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Who are They? And Why are Gujjars, Bakerwals Protesting?

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The Paharis of Jammu and Kashmir are expecting home minister Amit Shah to announce the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the community during his rallies in Rajouri and Baramulla on Tuesday and Wednesday. However, others such as Bakerwals and Gujjars have expressed anguish over the expected move, with many from the two communities protesting Shah’s visit.

Who are the Paharis?

The Paharis of J&K are mostly concentrated in Rajouri and Poonch and parts of Baramulla and Kupwara. They have mixed faiths, and have their own social stratification with a well-defined caste structure. They are Syed, Maharajas, Rajputs, and are mostly into agriculture and cattle activities.

They speak Pothwari language, a Punjabi dialect also spoken in the Hindco region including Rajouri, Poonch and Kashmir. The majority of Paharis live in rural areas, and comprise almost 20% of J&K’s population.

What will the ST Status Mean for Them?

Amit Shah had said in Jammu last year: “Elected members of the Pahari community can now become a minister and Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, which was impossible earlier because of dynastic politics.”

Even BJP’s J&K chief Ravinder Raina said in a meeting later that “Prime Minister Modi is now going to solve the issues of the Pahari community. Soon, the BJP will grant the ST status to Paharis, which is their genuine demand.”

The Paharis have been demanding the ST status for the last 30 years, and it is in 2021 that they could build some momentum.

Thus, the Delimitation Commission, formed under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, reserved nine assembly seats for the STs for the first time.

The BJP, which won did well in the District Development Council elections in 2021, and has been eyeing the Pir Panjal region that will determine the new government of J&K.

In the Pir Panjal region, the Gujjar-Bakerwal community has around 12 lakh people, all others are Paharis based on their language.

The SC tag to the Pahari community will also pit them against the Gujjars and Bakerwals, the traditional herders who were granted the status in 1991. The STs have 10% reservation in jobs and educational institutions in J&K.

Why are Other Communities Protesting?

Hundreds of college students from the Gujjar and Bakerwal communities held a protest march in Jammu over inclusion of Paharis in the ST category. People from these two communities also protested in Shopian district of south Kashmir, and threatened to intensify their agitation if the Paharis were given the ST status.

The Gujjars and Bakerwals form the third largest ethnic group in J&K after Kashmiris and Dogras.

The Paharis contended that they should be given the ST tag like the Bakerwals and Gujjars because they live in tough terrains of Pir Panjal region, Baramulla and Anantnag districts. While the other two communities believe that Paharis are not an ethnic group but a group of different religions and linguistic communities.

Leaders such as Mushtaq Bukhari, a senior National Conference leaders from Rajouri, Mohammad Ehsan from Peoples Democratic Party, and several others have resigned to only support BJP on the issue of granting ST status to Paharis.

PDP president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti on Sunday accused the BJP of “creating a wedge” between the Paharis and Gujjars, and cautioning them to be alert.

“There is a lot of tension in the Pir Panjal region for the last few days since there is a talk of reservation to the Pahari community. Brothers have been turned into foes and they are baying for each other’s blood… I request the Gujjar, Bakerwal and Pahari communities to stop fighting against each other,” Mufti told reporters.

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