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Delimitation: ST reservation pattern fuels speculations among Gujjars, Paharis

A Gujjar Tribal Woman | Image is representational

JAMMU: As the Delimitation Commission unveils first-ever allocation of reservation for Scheduled Tribes in Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, the pattern has left the Gujjars and the Pahari speaking people anxious over the next possible move eve as the Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha constituency emerges fit case for reservation in near future.

The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of 2019 provided for nine reserve seats for the Scheduled Tribe communities with Gujjars and Bakerwals being the largest set. This fulfilled a three-decade-long pending demand of the Gujjars who were declared Scheduled Tribe way back in 1991 but subsequently denied the benefits of reservation in legislature on the pattern followed in rest of the country.

In its draft proposal the Delimitation Commission shared with the Associate Members in New Delhi on Friday evening, the nine Constituencies to be reserved for Scheduled Tribes have been identified with the distribution of six in the Jammu region and three in the Kashmir Valley.

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The Constituencies reserved for STs in the Jammu region are Darhal and the newly created Thannamandi in the Rajouri district; Surankote, Mendhar and Poonch Haveli, all in Poonch district and Mahore in Reasi district. In the Kashmir Valley, Larnoo in Anantnag and Kangan in Ganderbal district are for STs with a predominantly Gujjar-Bakerwal population and Gurez in Bandipore for the Shina community.

Reservation of five of all eight Constituencies in twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch for the Scheduled Tribes has triggered speculations among the communities, particularly in the backdrop of some recent political developments.

The whole of Rajouri and Poonch districts are populated by the Gujjars and Pahari-speaking people. While Gujjars are already in the list of Scheduled Tribes since 1991, the Pahari-speaking communities have been demanding their similar inclusion since 2002-03.  Their demand gained much momentum in the recent months after hints of commitment from senior leadership of the Bhartiya Janta Party, but much to the chagrin of Gujjars.

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Under the present circumstances, the allocation of five of the eight Constituencies for Scheduled Tribes (Gujjars and Bakerwals) in Rajouri and Poonch districts effectively dislodges the Pahari speaking people from standing in the future elections. Even as the Gujjars make the single largest community identity 43% in Rajouri and 36% in Poonch, the Pahari-speaking people are staggered across multiple social identities who have recently been coming together on the basis of a common language.

The Gujjar and Bakerwal community is upbeat and overwhelmed with joy over the allocation of five seats to them in Rajouri and Poonch but at the same time, the ‘truth’ appears unpalatable to many of them. The community leaders think that the Government of India might declare the Pahari-speaking people Scheduled Tribe as well ahead of the elections making the ground equal and effectively bereft for concessions for any of the two sides. “Everyone will then be an ST and therefore no reservation”, quipped a Gujjar leader.

The Pahari-speaking community, on the other hand, believes that the reservation pattern could be prelude to their inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe. “There is anger but there is also a sense of disbelief that a whole lot of Paharis could be exited from the electoral process”, said a Pahari leader that some political decision in near future could change the ground realities.

The sentiments of Gujjars and Paharis are not the only factors guiding speculations. On his visit to Jammu and Kashmir in October last year, Home Minister Amit Shah talked about reservation to the Pahari-speaking people. He went on to say, “a member of the Pahari community could become Chief Minister too”.

One of the major surprises in the draft delimitation report is the trans-Pirpanjal Lok Sabha constituency of Anantnag-Rajouri comprising of 18 Assembly segments drawn from the districts of Shopian, Kulgam, Anantnag, Rajouri and Poonch. Interestingly, the newly created Sunderbani-Kalakote constituency in Rajouri district is kept out of Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha Constituency and instead included in the Jammu Lok Sabha seat.

It has to be noted with interest that the Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha Constituency accounts for six of the all nine Assembly segments reserved for Scheduled Tribes. With third of the total Assembly seats (six of the eighteen) reserved, the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency could be an ST reserve in near future.

At present, the last nationwide delimitation provides for 47 reserved Lok Sabha for Scheduled Tribes across the country.


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About the author

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Zafar Choudhary

A journalist since 1999, Zafar Choudhary is also a policy analyst and author. An alumni of the London School of Economics, his book ‘Kashmir Conflict and Muslims of Jammu’ addresses a critical gap in scholarship on Kashmir. Zafar is founder and editor of The Dispatch

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