Gujjars lose a visionary scholar

Dr. Javaid Rahi
Iqbal Azeem Chowdhary was a towering personality among Gujjars of Jammu and Kashmir. He left a long-lasting impression on the movement of Gojri language and Culture. His story of struggle is spread over five decades. His scholarly contributions have been admired broadly and his death is considered a great loss to the Gujjar community.
Iqbal Azeem, played a key role in structuring a movement of Gojri and worked extensively for recognition of literary merits of the language which have its own history spreading in the subcontinent. He was the central point of activities held in connection with acknowledgment of Gojri as an independent language in J&K. He led Gojri writers, poets, and scholars for a long time and kept alive the literary tradition of the Gujjar tribe
Azeem initially served as an announcer of the ‘Gojri Programme’ of Radio Srinagar station, aired first in 1969. He also worked for the development of the Gojri language in the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture, and Languages, for more than two decades.
He, with his hard work, for promotion and dissemination of Gojri language and culture, paved a way, that guided his generation to compete with other contemporary languages of Jammu and Kashmir including Kashmiri, Dogri, and Punjabi, with high merits of literary works.
For me, Iqbal Azeem Chowdhary was not only a senior colleague of mine but was a guide and a mentor, who shaped my mind and helped me a lot in my endeavors and successes. I worked with him for a decade, in 90s. As a subordinate, I learned a number of skills from him by observing his words and actions, closely.
Late Azeem was a well-read person. He was a very capable scholar, writer, editor, and lexicographer. His poetic spectrum is very extensive and the top singers of Jammu and Kashmir have sung his songs, ghazals, geets for Radio and private albums in Gojri.
On 11th of December 2021, he passed away at his residence Uddar, Babanagari village of tehsil Kangan of Ganderbal district, at 81.
He had been ailing for some years with long stints of hospitalization. His last couple of years were constricted in home.
Late Iqbal was the grandson of the most revered Gujjar Sufi Hazrat Baba Ji Sahib Larvi (RA) and cousin Padam Bhushan late Mian Bashir Ahmed and uncle of the former minister, Mian Altaf Ahmed.
Life and Education:
Born in March 1940, to Mian Mohammad Akbar Bajran , Iqbal Azeem Chowdhary belonged to Bajran clan of the Gujjar community of Jammu and Kashmir. Being a nomad, he received his middle standard education from Government Mobile School Lamberi Nowshera. For, high school Education, he joined Govt High School Kangan, Ganderbal. Later he joined Oriental College Srinagar for higher education and passed honours in Urdu and Persian with distinction from University of Kashmir.
Contributions to Gojri Literature
In his prolific career, Iqbal Azeem contributed around one dozen books to Gojri , Punjabi, and Urdu language . His first poetic collection in Gojri – ‘Raijh Kawalein’ was adjudged as best in State level competition organized by J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages in 1980.
His, other book titled “DHARTI KA ZAKHM” a collection of Gojri short stories has largely been appreciated in tribal literary circles . Iqbal’s Gojri poetic collection “PAYAAB” , Punjabi book “KULLI NI FAQEER DI WICHOON and Kuliyat e Iqbal Azeem have been largely recognized by the literary fraternity. His Kuliyat was published by the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, in 2017.
Contributions to Gojri language as a Lexicographer
As a researcher and a linguist of high repute, he was instrumental in compiling the first-ever Gojri-Gojri Monolingual Dictionary with his other colleagues including Ch Sarwari Kassana- Senior Editor Gojri, Ch Naseem Poonchi -Editor Gojri, Ch Gulab Din Tahir -Associate Editor Gojri, Ch Mohammad Mansha Khaki-Associate Editor Gojri during 1984 to 1990. The said Dictionary is comprises of six volumes wherein more than one lac Gojri words have been collected with their meanings with grammar and synonyms, in Gojri. He also authored a number of creative writings, research papers that highlighted various aspects of Gojri language. Late Azeem was a trained linguist from the Central Institute of Indian languages Mysore in Phonetics.
First Broadcaster of Gojri Programme
Iqbal Azeem was a well-known broadcaster. He was amongst the Gujjar-Bakerwal tribes who gave the first announcement in Gojri, in 1969 , from the Radio Kashmir Srinagar (Presently All India Radio Srinagar), later appointed as a regular announcer in Radio. During his service in Radio, he recorded, a number of Folk-Songs, interviewed top Tribal dignitaries, artists, poets besides contributed in preserving and documenting a great treasure of Gojri language and Culture.
Azeem was also a known commentator. He gave hours-long commentaries on Radio /TV on all the auspicious occasions like visits of dignitaries, vote counting day, oath ceremony of assembly others.
Later, he left Radio and joined Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages in 1980 where he served as Researcher, Editor cum cultural officer of Gojri section till his retirement from active service, in 2000.
Contributions as an Editor
As an editor, he has edited and compiled prestigious publications. He introduced a number of new title/ projects and initiated preservation of Gojri Folk-Tales, Gojri Folk Songs etc
During his 20 year service in the Academy, he has edited, compiled Maharo Adab (Gojri), Bi-monthly Sheeraza.(Gojri), SANJHA DUKHRA, GOJRI LOK KHANI, GOJRI LOK GEET,GOJRI KA LAL, GUJJAR AUR GOJRI in multi volumes including some special numbers such as Gojri Ghazal, Gojri Lok Adab number, Gojri nazam number etc published during 1980 to 2000.
In the early seventies, he served as editor of the monthly magazine ‘ Gujjjar Desh’ with Ch Sarwari Kassana and Ch. Naseem Poonchi and contributed a lot to Gojri language.
As an anchor of high repute, Azeem has conducted many stage programs, held at Srinagar in honour of Prime Ministers of India, Union Ministers, Governors, Chief Ministers, and other dignitaries.
Membership of learned societies
He was an expert on the subject matter of tribal Culture and had attended a number of assignments of the Ministry of Culture Government of India, New Delhi. He was a member of the National Jury of Sahitya Akademi New Delhi from 2002 onwards and an expert for a number of schemes operated by the Union Ministry of Culture. He remained a member of the State Advisory Board for the development of Gujjars and Bakerwals, in 70s.
Azeem was a founder of a Cultural NGO in Gojri namely ‘Adabi Sangat Kashmir (Rgd.). He also served as Secretary Anjuman Taraqi Gojri Adab, Lamberi Nowshera, Rajouri , Member of the editorial board for Textbooks by the J&K Board of School Education, Member of the Central Committee (2010-2015) Advisory Sub-committee for Gojri in the J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.
Awards and honours
Iqbal Azeem Choudhary was known for his extraordinary work in the field of Gujjar Culture and Gojri Language. He has been awarded by J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages in 1980 for his poetic collection in Gojri.
For his lifetime achievement, in the field of Gojri literature, he has been awarded by Doordarshan, All India Radio, and J&K Academy of Art, Culture and languages.
He was also awarded for his outstanding services and contribution towards Gojri language and Literature by the ‘Gurjardesh Charitable Trust’ , Jammu, Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, Jammu, Sarwari Kassana Memorial committee, and other literary and cultural organizations.
(The author is a tribal researcher)