The Election Commission of India is set to initiate the process for delimitation of all the 90 Assembly constituencies in proposed Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir with appropriate reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes after October 31, 2019. Such news has generated new ray of hope for the Gujjars – Bakerwals who were facing political apathy since 1991 when ST status was granted to them by the Centre.
The Gujjar and Bakerwal community which constitute a major group among tribal of Jammu Kashmir having more than 20 percent population in J&K are ethnically, socially and politically a very important segment of the society. This is the third largest ethnic group of State after Kashmiri and Dogra, has welcomed and hailed this announcement made by the government of India, is it will help to empower the tribal community at large and will help to eradicate poverty, caste stigma and will end social inequality which they are facing since centuries.
They hoped that after proper delimitation, when Assembly Segments were re-constituted in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the tribal Gujjar/ Bakerwal Community will emerge as a significant political force in the state. Knowing this, the Tribal ethnic groups were united behind this imagination, therefore, it embossed as an important vote bank which was very difficult to ignore or surpass by the political parties of the state.
Jammu and Kashmir State has substantial Chunk of Tribal Population which plays a big role in political process and power formations. There are 25 Assembly constituencies where Gujjars constitute 25 percent to 60 percent of franchise. Besides there are twelve Assembly segments where Gujjar Candidates won elections which includes, Havali, Surnkote, Mendhar, Rajouri, Darhal, Gool,Gulabghar, Arnas, Kalakote , Kangan and Uri . In other 14 constituencies, Gujjar/Bakerwal vote can turn the tables which include, Kukarnag, Noorabad, Pahalgam , Kupwara, Karnah, Nagrota, Inderwal, Shangs, Tangmarg, Bandipur etc..
As per population distribution, Gujjars live in every corner of the both the regions of Jammu and Kashmir having larger chunk of vote in each Assembly as well as Parliamentary segments.
All Political parties of the Jammu and Kashmir recognized Gujjar/ Bakerwal as an important and significant political force. After Independence (1947) various races and groups tried to emerge on socio-political scenario of the state but Gujjars who were pushed to remote and far flung areas lacked behind in all walks of life. During past 72 year all the linguistic and ethnic groups progressed in a big way except Gujjars.
This is for the first time that the government has made its mind for political empowerment of Tribal in the Jammu and Kashmir especially the Gujjars/ Bakerwals . It is pertinent to mention here that the Scheduled Caste community of the State enjoys this constitutional privilege from 1956 as seven seats have been reserved for scheduled castes in J&K Assembly. As per the provisions of J&K Constitution, the Scheduled Castes enjoy 8 percent reservation and it has been observed that the general condition of Scheduled Castes is far better than the people belonging to the Scheduled Tribes of the State. As said democracy cannot flourish nor will its objectives be fulfilled till it uplifts the communities which are victims of social inequality and caste stigma.
If we go through the 72 years of independent India, we see that Gujjars/ Bakerwals have always sacrificed their lives and property for their motherland. This has also been acknowledged by various scholars, top brass leaders of India and commissions constituted by the central and the Jammu and Kashmir Governments for recommending various steps to improve the life standard of Gujjar and Bakerwal tribes.
After various recommendations by a number of commissions and panels constituted by the central and Jammu and Kashmir government from time to time for amelioration of the lot of weaker sections of society in India. The Government of India had sanctioned funds for the development and upliftment of the Gujjars in Jammu and Kashmir in early seventies. As per the tribal elders, Mrs. Indera Gandhi took keen interest in the political empowerment of Gujjars and organised big rallies and conferences. A department was also established to look after Gujjar affairs. Former Minister late Ch. Muhammad Shafi Khatana was entrusted the job of betterment of Gujjar and Bakerwal community and he was given a post of Advisor to Government of Jammu and Kashmir for Gujjars Affairs in 1971-72. This was for the first time that political importance of the Gujjars was recognized in order to achieve maximum gains. At that time, a good chunk in the budget outlay of the state specified for the development and welfare of the Gujjars in the state. During 1971-72, funds were also earmarked and placed at the disposal of District Development Commissioners of different districts for the development of this down trodden community.
After establishing State Advisory Board for the Development of Gujjar and Bakerwals in the state in 1976-77, the Central Government released a special assistance of Rs.13 Crores to the Jammu and Kashmir Government for the educational and social upliftment and betterment of Gujjar Bakerwal community. After Indera Gandhi , Begum Akabar Jahan wife of Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah has contributed her life for the upliftment of Gujjars/ Bakerwals.
In 1978 a special plans was formulated in J&K and process for opening of Gujjar Hostels, scholarships to the Gujjar children of the state, rehabilitation of the Gujjar nomads were initiated. These were the great step towards overall development of Gujjars / Bakerwals In 1991 Scheduled Tribe status was granted to Gujjar and Bakerwals by the centre . This status has brought a big changes among the community to eradicate poverty, caste stigma, illiteracy .But the view has not been substantially changed as no political reservation was given to them. From 1991 to 2019 by successive governments who were in power.
The Gujjar/ Bakerwal leadership have time and again pressed hard to government to be sensitive in affairs of Gujjars and Bakerwals of the state but nothing concrete emerged. It was demanded that political reservation be granted to Gujjars- Bakerwals but no step was taken in this direction.
In 2014 a Tribal Department was established in Jammu and Kashmir with a Minister of Tribal affairs to look after the issues of nomadic communities .
This is worthwhile to mentioned here that Gujjars/ Bakerwals who live in strategically important, border and mountainous ranges of Jammu and Kashmir have immensely contributed to sovereignty ,integrity of India besides peace, harmony and brotherhood in passing decades and they are extensively following the concept of coexistence, unity for prosperity.
Owing to geographical settings, in passing decades, the indicators of development of ‘Schedule Tribes’ of Jammu and Kashmir , reveals an intense abating growth in socio-economic, education and health status of tribal groups. Inadequately represented in socio- politico-administrative structures- the tribal being mainly nomads, semi-nomads or differently habitats, necessitate inventive initiatives, form the government for effective resolution of adversities , they are facing since long.
The new proposal of Centre to grant Political Reservation to Gujjars / Bakerwals is largely hailed by the community as it will be a “biggest gift” of the 21st century for STs of J&K as the community have been agitating to get political reservation Since 1991.
These historical steps will strengthen Gujjar identity in the state and the people belonging to far flung areas of the state will be able to play their positive role in the development and progress of the region and country.