Caring for the community

Government must listen to the concerns of Gujjars & Bakarwals
Caring for the community
Image for representational purpose only.File/ GK

Jammu & Kashmir’s nearly 2 million strong Gujjar & Bakarwal community has been protesting and agitating both on ground as well as on social media platforms against demands of Jammu & Kashmir’s so called “Pahari” community to be included as member of Scheduled Tribe in the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir.

Members of Gujjar & Bakarwal community along with other smaller tribal communities of J&K, including Shina tribals of Gurez in Kashmir valley, and Gaddis of Jammu region, insist that “Pahari” community is not a tribe but just a linguistic group and that cannot be a criterion for the grant of ST status to a community.

They further insist that inclusion of “Pahari” community will dilute benefits of reservations in government jobs as well as in educational institutions for Gujjar & Bakarwals and other tribal communities of Jammu & Kashmir.

To begin with, it is very important to understand the complex ethno-linguistic character of the people of former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir that comprised of many distinct ethnolinguistic regions, which included Jammu region, Kashmir valley, Ladakh & Baltistan, Gilgit Wazarat and western most regions of Mirpur, Muzaffaraad & Poonch. Out of these regions, Gilgit Wazarat & Baltistan went to Pakistan, where it came to be known as “Northern Areas”, which was later on renamed as Gilgit Baltistan. Similarly, parts of Poonch, Mirpur & Muzaffaraad also fell into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, where they became known as “Azad Jammu & Kashmir”.

The parts of former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir that came to India included Jammu region, Ladakh, Kashmir valley and other remaining part of Poonch.

After the segregation of Ladakh, there are only two distinct sub regions in the union territory of Jammu, and Kashmir. While most people who live in Kashmir are ethnic Kashmiri people, who speak Koshur language, most people in Jammu region, that includes the city of Jammu, are ethnically Dogras who speak Dogri language. That basically leaves Pir Panjal & Chenab valley sub regions of Jammu, which is a multi-ethnic region, where Kashmiris, Dogris, Gujjar & Bakarwals and a distinct community of Potohari Punjabi speaking community that is part of wider community of Potohar plateau spread over Mirpur region of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, all live together.

Potohari language is a dialect of Punjabi, which sounds very similar to Dogri. Potohari speaking community also lives in large number in Poonch & Rajouri and in smaller numbers in Doda & Kishtwar, where, otherwise Kashmiri and Dogri people live in almost equal numbers. In addition to Kashmiris, Dogris and Potoharis, there is another huge nomadic tribal community of Gujjar & Bakarwal people, who live on mountains of both Jammu region and on those that surround Kashmir valley. Culturally and linguistically Gujjar and Bakarwal are close to both Potohari and Dogri people but they pursue nomadic life style and have primarily originated from North India’s Gujjar Hindu community. Gujjar and Bakarwal community were granted the status of Scheduled Tribe in 1991.

The Potohari speaking community, however, has been insisting that they also be included as

Scheduled Tribe, as they share cultural similarity with Gujjar and Bakarwals, and also live mostly on mountains like them. Photohari community are most converts from Hindu Punjabi castes like Rajputs, Khatris and Brahmins, and number nearly 1 million in population. In order to carve out a distinct identity for themselves, these Potohari people have called themselves “Pahari” community to differentiate themselves from Kashmiris, Dogris and Gujjar & Bakarwals. There are many cultural and social organizations which work for preservation and promotion of Pahari culture.

Pahari community, however, has for decades been demanding status of Scheduled Tribe at par with Gujjar and Bakarwals, a claim that is heavily resisted by not only Gujjar and Bakarwal community but also by other ST communities including Shina of Gurez in Kashmir valley.

It is pertinent to mention that grant of the status of a tribe to any community is based on many historical and life style factors. It cannot be made purely based on a distinct linguistic identity. Gujjar & Bakarwal are a nomadic community that has lived on margins of Kashmiri society for centuries and faced racism & discrimination from Koshur speaking Kashmiris, who have historically stigmatized Gujjars and Bakarwals for centuries. Potohari community, which now calls itself “Pahari” community has never faced any historic discrimination and stigmatization. Also, unlike poor and marginalized Gujjar & Bakarwals, who are descendants of Hindu Gujjars, an OBC community, most so called “Pahari” people are descendants of upper caste Hindu converts from Rajput, Kshatriya and Brahmin castes, who enjoyed higher social status in both areas that now lie in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir as well as that which are today part of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

Members of Gujjar & Bakarwal community also point that demand of so-called Pahari community has increased in intensity in recent times after it was proposed by delimitation commission that Jammu and Kashmir were to have 9 seats reserved for Schedule Tribe, most of which is expected to fall in areas where Gujjar & Bakarwal communities live. Gujjar and Bakarwal activists insist that Pahari community eyes capturing those ST seats by gaining entry into ST status.

It is important to add that claim of scheduled tribe status should not be politicized because this is a constitutional benefit granted to a historically marginalized community that has lived on margins of so-called civilized world and has faced, and continues to face, discrimination including caste-based violence and oppression.

Grant of ST status enables the community an access to many additional government welfare measures as well as legal protection of SC & ST Act to safeguard their security from dominant castes. It is very clear that so called Pahari community does not fall in any criteria of being a poor and marginalized and disadvantaged tribe just because they also live mostly on mountains like Gujjar & Bakarwals.

A distinct language cannot also be a legitimate ground for claiming ST status. It will be unfair to tribal communities of J&K, if Pahari community is allowed ST status, which will not only dilute constitutional benefit of reservation granted to tribal communities of J&K, but it will also give undue advantage to a community which has otherwise enjoyed historical caste & economic privilege and high 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.

Greater Kashmir