Srinagar: Gujjar-Bakerwals Hold Jirga Against Govt Plan to include ‘Non-Tribals’ in ST List
Photos by Anees Zargar
Srinagar: The Gujjar and Bakerwal tribal communities in Jammu and Kashmir have threatened to launch a stir against the proposed move by the Central government to include communities like Paharis in the list of Schedule Tribe (ST), a move that the former have been opposing vehemently.
Thousands from the two communities of Gujjars and Bakerwas on Sunday held a grand Gojri Jirga or Mahapanchayat in the heart of Srinagar city, a first such event in decades that brought members from across the region together.
The tribal communities made a series of demands during the day-long programme in which top leaders, activists and scholars from the community addressed the members. The communities opposed giving ST status to what they termed as “upper-caste” non-tribals, proper implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA) and the withdrawal of Forest Conservation Act (FCA) and J&K ST Amendment Bill-2023. The members also called for the constitution of J&K Backward Classes Commission and rejected the G D Sharma Commission report which the Gujjar-Bakerwals termed as “biased” and “divisive”.
Talib Hussain, a prominent activist from the Gujjar community, who spearheaded the Justice for Asifa campaign, lashed out at the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led government stating that the community is ready to fight on all fronts against the proposed move.
“If the government gives ST status to upper caste Brahmin, Gupta, Rajput, Mahajan, Syed and Mirza, we will not only be fighting politically but we will also hit the streets,” he told NewsClick.
During his address, Hussain also held BJP responsible for the deterioration in the situation in the Pir Panjal Valley region of Poonch and Rajouri areas, where an uptick in militant violence has been reported recently, as the activist quoted comments made by Lt General (retd.) D S Hooda. The former General officer Commanding-in-chief (GoC) has stated that the flare up in the region is also rooted in alienation of the twin communities in the region.
Block Development Council (BDC) member from Doda’s Kahara village Fathima Farooq told reporters that it is a matter of community’s future and if the Prime Minister Narendra Modi led government have made a decision, we have also decided to resist it.
“I hope Prime Minister Modi remembers his promise of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas (Everyone's support, development & trust) but why is this promise not being fulfilled when it comes to our community,” she said.
The jirga was also attended by Malook Nagar, the Member of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor, who extended support to the locals “on behalf of 14 crore Gujjars across the country”. During the address, Nagar, however, thanked Prime Minister for revoking Article 370 and 35 A that he believed paved way for upliftment of the region.
“The successive government have ignored the Gujjar community of Jammu and Kashmir but the 14 crore Hindu Gujjar are ready to fight alongside the Muslim Gujjars of Kashmir now,” the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader said.
The Gujjar and Bakerwals were given the ST status in 1992 after years long demand throughout the 1980s by the community leaders that was also backed by the local political parties. The marginalised community, who mostly inhabit the mountains surrounding the Kashmir valley and in Pir Panjal areas, protested against the proposed move after it was announced by Home Minister Amit Shah that the member believed would lead to dilution of the reservation.
Gujjar and Bakerwals have a 7.5% reservation under the ST category, which they also share with other communities like Shinas. According to the 2011 Census, the tribal communities, of which Gujjar and Bakerwals form a majority, constitute nearly 15 lakh people in Jammu and Kashmir.
Following the delimitation exercise carried out in the aftermath of the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, the Delimitation Commission reserved nine assembly seats for the ST population. It included three Assembly seats of Poonch, two out of five in Rajouri, and one each in Reasi, Anantnag, Ganderbal and Bandipore districts. Since then, the Pahari-speaking population, around 9% of the region’s total population, demanded reservation status.
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