JAMMU: The onset of winter in Jammu and Kashmir, amongst other things, also marks the seasonal migration of the Gujjars and Bakerwals from higher reaches of Valley to the plains of Jammu region. This year, however, these nomadic tribals are in Kashmir, braving the falling mercury as they embark on a month-long march, for the protection of their rights under the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
The foot march, started from Kupwara on November 4, has covered 5 districts in the Valley so far and has reached summer capital Srinagar on 6th day, with the protestors gaining huge number of supporters at every place. The march is slated to end in Kathua, by the end of this month.
Led by youth leaders under the banner of Gujjar-Bakarwal Joint Action Committee (GBJAC), the ‘Tribal Bachao Paidal March’ is taken out primarily against the proposed inclusion of Paharis in ST reservation quota.
The community leaders and members are protesting against the decision of the Registrar General of India and the National Commission for Schedule Tribes to accept the recommendations of Justice GD Sharma Commission report to notify Paharis as STs.
Largely refraining from using the word ‘Paharis’ in any of their slogans, the tribals maintained that their protest is against the inclusion of upper castes in the ST quota.
The Gujjar-Bakerwals currently enjoy 10% reservation in education and government employment, besides nine reserved seats in the Legislative Assembly. With the proposed inclusion of Paharis and other castes such as Gadda Brahmins in the ST category, they fear loss in terms of education and jobs, besides the dilution of their identity.
“Declaring other upper caste communities as STs and providing them reservation is injustice with Gujjar-Bakarwal community and will deprive us of our rights in education and jobs. This march is aimed at safeguarding the rights of ‘real tribal’ community,” say the marching nomadic tribals.
During his visit to J&K last month, Home Minister Amit Shah had stated that Gujjar-Bakarwal and Pahari communities in J&K will be given reservation as recommended by the committee set up to examine quota benefits.
“After the abrogation of Article 370, the process for reservation has been cleared. Justice Sharma’s commission has sent the report and recommended reservation for Gujjar, Bakarwal and Pahari communities and it will be given soon,” he had said, leading to resentment among the nomadic community.
Alleging that the National Commission for Schedule Tribes had no member from the ST or OBC community, the protesting leaders asserted that the report is biased and a tool to saturate the Gujjar-Bakarwal community.
Apart from getting included in ST quota as per the National Commission for Schedule Tribes, the Paharis in J&K are already enjoying Pahari Speaking People (PSP) Reservation.
The protesting members demanded the reconstitution of J&K Backward Commission and resignation of Chairman National Commission for Schedule Tribes. They threaten that if their demands are not met, they will be forced to go for peaceful mass agitation across the UT.
Gujjar-Bakarwal is the marginalized community in J&K mostly living a nomadic life upper reaches of Pir Panjal, Baramulla, Kupwara, Ganderbal, Kathua, upper belt of Chenab valley, Jammu and other far flung areas. It could be said that this community deserves a separate reservation without the inclusion of other communities.