Disagreement Of Communities
Reservation For Pahari-Speaking People Stirs Hornet’s Nest In Jammu and Kashmir
There has been a protest going on since October 2022. It started when Union Home Minister Shri Amit Shah made a visit to Jammu and Kashmir. It was anticipated that he would announce reservations to include the Pahari speaking people of Pir Panjal region into the ST (Scheduled Tribe).
In his rally, the Home Minister promised ST status to the Pahari community. At the same time, he gave assurance that the move would in no manner undermine the ST rights of the local Gujjar and Bakerwals.
However, people from the Gujjar community are up in arms, fearing a dilution of the quota that they have enjoyed for about 30 years. Gujjars from Jammu and Kashmir have been given 10 percent reservation in education and employment across the nation.
This announcement made by the Union home Minister came after the commission lead by Justice (Retd) G D Sharma recommended the reservation to Pahari community. This move was contested by Gujjars and Bakerwals who believe that through this development, the Paharis would take their share.
Recently, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) cleared the way for the inclusion of the ‘Pahari ethnic group’ in the Scheduled Tribes list of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The proposal green-lit by the Commission also called for the inclusion of the “Paddari tribe”, “Koli” and “Gadda Brahman” communities to be included in the ST list of J&K. This has agitated the the Gujjar and Bakerwal community, who have now started peacefully protesting all over Jammu and Kashmir against this move.
Why The Protests
Adv. Anwar Chowdhary, Convener of All Gujjar Bakerwal Coordination Community, said that it was in 1991 that ST status was granted to Gujjar Bakerwal community. At that time, it was opposed by many affluent people belonging to upper castes. They believed that the move would give an upper hand to the people of this category, and would be enabled to hold higher posts. Adv. Chowdhary said that this was not acceptable to the people from other communities who for long had discriminated against Gujjar and Bakerwal community. So they started a movement to get included in this category. “Despite their full-fledged attempts, they failed to get included in this community or dilute its status,” said Adv. Chowdhary.
He added that after Article 370 was dismantled, the laws of Union of India became uniform across J&K. The political reservations that were not given at the time of previous administrations were included now. Nine seats were given to Scheduled Tribe. Maximum of these seats were reserved from Poonch and Rajouri. Other communities feared that most Gujjar Bakerwals hailed from this region and they would come victorious.
Adv. Chowdhary said that the non Gujjars or the Pahari speaking community felt threatened that now, only the people from Gujjar Bakerwal community will become MPs and MLAs. Adv. Chowdhary said that this is unacceptable to them, so they started this vigorous movement to get reservation under Scheduled Tribes. Their leaders said that they would go to the depths of hell to get reservation under ST quota.
Adv. Chowdhary said that the ST community in Jammu and Kashmir comprises of Muslims only. In the rest of India, the ST community consists of people belonging to other religions too. “Hence they are now trying to include Brahmins, Rajputs and other affluent sections of the society into ST,” said Adv. Chowdhary. “We believe that this is a conspiracy to dilute the status of Scheduled Tribes, nothing more. It is not possible to identify who is and who is not a Pahari.”
Challenges To New Reservation
Adv. Chowdhary said that it would be difficult to make this distinction about who is not a Pahari. “If the criterion is that those living in mountainous regions are Pahari, then all the people living in the valleys of J&K should be given Pahari status. Why are you leaving out the people from Doda and Kishtawar? While considering the people from Baramulla, Karnah and Uri, how will you grant the certificates that these people are Paharis? Since they have said that they will declare them as belonging to a particular ethnicity, how are you supposed to identify the ethnicity? People of a particular ethnicity have the same traits, same life style, same foods and same customs. In this case, the ethnicity criteria does not apply. So we condemn the report of GD Sharma committee and will continue to protest against this move,” said Adv. Chowdhary.
Adv Jameel Choudhary, one of the persons leading the protest, said it is very unjust that the Administration wants our people to compete with those who already belong to affluent classes. “Our people still migrate. They still live a nomadic life, caring for cattle, goats and sheep. Their children don’t get proper schooling. This move will only push us backward. The move totally challenges the intention of the stalwarts to drafted the Constitution, who wanted to benefit the truly deprived people of our nation.”
Another protester, student activist Mr Murtaza Kamal said, “The criteria that is established for the grant of ST criteria does not cover the Pahari-speaking people. These people mostly consist of elites or middle class. Those who belong to the poor class within the Pahari-speaking people have other reservations like EWS, OBC, RBA, ALC and PSP. While we only have one reservation, and that is ST.”
Mr Kamal added that ST category identification is given on the basis of the tribe, which consists mostly of people who are nomads to this date. “The GD Sharma Commission report mentions that Gujjar Bakerwal community and the Pahari-speaking community are the same, with the same living and culture. This is not true because our people are nomads. Their children do schooling in mobile schools even now.”
Mr Kamal said that the literacy rate among Pahari speaking people is 70%, whereas it is only 14% among the ST community. “So including them will be sheer injustice to the people of our community. It’s only now that our people are coming forward, taking advantage of this reservation. Its dilution will cause a huge setback to the people of the Gujjar Bakerwal community.”
‘Move Will Widen Inequality’
Mr Kamal said that there is no criterion laid down in the Constitution of India which gives reservation to the people on the basis of language. “The people who belong to the Pahari speaking community have already got benefits of many categories. This move will dilute the status of ST category,” he asserted.
Mr Sharif, a scholar at Jammu University who belongs to the ST community said, “Inclusion of upper castes people among Scheduled Tribe means that we are bringing the economically and socially affluent people at par with the socially and economically deprived people. This will widen the inequality gap between the two groups. People with better access to resources like better education facilities have better opportunities. How do you justify their inclusion with the less privileged people,” he questioned.
Pahari-Speaking People Welcome Govt Decision
Meanwhile, the Pahari-speaking people are happy and in a celebratory mood after the move. Mr Abhishek, who is from the Pahari-speaking community said, “Majority of the people from Pahari ethnic group are still deprived. Since this group has their distinct culture, language and are also backward, the group should get a tribal status. This is a historic decision of the government. This decision will enable the people of the pahari ethnic group (newly listed in the revised list of Scheduled Tribes) to get all the benefits meant for Scheduled Tribes.”
Another person, Mr Jeetendra Singh said, “Pahari is an ethnic group having a distinctive culture. Now finally this group got tribal status. This will be a progressive step for the upliftment of socially and educationally backward Pahari tribe. We are thankful to the government for this decision.