November 2007 News

Kashmir's Gujjars, Paharis Spar Over Tribe Status

30 November 2007
The Hindustan Times

Jammu: Two major ethnic communities in Jammu and Kashmir - the Gujjars and Paharis - have initiated a war of words against each other over the latter's demand for special tribe status. In Kashmir, Gujjars already have the Scheduled Tribe status, which offers them eight percent reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. Now Paharis are clamouring for it too. The argument of Pahari speaking populations - mostly concentrated in the Kashmir valley and the Rajouri and Poonch districts of Jammu - is that when the living conditions, geography and backwardness of the two communities are the same, then why should one community be preferred over the other. 'It is a grave injustice and discrimination against our people,' said Mohammad Azam Sagar, president of the Pahari Cultural Forum. The Forum had sponsored a shutdown call in Rajouri and Poonch districts of the Jammu region this week. 'There is no justification why our children should be discriminated against. The reservation for Gujjars and denial of the same to us is a grave injustice,' he said. Sagar declared that Pahari-speaking people would not rest until they were granted Scheduled Tribe status. The Paharis, who speak the Pahari dialect, which is akin to Punjabi in some ways, feel neglected. They say because of reservations, the Gujjars have better employment and educational opportunities. The Paharis also argue that over the years the Gujjars have settled down and are no longer the nomadic tribes they used to be until a few decades ago. The demand for Scheduled Tribe status among the Paharis cuts across political barriers as well as religion (Hindu or Muslim). Their population is estimated to be close to two million as against the state's 2.5 million Gujjars. The Gujjars, however, are opposed to any measure that may give special privileges to the Paharis. 'They are economically and educationally much better off and they already have more jobs than us,' says Shamsher Hakla, a Gujjar leader from the border belt of Rajouri and Poonch. The Gujjars have warned the state government against any move to grant Scheduled Tribe status to the Paharis. Haji Shamsher Ali Boken, a Gujjar Bakerwal Joint Forum leader, said it was 'sad that some vested interests are trying to weaken the tribal character of various communities and tread upon established procedures and set practices (needed) to be granted tribal status'. The Forum has faxed a memorandum spelling out its point of view to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Shivraj Patil. The Forum argues that the term 'Pahari' or for that matter 'Pahari speaking people' has never been defined either by the Kashmir or central government. This class of people has neither been defined in any work of history, anthropology or census nor been mentioned in the revenue records, it says. The Paharis have neither been defined as a weaker section nor have they approached the Gajendragadkar Commission, the Sikri Commission, the Wazir Commission, the Anand Commission and the Mandal Commission, which covered the entire country. All these commissions, from time to time, identified other backward classes, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe groups and none of them recognised any group such as 'Pahari' or 'Pahari speaking people' as a weaker section, says the memorandum. Paharis being the affluent ruling class do not suffer from social stigma, which is the most important condition to declare a particular class of people a Scheduled Tribe, it says. Also, Paharis are neither tribal nor nomadic in character and they are not socially, economically and educationally backward.


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