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Nomad Girls: Those Who Wander And Lose Education

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

When the summer returns in the valley of Kashmir, so do the nomadic people with the flocks of sheep and goats. Laden on horses, the men and women from these nomadic tribal Gujjar and Bakarwal communities form an integral part of the social ecosystem of the state. Jammu and Kashmir have twelve official Schedules Tribes, out of which Gujjars are the most populous tribe forming 69.1% of the total ST population in the state.

They are the sheep and goat rearing transhumance tribals who move across high-altitude mountain passes and travel through different ranges of the Himalayas from alpine pastures (margs) to lower Siwalik ranges near Jammu plains to Greater-Himalayas of the Kashmir Valley. In Kashmir, these tribals pitch their tents alongside the roads, on open spaces or grounds, where they reside, usually during the summers.

Representational Image/ Picture by Shamsheer Hakla Poonchi

Catching Up With The Education Of Gujjar Girls

The condition of these people in Kashmir is quite regressive and backward, as compared to other divisions of Kashmir. According to the 2001 census, the overall literacy rate of the STs in Jammu & Kashmir is 37.5%, much lower than the national average of 47.1%. Moreover, male and female literacy rates in the state (48.2% and 25.5%, respectively) are again low as compared to the national level (59.2% and 34.8%).

Further disaggregation of data shows that the literacy rate of Gujjar males and females further falls to 31.3% and 20.4%, respectively, which makes them one of the least literate in the state. These people are mostly dependent flocks, and only a few have adopted agriculture as their means of livelihood.

Despite the fact that there is an adequate education system in Srinagar, the state of education among these people is quite disappointing. Due to their constant movement, a stable education becomes a challenge. Added to that is their inherent inclination towards adopting the profession of their forefathers, among other reasons.

Even though innovative ideas like mobile schools that move with them to ensure proper educational facilities for students, started by the Maharaja in Kashmir, Ladakh, and other parts of the state to educate nomad families’ children are instituted for them, however, they failed to work.

There is either a shortage of teaching staff in the Mobile Schools, or many mobile schools converted to stationary schools. The school dropout rate is highest among nomadic Gujjars and Bakerwal children as they leave their studies at the primary or middle level. Most of the parents in the community are not ready to send their kids to school owing to the migratory way of life and low tribal economy.

When it comes to the standing of girls in the Gujjar community, who are more in number than boys with a 1.2 million population according to the census, the situation is unsurprisingly not good. Women face a myriad of social issues such as extreme poverty, child labour, early marriage, and nomadic customs, bringing down the situation to dismal levels.

According to the Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, an NGO that works primarily to promote tribal communities, Gujjar tribal women and children live in indigence in Jammu and Kashmir due to neglect and lack of awareness about welfare schemes.

Moving schools were introduced for these nomadic tribes. Picture via

Dr Javed Rahi, a noted tribal researcher, informs us that the Gujjar-Bakerwal women are the worst sufferers, and they constitute 79.7% of the total ST women population of the state but are at the bottom with 82.2% of them illiterate, according to the 2011 census data. The foundation also reveals that very few girls from the Ajjhari and Manjhi sub-tribes of Gujjars were sent to school, and there is a very high dropout percentage due to compelling economic or domestic reasons and early marriages.
The community also lacks educational opportunities for Gujjar girl students.

Dr Rahi further states, “Only eight girl students could make it to the university this year for postgraduate studies. Furthermore, the facilities provided to the women in this community were inadequate. This can be understood from the fact that there is only one Government Gujjar Hostel for women in Jammu in the whole state for about 1.2 million Gujjar women.

However, the progress, even though small, can still be seen in this community. In August 2019, Irmim Shamim became the first Gujjar Girl from Kashmir To Enter MBBS in AIIMS. Irmim had to travel 10 kilometres to attend school. She belongs to a backward community and faced a lot of financial struggles. Rehana Bashir, who cleared IAS from Kashmir’s Poonch, became the first Gujjar IAS officer in 2019.

The author is a Kaksha Correspondent as a part of writers’ training program under Kaksha Crisis.

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