Protecting their tribe

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Mareaya Fayaz

PROTEST marches by the Gujjar and Bakerwal communities against the inclusion of upper caste Paharis on the scheduled tribe (ST) list are becoming more and more frequent in J&K. And if the Centre does not withdraw the bills that have been submitted to the Parliament, they have threatened to take to the streets with their livestock.

Numerous students from the Gujjar Bakerwal community recently took out a demonstration in Jammu against the inclusion of the upper castes in the Schedule Tribe list and delivered a note to the President of India through the Divisional Commissioner.

The Jammu University was where the protest took place where volunteers from various colleges and the University of Jammu came together. Students opposed the bill nominated for the monsoon session.

They marched from Jammu University to Panama Chowk and handed the Divisional Commissioner a memo asking him to deliver it to the Honourable President of India Droupadi Murmu, Prime Minister Narinder Modi, the Home Minister, the Minister for Tribal Affairs of India, and tribal and Gujjar members of Parliament.

With the aim to protect their scheduled tribe (ST) status, thousands of Gujjars & Bakarwals took to the streets of Srinagar recently and marched towards the Governor’s House.

Clearly, the second phase of the ST Bachao Movement has begun in Jammu and Kashmir with the local population protesting the inclusion of upper caste Paharis on the ST list.

Despite their demand having previously been rejected by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, the protesting students raised strong objections to the ‘unconstitutional and illegal’ proposal to include Pahari speaking people in the ST list in the Union Territory.

In their memo, they stated that not a single point in Pahari speaking people met the conditions to be classified as ST, and that the government was simply using this as a campaign tool to obtain a few reserved seats in a certain area.

During the protest, Murtaza Bhadana, president of the Gujjar Bakerwal student group, said that the government should not treat the third-largest ethnic group in Jammu and Kashmir – the peaceful and the nationalist Gujjar Bakerwals – unfairly by placing them similar to the Kukis of Manipur.

The students also chanted slogans in favour of the Kukis of Manipur and pledged an unwavering support in their fight.

The recommendation of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes to add Paharis to the list of STs was also denounced by tribal activist Amir Khatana, who also called upon the government to reverse the findings of the Justice G D Sharma Commission. He pleaded with the Government of India to preserve the tribal identity of Jammu and Kashmir’s underrepresented, disadvantaged and marginalised Gujjar Bakerwals and avoid weakening the position of STs.

He sarcastically added that since the Commission lacked members from the ST and OBC communities; so why not add upper caste communities like Brahmins, Syeds, Rajputs, and other such powerful groups under the scheduled tribe list too!

He added that Pahari is actually just a Punjabi dialect, and that the Pahari speaking people (PSP) already have reservation in Jammu and Kashmir and that declaring a number of upper castes and religious communities as STs would be unfair to the nation’s true tribal population.

While speaking to the media, another activist Sakib Chowdhary stated that higher caste communities shouldn’t be put under the ST list since up until recently, they were receiving reservations based on their language, and now that they are being referred to as the Pahari Ethnic Group, their ethnicity is in question.

He questioned as to why the government considered a diverse collection of communities to be an ethnic group. These upper castes are an ethnically heterogeneous population that are culturally, religiously, and linguistically diverse, he added.

They further stated that the G D Sharma Commission report mocked social fairness by placing in its proposed Schedule Tribe list, those tribes and communities that previously had economic and political dominance.

Irfan Chowdhury, another tribal activist, emphasised, “Our movement is a non-violent fight to preserve the Indian Constitution and it is an attack on the tribal identity of actual tribals.

After Kashmiris and Dogras, the Gujjar Bakerwal community makes up the third-largest ethnic group in Jammu & Kashmir, with more than two million residents. It was after a battle that lasted over 40 years that the Gujjar Bakerwals were recognised as an ST in the former state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1991”.

The protestors accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of playing politics in the area, particularly in the Pir Panjal area, where reserved Assembly seats are up for grabs. They also wore hats that said they will not budge or compromise over anything less than the move taken back, adding that this was for the safety of their future generations.

 

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