Two proposals of Delimitation Commission, that was set up for redrawing assembly seats in the newly carved Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, that drew every one’s attention were proposals to reserve 9 seats for Scheduled Tribes (ST) and 7 seats for Scheduled Castes (SC).
It is important to mention here that 4 seats for Scheduled Castes were already reserved in outgoing assembly of former state of Jammu & Kashmir and now 3 additional seats for SC community have been proposed by the Delimitation Commission.
While the Delimitation Commission did not say how many of these SC & ST seats were to be reserved in Jammu region and Kashmir valley respectively, it is being speculated that even as 9 seats reserved for ST community would be divided between Jammu region and Kashmir valley, all 7 SC reserved seats are to be in Jammu region only.
I would, however, propose that at least one SC seat should be reserved for Kashmiri Pasmanda Caste Muslim community too because contrary to what most people think, Kashmir valley as well as Kashmir valley’s Muslim majority community has a vast population of Pasmanda Caste Muslims from Shudra and Dalit communities, who hardly ever get any political representation, which are mostly garnered by upper caste Kashmiri Muslims only, especially those from Syed & Kashmiri Brahmin convert castes.
To begin with, it is important to mention that proposal to include reserved legislative seats in newly created UT of Jammu and Kashmir for UT’s marginalized SC & ST communities is indeed a welcome step in this Muslim majority region, where many ( mostly from upper caste ) Muslims deny existence of caste practice and caste discrimination among Muslims of both Jammu region and Kashmir valley.
However, facts on ground suggest that Muslim communities in both Kashmir valley and Jammu region indulge in widespread castest behavior including discrimination and practice of untouchability against Pasmanda Caste Muslims of J&K.
Both Jammu region and Kashmir valley have caste system among their respective Muslim communities. In Kashmir valley, most upper caste Kashmiri Muslims hail from either Syed caste, Pathans or Kashmiri Hindu Brahmin converts to Islam and Muslim converts from other upper castes like Kshatriya & Vaishyas.
In Jammu region, on the other hand, most upper caste Muslims are Muslim converts from Punjabi, Potohari & Dogri speaking Hindu Rajputs, Kshatriyas and Brahmins. These people now call themselves as “Pahari Muslims”.
On the other hand of the spectrum are vast number of Pasmanda Caste Muslims of J&K. The largest community block in this regard is Muslim nomadic tribal community of Gujjar & Bakarwals, a community with a population of nearly 2 million people that was granted ST status in 1990s. Then there is another Pasmanda Caste Muslim tribal community of Shina speaking STs from Gurez valley.
Gujjar & Bakarwal community is found in both Jammu region and Kashmir valley. The proposal of Delimitation Commission to have 9 seats for the first time in J&K assembly for ST community is expected to give big boost in political representation to Muslim ST communities of Gujjar & Bakarwals and Shina Gurezis.
While it is not clear as to how many of these 9 ST seats will be divided between Jammu region and Kashmir alley, it is speculated that while 4 of these ST seats will be reserved in Kashmir valley and rest five of these ST seats will be reserved in Jammu region.
It is speculated that 5 seats for ST community will be divided between Poonch & Rajouri districts, both of which are home to large Gujjar & Bakarwal populations. As far as Kashmir valley is concerned, 4 ST seats are expected to be Pahalgam & Kokernag in South Kashmir valley, Kangan in Central Kashmir valley and Bandipora in North Kashmir valley.
I am of the view that not just Muslim tribal communities of J&K, but even lower caste Koshur speaking Kashmiri Muslims are also entitled to political representation. It is an undisputed fact that Koshur speaking Kashmiri Muslim community openly practices caste discrimination against lower caste Kashmiri Muslims.
Just like Hindu Dalits, there are equivalent of Kashmiri Muslim Wattal/Sheikh community, whose male members were involved in manual scavenging for centuries. Then there are Kashmiri Muslim Shudra communities, who also face discrimination and are looked down upon by higher caste Kashmiri Muslims.
There are Hanji (boatmen), Hajjam, Bhand, Chopans and many other lower caste Kashmiri Muslim communities, who face caste discrimination at the hands of upper caste Kashmiri Muslim society. These lower caste Kashmiri Muslim communities have historically never had any political representation, not even after 1947.
Just like Gujjar & Bakarwal community, there is a need to provide legislative political representation to these lower and marginalized Kashmiri Muslim castes as well, so that issues pertaining to these communities can be better raised by their own political representatives in a better and prioritized manner.
This will also politically empower these marginalized communities and uplift them socially.
My suggestion is to either reserve 1 of these proposed 7 SC seats for Pasmanda Muslim Caste of Kashmir valley or in the alternative, nominate at least one member from these Kashmiri Muslim Pasmanda Castes.
Also, seats for Pasmanda Caste Kashmiri Muslims can be rotated every 5 year among different Pasmanda Castes, so that each Pasmanda Kashmiri Muslim caste gets to send its representative directly to the legislative assembly of Jammu and Kashmir.
It is a fact that Kashmiri Muslims are castiest society and it is high time that Kashmir’s majority Muslim community acknowledge the existence and practice of caste amongst its people, which has suppressed and oppressed large section of Kashmir’s lower caste Muslims for centuries and exploited them and forced them to live in misery.
It is our duty as a Kashmiri society to amend for the historic wrongs that have been done to large section of Kashmiri Muslim society based on their supposed lower caste status.
Javed Beigh is General Secretary of 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.