Farmers in Kashmir protest as their land taken away for CRPF base

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For years, Fayaz Ahmad Allie, a poor farmer, paid for his three daughters’ education by raising two cows and growing vegetables on a small farm near their residence in Oukhoo, a south Kashmir village.

But a recent decision by the Jammu and Kash-mir administration, to take over land in Oukhoo for constructing a permanent base for the Central Re-serve Police Force (CRPF), has put dozens of poor farmers like Fayaz at risk of starvation and poverty.

“If the government takes my land, I will be left with nothing. I can’t work now because I have un-dergone two surgeries. I don’t know if my daughters can continue their education. We will have no op-tion but to die by suicide,” Fayaz told The Wire.

Fayaz’s eldest daughter is pursuing a diploma course in radiation technology, an achievement of sorts in this poor village of some 250 households who depend on their farms for sustenance. His other daughters are still in high school.

“The government can find alternate land for the CRPF but where will we go? My family will starve if we are deprived of our sustenance,” Fayaz said in a tone of desperation.

In a meeting in October, the administrative council, headed by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, approved “transfer of 524 Kanal 11 Marla land in favour of CRPF for establishing battalion camping sites” in three south Kashmir districts of Islamabad, Shopian and Pulwama.

“The land will be transferred against the pay-ment as per the Stamp Duty Rates notified for the year 2021. It will provide for safe and proper ac-commodation to CRPF personnel and their fami-lies,” the official spokesperson said on October 28.

According to Haji Mohammad Sultan Allie, a grocer in Oukhoo, some 80 kanal state land in Ouk-hoo marked for the CRPF takeover was barren till some decades ago, when the J&K government for-mulated an irrigation scheme for Pulwama district which brought two canals to the village.

“Water from the Jhelum river feeds the two ca-nals which run parallel to the tract of land that is being taken over by the CRPF. Three generations of my family have drawn sustenance from here. Our children will be forced to beg,” Sultan said.

Oukhoo village was recently in the news after Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned it in one of his speeches in Mann Ki Baat, terming it as a “Pencil Village” of the country.

According to re-ports, around 90% of slates used in pencil-making are supplied from Kashmir to leading manufactur-ers, including Hindustan Pencils, the makers of Apsara and Natraj, with Oukhoo being the leading supplier.

However, the farmers of Oukhoo, which has among the lowest literacy rates in J&K, claimed that the pencil trade has been monopolised by ‘two fami-lies’ who bring most of their labour and skilled workforce from outside the Kashmir Valley.

“There are only four government employees in the entire village of more than 1,200 people, while the rest are farmers. A handful of youngsters from the village work at the pencil factories,” said an-other villager, wishing to remain anonymous.

Locals said the J&K administration’s decision to transfer land to the CRPF will severely impact some 250 families in Oukhoo and Sethargund villages of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district associated with dairy farming and vegetable production.

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