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Gujjars, Bakerwals Angry After Protest Against ST Status for Paharis Thwarted

The communities were stopped from protesting the two controversial J&K Bills.
Gujjars and Bakerwals protest at Srinagar’s Press Enclave

Gujjars and Bakerwals protest at Srinagar’s Press Enclave. (File Image)

Srinagar: The Gujjar and Bakerwal communities have strongly criticised the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) administration for stopping them from protesting near the Press Enclave, Lal Chowk, against two controversial Bills that seek to provide Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the Paharis of the Union Territory on Thursday.

Gujjar Bakerwal Youth Welfare Conference J&K president Zahid Parwaz Choudhary posted on X: “Restrictions imposed in Press enclave at the ahead of Gujar Bakerwals protest at Srinagar.”

On Wednesday, the Lok Sabha passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, which reserve two Assembly seats for Kashmiri migrant community members and one seat for PoK refugees. The Bills were criticised by regional political parties and triggered concerns among tribal communities. 

Our community has been at the forefront of safeguarding our borders and we have made sacrifices since 1947. But our youth are being restricted. The Constitution gives us the right to peacefully protest but we were not allowed to protest,” said Mohd. Rafiq Balote, chairman of Uri Block Development Council.

Choudhary said, “Our voices being suppressed and our activists being detained mere to accommodate elite classes. This Govt is of upper classes not of Tribals & minority.”

Gujjar and Bakerwals have been protesting the ST status for Paharis for months and termed it “illegal”. They argue that it would dilute reservation and defeat the purpose of empowering tribal communities. 

Our youths were detained and we condemn it. We want to ask the government for how long would our youth be suppressed,” Balote told reporters during a presser held later during the day. 

The members also alleged that they were stopped from taking the ‘Delhi Chalo’ march from Rajouri with the police detaining several members of the communities. The Gujjars and Bakerwals said that they will launch a wider stir against the proposed move.

The tribals had held a grand Gojri Jirga, or mahapanchayat, in Srinagar city in September in the first such event in decades that brought members from across the region together. 

The Gujjar and Bakerwals have a 7.5% reservation under the ST category, which they also share with other communities like Shinas. Tribal communities, who are mainly Gujjar and Bakerwals, constitute nearly 15 lakh people in the erstwhile state, according to the 2011 Census. 

Meanwhile, CPI (M) Central Committee member and former Kulgam MLA MY Tarigami questioned the passage of the Bills arguing that they were passed at a time when the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, is under judicial scrutiny and the apex court has heard the arguments from petitioners and the government. 

Slamming the BJP, Tarigami said that it has become a “standard practice of the current dispensation to take undemocratic and unconstitutional decisions”.

“The Jammu and Kashmir government had already passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation Act, 2004. The Act provided for reservation in recruitment and admission in professional colleges to the members of Schedule Casts, Schedule Tribes and other socially and educationally backward classes,” he said in a statement. 

The leader also argued that the power to nominate the members should rest with the elected government, not any unelected authority.

The nomination of two members from the Kashmiri Pandit community to the Legislative Assembly reeks of the current dispensation's intentions of never rehabilitating them in their native places. The members from the community like DP Dhar, Pyari Lal Hindoo, Manohar Lal Koul and others had contested election and were elected to the Assembly in the past,” he said. 

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