No time for Kashmiri Pandits, but Paharis to get ST status

Amit Shah’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir reveals priorities and poll strategies

Amit shah
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After the much-scrutinised delimitation exercise was completed in Jammu and Kashmir, paving the way for assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been focusing on improving its chances of securing a victory in the union territory, without the support of its usual allies. Therefore, a visit by the Union Minister of Home Affairs also became a much-scrutinised affair.

No time for Kashmiri Pandits?

On Tuesday, the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS) expressed anguish over the apathy towards the community in a tweet:



The community feels ignored, as no time has been allocated to them to meet with one of the highest-ranking dignitaries to visit the region so far. Not only have Kashmiri Pandits been victims in a spate of targeted killings, many are still struggling to find employment.



In fact, after the brutal killing of  Rahul Bhat, who worked at the revenue department in Budgam as a PM Package employee, many other Kashmiri Pandit employees have been urging the government to relocate them to safer locations. The demand for relocation has intensified in wake of the recent attack on another Kashmiri Hindu, Vivek Kumar who is a Grameen Bank employee. Some such employees under the banner of All Migrants (Displaced) Employees Association, have been sitting in protest for 150 days. Many protesters had hoped that perhaps Union Home Minister Amit Shah would visit them.



In fact, in April 2022, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told the Rajya Sabha that since 2017, as many as 34 members of the minority communities were killed in the Valley, “in terrorist related incidents”. This included 14 Kashmiri Pandits and Hindus killed in Kashmir Valley after Article 370 was removed in August 2019. The Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai, was responding to a question by Vishambhar Prasad Nishad (SP), Chhaya Verma (Congress) and Ram Nath Thakur (JD–U).  

According to the minister, “The number of Kashmiri Pandits and other Hindus killed by the terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir from August 5, 2019 to March 24,2022 stood at 14.” These killings have been reported from “Anantnag, Srinagar, Pulwama and Kulgam districts in the Valley”.

But despite the fact that the BJP never fails to invoke the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, a meeting with community representatives was not on the cards during Shah’s visit.

Scheduled Tribe status for Paharis

Speaking at a rally in Rajouri on Tuesday, Shah first dutifully sang praises of the Central government, made jibes at dynasty politics, and then tried to showcase how life had become better for citizens after the abrogation of Article 370 that robbed Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood and turned it into a Union Territory (UT). He used it to segue into the subject of tribal reservations, asking, “Had 370 not been scrapped, would you have got tribal reservation?”

It is noteworthy though that Gujjars and Bakarwals, had been granted ST status in 1991. But Shah claimed that reservation benefits could not be implemented until Article 370 was scrapped, as previous governments in the state had prevented this from happenning. Hailing Paharis, Gujjars and Bakarwal communities for defending the nation against external aggression and terror threats, Shah announced that Paharis will be granted Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, and all three communities will finally get the benefits due to them.

“The Jagdish Sharma Commission had recommended that reservations be granted to Paharis, Gujjars and Bakarwals. Prime Minister Modi has a large heart and he will ensure that as soon as all formalities are completed, Gujjars, Bakarwals and Paharis will get all benefits of reservation,” he said. He warned that some vested interests were trying to pit Gujjars and Bakarwals against Paharis and said, “I assure you, Paharis getting their due will not affect Gujjar Bakarwals by even one percent.”

ST status paves the way for 10 percent reservation in government jobs and access to a host of social welfare schemes. Pahari Speaking People (PSP) already enjoy 4 percent reservation in some select social schemes. But Gujjars and Bakarwals are reportedly opposed to the move to grant them ST status, as they say Paharis are a linguistic group and don’t hail from any single tribe or ethnicity, and granting them Scheduled Tribe status would dilute the nature of the ST tatus and related welfare schemes. They further argue that Paharis, unlike Gujjars and Bakarwals, do not belong to socio-economically backward communities. 

Paharis are a heterogenous socio-linguistic group of people residing in the Pir Panjal range, mainly in Poonch, Rajauri, and even some parts of Kashmir Valley including Baramulla, Kupwara and Uri. While over 55 percent are Hindus, rest are Muslims. They engage in agriculture and animal husbandry. They have been seeking ST status as they too live and work amidst harsh conditions in a rugged terrain just like Gujjars and Bakarwals. It is also noteworthy that Gujjars and Bakarwals form the third largest ethnic group in Jammu and Kashmir after Kashmiris and Dogras.

The granting of ST status to Paharis has been so contentious, that in the recent past some of the senior most Pahari political leaders including Mushtaq Bukhari, a senior National Conference leader from Rajouri, Mohammad Ehsan from Peoples Democratic Party, and several others, have resigned from other parties to support BJP’s bid to grant the community ST status.

Bukhari recently told Moneycontrol, “Though I stand by our Gujjar brethren’s right to protest in a democratic manner, it’s still disheartening to see. No Pahari protested in 1991 when our case was rejected and they (Gujjars) were granted ST status. It was political discretion than, and will be now as well.”

Meanwhile, the sops for the Pahari community need to be viewed in light of their new-found electoral might. “The ruling three families had manipulated constituencies to ensure their own victory. But after delimitation, there has been an increase in seats in areas with Pahari population,” said Shah.

As SabrangIndia had reported previously, when J&K was a state, Jammu had 37 Assembly Constituencies, Kashmir had 46 and Ladakh had four – taking the state total to 87. After the abrogation of Article 370, Ladakh became a separate union territory (UT) as did J&K. After delimitation, total ACs in J&K stand at 90 – 43 in Jammu and 47 in Kashmir division. The recommendations came into effect on May 20, 2022.


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