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Gujjar Bakarwals, 12 J&K tribal groups oppose GoI move to include non-tribals in ST list

Counterview Desk 

Top civil rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), expressing “solidarity to the tribal uprising in Jammu & Kashmir”, has accused the Government of India (GoI) of attempting is to “include non-tribals in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list”, which is “condemnable” -- apparently in line with what the BJP government tried to do in Manipur.
In a statement, NAPM said, the government’s proposals to include the Pahadis, Paddaris, Kolis and Gadda Brahmans communities in the ST list of the Union Territory of J&K, against which the tribal communities of the region, the Gujjar Bakarwals, one of the most marginalized ethnic groups of the region, have been leading a major uprising, opposing this allegedly “anti-tribal move.”
It demanded that the Union government should “immediately roll back the Constitution (Jammu & Kashmir) Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2023”, sought to be promulgated for this.

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While the nation is already reeling under the tensions in Manipur and the North-East, there is another major crisis brewing in Jammu and Kashmir. This relates to the Union Govt’s politically-motivated proposal to place a Bill for discussion in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament, for granting Scheduled Tribe status to the ‘Pahadi’ and certain other communities, that traditionally don’t come under the category of ‘tribe’, and are rather socio-economically well-off. The tribal communities of the region, especially the Gujjar Bakarwals, have been leading a major uprising in the region since last year, opposing this anti-tribal move.
As per the Govt’s proposal, along with the ‘Pahadis,’ “Paddari”, “Koli” and “Gadda Brahman” communities are also sought to be included in Scheduled Tribes list of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. NAPM is of the firm view that the inclusion of non-tribal, upper caste communities into ST list is a direct attack on the socio-cultural and economic rights of the tribal communities in J&K, who have faced historical marginalization and injustices. It must be mentioned that while the Gujjar Bakarwal communities have largely been a pastoralist, nomadic community, the Pahadi communities have been more settled, engaged in land-based agriculture, business etc. and belong to dominant sections. Many experts have pointed out that the Pahadis are not a singular ethnic group, as they hail from Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities and are primarily bounded by a linguistic connection in the region.
Notably, the Gujjar Bakarwals were declared as Scheduled Tribe in the year 1991, after struggle over decades, which did help in upliftment of the community, to a certain extent. However, considering the complex political situation of Jammu and Kashmir, they were not able to access all the legal rights enjoyed by tribals (adivasis) in the rest of India. While the abrogation of Article 370 in Aug’2019, reducing J&K to the status of a ‘Union territory’, was an unconstitutional and arbitrary move, this did pave the way for other legislations of India, including the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 to be applicable to the STs of J&K, alongside opening up political reservations. However, within less than 4 years, the BJP Govt. which portrayed itself as a ‘messiah’ of the tribals has revealed its anti-tribal approach, by introducing a Bill that would severely impinge on the interests of the STs of the region.
Even as on date, Gujjar Bakarwals remain one of the most marginalized ethnic groups within J&K, largely homeless and dependent on grazing for livelihood. Multiple reports have also indicated increased repression on their access to mountain grasslands and forest commons, due to militarization. It is a known fact that representation of Gujjar Bakarwals in educational and employment avenues is quite low. As per 2011 census, their literacy rate was as low as 50%. In these circumstances, granting reservations to non-tribals will only adversely impact these tribal groups.
It is indeed unfortunate that based on the Justice (Retd.) G.D. Sharma Commission’s Report, the Union Tribal Affair Ministry and the National Commission of Scheduled Tribes (NCST), which are supposed to safeguard the rights of the tribal communities have approved the recommendation of the Office of the Registrar General of India (RGI), to include the above-mentioned four non-tribal groups in the ST list. That this happened within a month of Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s public announcement and assurance of reservations to the ‘Pahadis’ in Rajouri in Oct '22 is a classic statement on how decisions of such a nature are influenced by this Govt.
It is shameful that BJP is playing with lives of tribal communities, based on its political vested interests in Pir Panjal area
It is shameful that the BJP is playing with the lives of the tribal communities, based on its political vested interests in the Pir Panjal area. Although it is claimed that the new reservations would not impact the share of the currently listed STs, it is only a matter of time before we see how marginalization of those already oppressed, would unfold. At another level, it is also a fact that the BJP Govt’s communally coloured reservation policy over the recent years, including the impending Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023 seeks to majorly focus on Jammu region, with a sizable Hindu population, much to the disadvantage of the Kashmir region.
The 12 tribal communities of J&K, especially the Gujjar Bakarwals, have been up-in-arms against the inclusion of non-tribal and dominant communities in the ST list. The first phase of their struggle Tribal Bachao March, began from Kupwara to Kathua, last year. The second phase of this movement picked up steam, with the proposal to place the Constitution (Jammu & Kashmir) Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2023 in the monsoon session of the Parliament.
National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), is deeply concerned at the ulterior moves of the BJP-led Government of India to extend Scheduled Tribe Status to non-tribal groups and create further social strife in a region of historical conflict, that has already been bearing the brunt of violence and militarization over decades. This move would infact defeat the very purpose of reservations, envisaged by the makers of the Indian Constitution as a measure for the upliftment of the socio - educationally backward communities.
  • We extend our solidarity to the Gujjar Bakarwal and other tribal communities in J&K that have been organizing consistently and democratically against the anti-tribal moves of the BJP Govt.
  • We call upon the Union Govt. to immediately roll back the Constitution (Jammu & Kashmir) Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2023.
  • We urge MPs across political parties to not vote in favour of the above Bill that fundamentally compromises and violates the rights of the tribal communities.
  • We demand that the forest rights of the tribal and forest dwelling communities of J & K be fully upheld in terms of the FRA Act, 2006 and that the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023 be withdrawn.
We are also deeply worried that the Govt’s insistence on pushing through these Bills despite grassroots opposition and the growing resentment within the region, would throw up another major crisis, which would become a pretext for the State to view it only as a ‘‘law and order problem’ and crack down on the democratic movement, instead of addressing the issue with political sincerity and sensitivity. We can ill-afford another Manipur-like situation, where the world is already witnessing the grave repercussions of BJP’s anti-tribal and anti-people policies. We condemn all attempts of the State to repress the tribal movement and demand a peaceful political resolution to their struggle.

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