Bashir Hussain worries constantly for his five-year-old daughter Najma, ever since the horrific gang-rape and murder in Kathua. “What will I do if something happens to her? What happened to the eight-year-old Bakerwal girl could happen only because we have no rights over forests and pastures in this state. People can drive us away anytime,” Hussain says, watching over Najma as she plays in the pastures of Yousmarg. Also called the meadow of Jesus, it’s home to the nomads every summer.
Hussain’s family is among the hundreds of Bakerwal-Gujjar families who have recently completed their annual summer migration from Jammu to various high-altitude areas of Kashmir. They are the third largest ethnic group in Kashmir but the Kathua incident is symptomatic of the alienation they have faced over the last couple of decades. Followers of Sufi Islam, they’re ostracised in Hindu-dominated Jammu and looked down upon in Muslim-dominated Kashmir. Their nomadic way of life is under threat too, as access to open pastures shrinks every passing year.