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Dozens of Gujjar men and women held a sit-in outside the residence of forest minister Chaudhary Lal Singh against the eviction of several families of the nomadic community from Lakarmandi area on the outskirts of Jammu city.

The protesters, led by Gujjar leader Nazakat Khatana, had brought their livestock along, which created commotion in the posh Gandhi Nagar area, where several ministers live in state-owned bungalows.

The protesters demanded that the government should allow them to stay in forest areas, which they said have been their traditional habitats.

Briefly, the protesters prevented Singh from proceeding to a tour of his constituency, Basholi. The police then beat up the Gujjars with sticks and detained seven of them including Nazakat Khatana, Talib Hussain, Shahruk Choudhary, Mohammad Ibrar, Rafaqat Ajaz and Haq Nawaz Choudhary.

Station house officer of the Gandhi Nagar police station Suniya Wani said the detainees were released later.

The Gujjars were forced to ‘gherao’ the minister’s residence after a team of forest employees, accompanied by dozens of policemen, demolished nearly half a dozen huts of Gujjars in Lakarmandi. The employees said that the huts had been built on forest land.

The Gujjars, however, claimed that they have been living in the area for the past 70 years and they had not raised any permanent structure. They even approached senior forest officials in the matter, but no one listened to them.

In the past too, Gujjars have been evicted from several areas in Jammu, a move Gujjar leaders alleged was communally motivated.