The tribal communities, which comprise 11 percent of the total population of Jammu and Kashmir have been hit the hardest by the demonetisation drive announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently. Most of the tribal community of Gujjar and Barkerwals live in the higher reaches and far-flung areas of the state, which remain cut off from the mainland for almost six months during winters.
Javaid Rahi, Chairperson of Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, an NGO, which works for the welfare of the tribal population of the state, said 90 percent of the tribal people, out of the 14.95 lakh population, are uneducated, and only 10 percent of the people have bank accounts.
According to a survey conducted by Rahi's organisation, last year, all the transactions are on cash payments basis done by the community members throughout the state.
“Their lives are completely dependent on a cash economy. They don’t have any idea at least 90 percent of them have never used one. For example, if a Gujjar sells his 10 buffaloes, it means at least eight lakh rupees, but he is not going to deposit that money in banks. Instead, he will keep that money in cash wherever he goes,” Rahi said.
“Our people are nomads and they go from one place to another with their stock. And even those who have bank accounts live in mountains and higher areas, which are cut from the mainland for six months. Most of them would be having no idea about government decision,” Rahi told Firstpost on phone.
In Poonch and Rajouri districts of Jammu region at least 131 villages still lack the proper road connectivity, were most of the tribals live these days, leave aside the concept of banking.
“What about those people. Till the time you don’t tell them in their own language, they will not even agree to change the notes of 500 and 1000. The central government should have immediately deployed people to inform these people. The loss is going to be heavy for these people,” he added.
The government has set a deadline of 30 December for changing the higher denomination currency notes, but Rahi says, up to the time majority of his community members will come down to the plains, it will be too late. They will be hit hard by the decision because majority of them have no bank accounts.
“Our people will be worst affected by this decision,” Rahi added.
The Gujjars and Barkerwals are the third largest ethnic group, after Kashmiri-speaking Muslims and Dogra Hindus, in Jammu and Kashmir. Over the years they have emerged as a significant political entity and influence the winning prospect of at least 20 candidates in eight Assembly constituencies in the state.
A sizeable chunk of the community members migrate in September to the plains of the Jammu region after spending summers letting their livestock graze on the pastures in the valley. They arrive in April and return in October or November. Many of them come with horses and mules and earn a livelihood by ferrying pilgrims to Amarnath in Kashmir.
But, according to Rahi, 60 percent of the population lives in higher areas who remain disconnected for six months from the mainland.
Minister for Animal, Sheep Husbandry and Fisheries, Abdul Gani Kohli, the only Muslim candidate who won on a BJP ticket from Kalakote Assembly seat of Rajouri district, said the issue of the tribal population getting affected by the demonetisation drive is already under consideration.
Kohli who recently met Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a delegation of Gujjar (tribals) from Jammu and Kashmir to apprise him about their underdevelopment said that he would try to seek information from agencies concerned about how to inform the tribal communities of the state.
“I assure you I will try to do whatever I can because they are my people and I have won because of them. I know they won’t understand the government's decision easily but they will have to be informed,” Kohli said.