There were no protests after the killings, but they have sent shockwaves through the Valley. Herdsmen said over a dozen horses were killed when the ‘trigger-happy’ driver of a security forces vehicle hit the animals in Frisal village in the Kulgam district in south Kashmir.
A speeding vehicle rammed into the livestock of nomads (Gujjars) who were on way from Pahalgam in the Valley to the Sunderbani area of the Rajouri district in Jammu in the wee hours of Monday morning. At least 13 horses were crushed and four more were injured. “At 3 am, an army vehicle stopped us when we reached Frisal village, after questioning us they let us go but they came again and rammed their Casper into the horses, which were walking lined in two rows on both sides of the road,” Reyaz Ahmad, one of the Bakerwal (nomads), who was part of the group, said.
Ahmad added that the vehicle allegedly repeated the act and its occupants then thrashed them before they fled from the scene. The incident has not gone down well with the Gujjar and Bakerwal communities that protested in Jammu city on Monday against the incident. Community members demanded inquiry into the incident and immediate compensation for the nomadic families.
Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation (TRCF), a frontal organisation of Gujjars, appealed to the law enforcement agencies and sent a memo to the Union defence minister Manohar Parrikar, Governor NN Vohra and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, demanding their immediate intervention, as migratory tribes were “facing tremendous hardships” due to various restrictions in curfew-bound areas in the Valley and other areas during the current course of migration towards the plains of Jammu and Kashmir.
Showkat Aijaz, district magistrate, Kulgam, said that after receiving complaints from the nomads, the police immediately lodged an FIR and started investigations. The army, however, denied its men were involved in the incident. “We are investigating the matter and once our investigation is complete, we will ascertain who was behind the killings of these animals. It is sad. These horses are their livelihood and they should not have lost them,” Aijaz told Firstpost.
The Gujjars are the third largest ethnic group, after Kashmiri-speaking Muslims and Dogra Hindus, in Jammu and Kashmir. Over the years they have emerged has a significant political entity and influence the winning prospect of at least 20 candidates in eight Assembly constituencies in the state.
“Normally these people (Gujjars) block the entire road for some time. Perhaps this infuriated the security forces and they crushed them after they came in their way. It was a gruesome sight when we arrived at the spot. Although there was no tension in the area, people were infuriated. Gujjar women were beating their chests because they have a deep attachment to their livestock,” a district official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Firstpost.
During this time of the year, Gujjars in Jammu and Kashmir migrate in large number 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 the Amarnath cave in Kashmir.
The Kashmir Police, after taking cognisance of the complain by nomads, have lodged an FIR number 109/2016 under section 297 of the RPC — against an “unidentified army vehicle”. Dr Javaid Rahi, a Gujjar scholar, said that he has appealed to various NGOs and government agencies to mobilise their resources to provide necessary logistical facilities to his community members so that “they are able to move smoothly towards their destinations without loss to their livestock and other property”.
The tragic incident took on political overtones with the Opposition National Conference accusing the security forces of “of giving vent to their anger and frustration on domestic animals of these nomads”.
“Their vehicles deliberately mowed down about a dozen horses for no rhyme or reason, exposing their hatred for the people of the state in general and the majority community in particular,” senior NC leader Shiekh Mustafa Kamal said.