Lassanvi – The Gujjar Gandhi of J&K

Javaid Rahi
Chowdhary Ghulam Hussain Lassanvi , popularly known as ‘Gujjar Gandhi’ was a renowned tribal leader, social reformer and legislator. He worked selflessly for more than five decades for the socio-political empowerment of nomadic Gujjars -Bakarwals and other suppressed classes of society of Jammu and Kashmir. He was the founder President of Jammu and Kashmir Gujjar-Jat Conference -a social organization established in 1931 under the patronship of Hazrat Mian Nizam ud Din Larvi (RA) a saint-scholar of renown. Later the organisation was converted into a political party in Jammu and Kashmir.
Though Choudhary Lassanvi was not an active follower of Mahatama Gandhi but because of his dedication for his ethnic tribe, and his truthfulness and simplicity, people often called him ‘Gujjar Ghandi’. He lived Gandhi Ji’s principles and fought against discrimination, poverty and illiteracy and struggled through peaceful means to empower Gujjars.
Life & Legacy
Ch. Ghulam Hussain Lassanvi was born in 1889 to Ghulam Mohammad who belonged to a tribal Gujjar Kohli family in village Lassana, Surankote, situated on Jammu- Poonch road, around 20 kilometers from Poonch town. His father was a headman and Nambardar of the village.
The word ‘Lassanvi’ suffixed to his name indicated his being a resident of ‘Lassana’, which he had taken from his village name Lassana.
He had an ideal childhood but later he encountered many challenges as his father passed away. At a very young age he was appointed a Numderdar of the village Lassana. Later he was mentored by his maternal uncle Haji Buland Chowdhary who was a known figure of Poonch area, and obtained informal education in Arabic, Urdu and Persian from local teachers.
He was also a follower of prominent Gujjar saints of Kashmir, Hazrat Babaji Mian Abdullah Larvi (RA) and Hazrat Mian Nizam-ud Din Larvi (RA).
In 1941 at the age of 52, he was honored by the Gujjar community in an All India Conference of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh Gujjars held at Hoshiarpur, Punjab, where he was formally declared ‘Gujjar Gandhi’ for his peacful struggle to empower Gujjars of Jammu and Kashmir, in presence of a huge gathering.
Choudhary Lassanvi fought two elections against the candidates of Muslim Conference before independence from Poonch district on the ticket of Gujjar-Jat Conference. After independence, he was nominated to Legislative Council Jammu and Kashmir as a member, in 1956.
He died in April 1961 at the age of 72.
His son Chowdhary Mohammad Aslam was a six-time legislator from Surnkote Poonch and also served as a Cabinet Minister, Speaker of J&K Assembly and Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha Member for many years. The grandson of late Lassanvi, Ch. Mohammad Akram was also elected to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly in 2014.
Work and Contribution
The tribal Gujjar and Bakkarwal communities have always been identity-conscious, with passion to retain ethnic features keep it their community. The Gujjar-Jat movements were motivated by some revolutionary ideas based on reformations of society. Late Lassanvi took a stand against the exploitative and discriminatory practices of the feudal system during the pre-independance period. Some of the manifestations of this system he took on included the following:
The Jagirdari System
The ‘Jagirdari System’ which was a feudal land-based system that existed in pre-Independence times had adversely impacted Gujjars and Bakerwals. Under this system, no land was given to Gujjars in Jammu and Kashmir and they were registered as herders/pastoralist. As per routine, only agriculture classes of that time were entitled to own agricultural lands. Late Lassanvi fought against this categorization and with his struggle some of the Gujjars were declared Agro-Pastoral community and a few were granted land also.
Fight against Illiteracy
Illiteracy among nomadic tribes in Jammu and Kashmir was a big issue before independence. Due to their migratory lifestyle, and habitation in hilly areas, Gujjar Bakerwal community was facing numerous challenges in accessing formal education. Lack of proper infrastructure, schools and teachers in remote areas had hampered the education of tribal Gujjars. He, with the help of locals started Makatabs to provide basic education to nomadic tribes who were struggling to educate their children. Further, under the banner of Gujjar Jat Conference, scholarships were granted to meritorious students.
Eradication of Poverty
Poverty was also a challenge of early decades of 20th century. The Gujjars and Bakkarwals were facing severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, decent clothing, safe drinking water, health care, land and shelter, besides education.
They were also confronting the issues like lack of income and productive resources, homelessness, inadequate housing facilities, unsafe environment and social exclusion and discrimination.
A number of marginalized groups were facing starvation. In order to provide them food, late Gujjar Gandhi worked on the concept of a ‘Food Bank’ called ‘Galla Bank’ in Poonch Rajouri. Initially, it was started in Rajouri by Ch Dewani Ali Khatana, another leader of Gujjar- Jat Conference and was later expanded to entire localities.
Minimizing Grazing Taxes
In the early decades of 20th century, tax on animal grazing was a common practice in many areas of Jammu and Kashmir. These taxes were levied on livestock owners mainly drawn from Gujjars and Bakarwal pastoral communities who grazed their animals on pastures, mainly owned by the state or local rulers. The taxes were also seen as a means of oppressing the Gujjars and Bakarwals. Late Ghulam Hussain Lassanvi played a pivotal role to minimise the rate of grazing tax and Kaha Charai Tax, which provided a great relief to animal herders.
In 1931 , Ch Ghulam Hussain Lassanvi, under the supervision of Mian Nizam ud Din Larvi founded an organization under the title ‘Jammu & Kashmir Gujjar-Jat Conference.’ Initially, it was a social organization but was later converted into a full-fledged political party in Jammu and Kashmir. This organization was instrumental in bringing socio-political and educational changes in Gujjar Community.
As a politician and social reformer, Choundhary Lassanvi worked for the upliftment and political mobilisation of the Gujjars, Jats and other backward and marginalized castes who were at the bottom of the caste system.
Under the political party, Gujjar-Jat Conference, a number of Gujjar and Jat leaders fought election against the candidates of Muslim Conference .After independence the said party was disbanded.
After six-decades of his death
Today Gujjars of Jammu and Kashmir even after more than six-decade of his death know him as a symbol of social, political, moral and educational awareness among the Gujjar community. He continues to be remembered in Gujjar-Bakkarwals for the extraordinary work he did for the empowerment of nomadic Gujjars- Bakkarwals of Jammu and Kashmir before and after independence.
(The author is a tribal researcher presently working on Socio-cultural issues of Gujjars and Bakkarwals of J&K)