Resourceful yet underdeveloped Maniga

Dr Mohinder Kumar
Maniga is located 9 km far from Kupwara city.  It spreads starting from ‘steel-bridge’ up to upper ridge of forest on hill-top. Village is quite large in terms of expanse (12 hills), agricultural land (2500 acres), human resources (16000 population) and natural resources (30 nallahs). Yet Maniga witnessed more than 500 youths joining militancy in 1990. Living conditions at that time were characterized by economic backwardness. Now situation is improved not very much.
Total area of village is 3000 acres, of which 500 acres (17%) is common land. Area irrigated by nallahs is 50%; rest is rain-fed. The biggest nallah flows through the middle portion of village. Average size of holding is 2.06 acres per farmer. Lack of irrigation and hilly tract have rendered it low productive. Maniga does not have sustainable rain-fed farming or watershed development system except prevalence of mono-cropping of maize cultivation in rainy season.


Village Weekly

Village with 1200 households is spread in three wards: Maniga-A, Maniga-B and Maniga-C. All households do farming. Over 80% houses are kutcha and 20% houses are pucca. Caste composition is 65% households Muslim Gurjar and Pahari community; and 35% households Muslim Kashmiri. Entire community of Gurjar and Pahari households is Scheduled Tribe (ST). Gurjar-Pahari Muslims speak Gurjari (Gojari) and Pahari languages; they can speak Kashmiri language also. Kashmiri Muslims largely speak Kashmiri language. Social dynamics of relationship between villagers is rich with interesting facts. Gurjar-Pahari Muslim households have ST status (nomadic tribal sheep-goat pastoral-occupational background); Kashmiri Muslim households do not have ST status except in Ladakh where Muslim households identify themselves as Ladakhi Muslims instead of Kashmiri Muslims. The issue of aspiration for ST status appears in other parts (for example Marhama village) of Kupwara district as well.
Maniga was a small village with population of 900 in 1982. It witnessed out-migration in 1982 even as 100 Gurjar youths migrated to Delhi and Faridabad of Haryana in several batches in 1985 and 1988 (last batch). They were in distress in village and could not have easy access to survival strategies and resources to cope with adversity. They were on look-out for favorable conditions of economic survival, which they found amidst their community elsewhere as it was already well settled and successful in Delhi and Faridabad. Bakarwal nomads belong to ‘gotra’ (sub-castes) such as Bhadana, Khatana, Bijran, Khari and Bhalay. Gurjar-bakarwals of Bhadana sub-caste in Haryana are Hindu. Nonetheless Muslim Gurjar-bakarwal households of Bhadana sub-caste in J&K take deserved pride in commonly known fact that one of their community-persons Avtar Singh Bhadana represented commendable socio-political progress in Haryana, who rose to be a Minister in the State Government. Social, economic and political progress of their caste-community is observed as more important to the Gurjar-bakarwals in J&K. Gurjar caste people traditionally raise cattle (cows, horses) and goats & sheep for their way of life to be close to the Nature, which is now becoming a profession. In Delhi-Faridabad, migrated


