From birth, I have been told by my family that we belong to the Pahari community and suddenly I come to know that revenue authorities aren’t ready to recognize us as Paharis. More than the question of reservation it is the question of our identity and existence.
It is important to mention that not a day has passed when my mother wouldn’t have listened to the Pahari program which is broadcast on All India Radio, Srinagar at 4 pm. I remember when I used to return from University a few years back my mother has many a time narrated the topic that had been discussed in program. I even remember the marriage ceremony of my youngest Uncle where famous Pahari singers like Masrat Naaz and Tariq Pardesi were invited for the Mehandi Raat ceremony, and they performed. I wonder why any Kashmiri singer wasn’t invited and it was because ‘we are Pharis’ and our tradition and culture suit us.
I remember my childhood days when maternal grandmother used to narrate the story of Saiful Malook, famous folklore in the Phari community. Besides this, I also remember her narrating the story of Yousaf-Zulikha. Shakeel-Ur-Rehman, a renowned journalist mentions in his book “The Pharis, Ethnography of a Genuine Tribe of Jammu and Kashmir” that these stories as an essential part of Phari culture.
In Uri method adopted by revenue officials is that the person should be speaking Pahari at home daily, however, there are examples from the same dynasty where some families speak Pahari daily and others don’t speak it as a regular affair, or don’t know to speak. More than four months have passed when rules for the certificates of Persons Speaking Phari (PSP) were notified, however, few certificates were issued during this time, which took away the golden opportunity of the people of Uri to get jobs in J&K Bank, Panchayat Assistant or other Class IV Jobs. If the concerned officials were serious about the careers of Pahari speaking people they would have sought the clarification or help from social welfare or law department initially, but this time, unfortunately, Uri town will face a huge loss.
The question which haunts us is that who is a Pahari and how he can be identified in Uri?
In 2014, the government introduced a bill which amended the J&K Reservation Act and attempted to provide reservation to the Pahari speaking people. However, four queries were raised by the then Governor N N Vohra, and he sent the bill for reconsideration.
A) Identification of Paharis Speaking Areas.
B) Criteria to be adopted for the identification of such areas(s).
C) Basis on which a person can be declared “PSP”
D) Backwardness, the inadequacy of representation and overall administrative efficiency of such areas.
Subsequently, the matter was referred to J&K State Commission for backward classes to examine the proposal in light of observation of Hon’ble Governor.
Statement of objects and Reasons of The Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2014 mentions they have relied on 2011 census data statistics to identify the Pharis, it also mentions that 90% of Pahari speaking people of J&K stand unambiguously identified as a group comprising the entire population of Rajouri, Poonch, Uri, Boniyar, Keran, and Karnah except for the members of Gujjar and Bakrwals communities and Kashmiri speaking people. Only 10% are fragmented portions who are found in scattered settlements.
Replying to the query two, the bill mentions Paharis have an identity of their own and are accommodative to other languages which, however, does not preclude them from being Paharis. Thus for the purposes of defining Paharis the following may be considered:
“In the absence of evidence to the contrary, all claimants speaking Pahari in the districts of Poonch and Rajouri and tehsils of Uri, Boniyar, Keran, and Karnah, except STs/SCs and Kashmiri speaking people belonging to the same territorial and cultural origin, observing the same lifestyle which is reflected through characteristics like eating habits, dressing style, sports, social ceremonies, etc. and speaking same language, presently residing in the above areas and several small scattered settlements in the state are presumed to be Paharis”.
Whenever the acts or rules are ambiguous the government has no option but to go back to statements of objects of the original bill to get the clarity, in this case same will happen but once the matter will catch heat. Although it won’t be too late, the loss which will be suffered this time cannot be compensated.
Government of J&K constituted State Advisory Board for the development of Pahari speaking people in the year 1989. The objective of constituting the advisory board for development of Pahari speaking people is to have a broad-based forum where there is an adequate representation of Pahari speaking people of different areas to ensure socio-economic development with an emphasis on educational upliftment, cultural and linguistic development. The board plays an advisory role for overall policy, planning and in the coordination of programs for the development of Pahari Speaking People. In 2017 State Advisory board for the development of Pahari speaking people released Population survey of Pahari Speaking People which is a comprehensive survey which provides details of PSP even village wise, the board was having 28 members which were appointed by GAD during elected government and were authorized to identify Pahari speaking people.
Those people who were identified as Paharis by the Phari board aren’t now considered as Pharis and reasons are not communicated to them. Why officials in Uri aren’t ready to consider that Lambardar and Chowkidar aren’t themselves Pahari speaking and usually belong to ST. Both the communities are going through internal rifts from years, so why will they even help them in getting this category? Other than the report of Lambardar and Chowkidar, concerned officials would have relied on the Phari Board Survey or census statics 2011, which even Pahari bills talk about and that would have definitely saved the loss that the Uri will face.
I believe that the government needs to look into this matter seriously otherwise it can prove disastrous for the Phari youth especially those looking for jobs and they will be deprived of all the genuine benefits of reservation.
Author is a human rights activist and works on issues like transparency and accountability in Kashmir.