Tribal Uprising in Jammu & Kashmir


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 Government’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 Government’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. For one thing 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 marginalisation 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 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Government 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 marginalised 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 militarisation. 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 Government.

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 one sees how marginalisation of those already oppressed, would unfold. At another level, it is also a fact that the BJP Government’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.

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Vol 56, No. 8, Aug 20 - 26, 2023