members of their own community. Because of the low income they have been employed mostly as domestic help. We found that 93 per cent children work as domestic labour in the well-off families of their own community.”

He further said, “83 per cent of Gujjar children had never seen the doors of the school and only 17 per cent children were getting education in religious institutes.”

“As religious schools provide them free shelter and meals, Gujjars prefer to send their children to there,” said Dr Rahi.

According to the survey, the practice of bonded labour long abolished in the country was still prevalent in Gujjar communities.

“At least 17 per cent of children surveyed by us were working as bonded labourers as they inherited this from their forefathers who were also working as bonded labourers, known as Ajhrais amongst the Bakerwal Gujjars,” Dr Rahi said.

He added, “We found that children belonging to the nomadic Gujjar tribe were put to physical labour at a very early age and in 37 per cent of cases, no wages were given.”

He said the National Literacy Mission launched by the government of India in 1988 with the objective of all-round development of the poor of the poorest children of India had failed to provide literacy to the children of the Gujjar community.

“Education amongst the women of Gujjars is zero,” Rahi said. “The central sponsored "Balika Simridhi Yojna" does not apply to the tribal Gujjar female child and has added towards more backwardness among them.”

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