Is J&K being casteist in opposing delimitation?

Hindu Dalit community of Jammu has never enjoyed much political emancipation despite their high population
Is J&K being casteist in opposing delimitation?
File Photo: Mir Wasim for Greater Kashmir

The union territory of Jammu & Kashmir has been rocked by the recent proposal of the Delimitation Commission to increase the number of assembly seats in Jammu & Kashmir by seven seats out of which 6 seats are proposed to be allocated to Jammu region and only 1 seat is proposed for Kashmir valley. This has expectedly set not only the entire political spectrum of Kashmir centric parties on fire but the move has also caused discomfort in upper caste dominated Hindu & Sikh political community of Jammu region for Delimitation Commission’s further proposal to reserve 16 seats for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe community of Jammu & Kashmir. Such opposition unfortunately brings forth the tremendously casteist character of both Kashmir valley and Jammu region, which is little talked discussed.

To begin with, it is important to point out that politics in Jammu & Kashmir is suffocatingly in the hands of upper caste Hindus and Muslims. Almost entire top echelons of all political parties (both regional and national) in Jammu & Kashmir are headed by Upper Caste Hindus & Sikhs from Jammu region or Upper caste Ashraf Muslims from Kashmir valley. It does not matter whether it is J&K based parties like the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference, People’s Democratic Party, Panthers Party, Indian National Congress or BJP, top positions in all these parties are held by Hindu Brahmins, Thakurs, Syeds, Kashmiri Muslim Brahmin converts, Muslim Rajputs etc. Even Sikh faces of all parties in Jammu & Kashmir are from upper caste Sikh communities of Brahmin, Khatri converts. Communities from Hindu & Sikh Dalit castes as well as Pasmanda Muslim castes are mostly relegated to lower ranks in these regional and national parties of Jammu & Kashmir.

Kashmir valley and its political leadership, which is leading the fight against the proposal of Delimitation Commission of increasing number of seats for Kashmir valley only by 1 seat, while doing the same for Jammu by 6 seats, indirectly points to what is calls hidden “anti-Kashmiri” and “anti-Muslim” goal of Delimitation Commission in trying to artificially control influence of Kashmiri Muslims in future assembly elections. But it there any truth to it really? Kashmir valley despite being an overwhelmingly Muslim majority enclave is also one of the most casteist and Brahminical Muslim regions of entire South Asia, which follows Hindu Brahminical caste system almost faithfully. While at one end of spectrum lie Syed/Mallah, Kashmiri Pundit convert, on the other end of the spectrum lie Wattal Kashmiri Dalit Muslims as part of Kashmiri society, where topmost leadership positions are help only by Syeds or Brahmin converts. Kashmir’s own lower Muslim caste communities like wattals, Hanjis, Bhands etc. are rarely part of political elite of Kashmir valley. The only exception has been the non-Kashmiri Muslim community of Gujjar & Bakarwals, a Scheduled Tribe community of approximately 25 Lakh people that is spread in both Jammu region and Kashmir valley. The Delimitation Commission proposes to reserve as many as 9 seats for STs, the bulk of which is expected to go to Gujjar and Bakarwals, who are also Muslims, like majority of Kashmiri people. There aren’t many Hindu Adivasi or tribal community in J&K, which means the benefit of an increase in ST seats would in all probably go to Muslims of J&K – not Kashmiri Muslims but Gujjar & Bakarwal Muslims. Is that a problem for the upper caste Kashmiri Muslim political elite of Kashmir valley that they cannot see enhanced political representation being given to a non-Kashmiri Muslim community of Gujjars?

As it is Gujjar & Bakarwal community is a historical victim of racism of Kashmiri people and their discriminatory and dehumanizing behavior and attitude towards them for centuries. The community leaders obviously are seeing this opposition by Kashmiri leaders as part of Kashmir’s historical racist hatred for Gujjars. While Gujjar community have had representation in the past from J&K without any reservation but that was never proportional to their large population. If Gujjar and Bakarwal community were to garner a lion’s share of proposed seats reserved for ST community, that would indeed be a historic injustice corrected.

It is also interesting to note that there is also unease among upper caste Hindu Dogra community in Jammu region (across party lines) over reservation of 7 seats to Scheduled Castes, all of which are going to be mostly from Hindu regions of Jammu. This would be a massive increase to J&K’s Hindu Dalit political representation since independence. Hindu Dalit community of Jammu has never enjoyed much political emancipation despite their high population. While unlike Kashmir valley, political leaders of Jammu have largely remained silent but there is strong sentiment of displeasure that additional seats in Jammu region are mostly going to go to either ST community of Muslim Gujjar & Bakarwals or Hindu Dalit community of Jammu.

This raises an important question. Is the political leadership of both Kashmir valley and Jammu region really very casteIst? Even as rest of India is moving towards political emancipation of marginalized communities like Dalits, Adivasis (tribals), OBCs etc., the political spectrum in both Kashmir valley and Jammu region continues to remain in the clutches of upper caste Hindus and upper caste Ashraf Muslims. I would in fact go ahead and suggest that at least 1 seat should also be reserved for lower caste Dalit Kashmiri Muslim communities like Wattal, Hanji, whose social and economic status remains almost exactly the same as that of a Hindu Dalit from Jammu or other parts of India.

It is really unfortunate that under the garb of trying to “protect the interest” of the people of Kashmir, political class of Kashmir valley exhibits its casteist and racist behavior towards Jammu and Kashmir’s marginalized Gujjar & Bakarwal community, something that has rightly angered Gujjar community. It is also equally unfortunate that political leadership of Jammu region is also showing its own casteist behavior by not showing its enthusiasm towards increasing Jammu seats in anticipation of those seats being reserved for Hindu Dalit community. I think the time has come, when upper caste political class of both Kashmir valley and Jammu region will have to leave behind their casteist and racist world view and embrace new reality of egalitarian political playing field, where J&K’s marginalized communities from SC & ST background are also politically empowered.

Javed Beigh is General Secretary People’s Democratic Front (Secular).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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