youths worked as taxi drivers, wage-laborers, and some of them set up cement pot-making units for self-employment. They became well settled and had good source of income.
After 1988, trend in migration to Faridabad-Delhi for livelihoods got saturated and stopped; militancy attracted the remaining youths to destructive side. Being jobless, unskilled and illiterate, youths joined ruthless yet lucrative business of violent militant-politics. Einstein had early warned world politics of growing “militant-mindedness” since Second World War. As far as the gotra-caste-tribe question is concerned, a 2013 study conducted by a team of researchers from the Harvard Medical School and the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad of 73 ethno-linguistic groups establishes that “ancient India was one in which all people intermingled freely and castes grew out of tribal-like organizations during the formation of Indian society. It is an artificial system imposed upon generations of people that encouraged inequality and suppressed them for 2000 years”. Maniga, or for that matter any village, appears close link in the chain of social hierarchy. Current population of Maniga is 16000. Average family size is 13. Are inter-related phenomena of migration, leaving village, search for livelihood, join militancy, increased population, etc. reflections of dialectical relationship between the two great communities?
Each farm household in Maniga has 4-5 walnut trees and earns between Rs.32000 to 80000 per year.  Yet it’s intriguing that village is termed “most backward”. The earning from walnut does not reflect actual income. If costs of maintenance, spray, bags, plucking-labor, transportation, etc. are considered it leaves meager amount in farmers’ pocket. Handwara regulated fruit market is dysfunctional. Unauthorized deductions and unscrupulous practices adopted in marketing (weighing, low price, commission, etc.) reduce their price realization. The so-called cash crop of walnut in Maniga is not a significant cash earning commodity for farmers. Therein lays secret of economic backwardness essentially rooted in rain-fed farming and poor marketing support. Other crops cultivated for subsistence are paddy, maize and vegetables.
Literacy rate in Maniga is 20%; in new generation literacy improved little (50%). Lack of education facilities and absence of opportunities for capacity building, skill-formation, training, etc. in economic activities is the distinguishing feature. The only training known to Maniga so far is mass training of 500 youths in forests for militant activities in 1990s. Villagers reported that even today education and classroom teaching is extremely poor. Students are promoted to higher classes though lack proper grasp of subjects and knowledge of previous classes: “they are all declared pass each year”. Villagers and Sarpanch expressed concern on this issue. Some social aspects of living in Kashmir villages rarely came out in the past for wider understanding of social fabric of rural life. Mutual relations between villagers are reported as “just all-right”, which points to suppressed sense of mild discontentment, disapproval and displeasure. Villagers’ response to the question of mutual relations is reported as “lagbhag theek”.
Villagers jokingly and light heartedly crack jibes. Digging cracks in jest is common between communities in all States (for example jibe between Jat and Bania in Punjab or between Jat and Multani in Haryana). It’s only desired that it may not spew revulsion. A jibe was thus expressed by a Muslim Kashmiri villager from Warno Shahbad (Lolab Gram Panchayat) in Kupwara district: “When a Pahari returns to hills he doesn’t remember anything”, implying that Pahari Muslim villagers do not remember virtues and good deed done by Kashmiri Muslim villagers, and tend to forget their goodness and goodwill. Basically this is emotional longing and wishful remembrance to build stronger relationship by Kashmiri Muslims with complaint that Pahari villagers do not respond with enthusiasm. Field visit brings to the fore another jibe, this time at Muslim Kashmiris, made by a Pahari Muslim in Siddhpura Forward village of Kupwara district situated on the LoC: “You never considered us as Kashmiris”. It implied a sense of social exclusion and separateness that could be due to different cultural identity, language, traditions, living style, occupational background (nomadic-pastoral vs. settled farming), etc. It’s all about social evolutionary process. Sociological understanding of complex social relationships between communities is difficult. It requires exploring latent layers of discontentment to see the correlation, through missing links, with village’s problems of economic backwardness, inequality, hyper-politico-militant mindset, social exclusion, alienation, etc.
Women in Gurjar-Pahari households are not allowed to work on family-farm though they can do tasks such as collecting fuel-wood, grazing cattle in pasture, sheep/goats in forest on upper ridge, etc. In field, at the most they can do paddy transplantation. Paddy transplantation is highly labor-intensive. It essentially necessitates mainstreaming gender in agriculture. Village communities all across the country use woman labor-power for paddy transplantation. Not only family-women members but hired-women laborers are used for this job. Gurjar-Pahari community, particularly in Maniga, appears as exception. Nonetheless women family members are deployed for paddy transplantation, necessitated by economic factors. It is beneficial and cost-effective for farm households. Women in Kashmiri Muslim households generally work on family farm while men work outside (wage-labor, service, construction site, shop, ‘mandis’ as market-functionaries, marketing agents, etc.). The same is true in Haryana State. In Kargil district mostly family-women are in-charge of family-farm operations. Differences in gender equality and women status (freedom of enterprise) are noticeable between the communities.
Flashes of cultural-differentiation based on economic-inequality appear in Maniga. Cultural traditions of two communities are reported as slightly different. Kashmiri Muslims outnumber Pahari-Gurjar Muslims in permanent government service. This basic economic differentiation has direct impact on expenses incurred on Id festival and cultural celebrations. Both communities celebrate two Ids each year though high expenses incurred and grandiose celebration by Kashmiri Muslim households is a distinguishing feature. Economic inequality and differentiation between two communities has resemblance with literary characters of Hamid (poor orphaned boy) and his friends (from wealthy families) in Munshi Prem Chand’s short story “Idgah” bringing out sensibilities of poverty with human pride. Metamorphosis of poverty into militancy in Maniga is an unexplained aspect. Terms such as “pasmanda” and “gurbat” were often ascribed to Gurjar-Paharis. They have negligible share in the profession of school teachers. A few school teachers from Gurjar-Pahari Muslims were recently recruited on temporary basis. Earlier, they were a neglected lot in service. Taking jibe at catharsis-inclined Kashmiri “naukri peshekar” (professional servicemen), villagers wonder what good would happen to Gurjar-Pahari people without water, electricity and other basic amenities in village? Under MNREGA scheme works implemented in Maniga include bund, footpath, enmeshed stone wall on nallah (to protect from floods), etc. Development works started happening three-four years ago.
Only 65% farmers were issued Kisan Credit Card (KCC). Sarpanch informed that for KCC, agencies put a condition of Ration Card. Gram Panchayat ensured correct ownership of agricultural land of each KCC holder was given by Patwari to avoid disputes later. On the issue of two guarantors needed by bank branch for KCC, villagers and Sarpanch held meeting with DDC Kupwara and other stakeholders; the issue was highlighted in the proceedings and action points were forwarded to the bank; villagers awaited action. Village has to take care of large population of 9000 youths as most of them are jobless or do wage-labor since no other option. Only 100 youths are passed 10th class and 10 youths are graduates. Around 100 youths are in army; 50 youths employed in government departments; and 30 youths are in police service. Around 90 youths suffer from leprosy and some youths are handicapped with amputation of arm, leg, etc. Main occupation of Maniga is wage-labor (Gurjar-Pahari Muslim youths) or government service (Kashmiri Muslim youths). Their allied occupation is farming which is low-productive, rain-fed and awaiting a major crisis. Farming in Maniga may not be able to feed 9000 strong job-less youths. The ensuing Food Security Act may ensure food-grains supply through fair price ration shops, but where are sources and opportunities of gaining the purchasing power? Even bare minimum survival is a big question today. Human advancement and progress of human resources in positive personalities appears thereafter.
(Author works for NABARD. Views expressed are personal)