Though perceived differently from different quarters, but recent announcement of three percent reservation to Pahari community is highly appreciable as it would open new prospect for development which would empower the otherwise economically and educationally backward Pahari people. The community had been actively struggling for the last so many years to get reservation and S T status at par with Gujjar community of the state which got it in1991 but the same was denied to Pahari community despite the fact that the grant of reservation to the Pahari community (along with Gujar, Bakerwal and Sippy community) was clearly mentioned in the serial no1 of the report prepared after cabinet decision, pertaining to the matter at the time when Dr Farooq Abdullah was heading the Govt in 1989.
Due to lack of political will and indifference on the part of political leaders of the state, Pahari community had to struggle for approximately three decades till now when their demand has been finally translated into three percent reservation- which, undoubtedly a welcome step is still short of the original demand, viz. the conferment of ST status. This appears more like an interim relief as leaders of the Pahari community are quite optimistic that in the coming years their final demand for ST status would also be accepted.
The reports prepared by the three members team of interlocutors also recognized the adverse conditions faced by the community and recommended for their ST status. The bill for reservation to Pahari people was passed by both houses of the State in 2014 but due to controversial nature of the issue and lack of clarity it was returned twice by former Governor NN Vohra and finally got the assent of present Governor thereby clearing the decks for it’s implementation. Governor Satyapal Malik’s acumen and prudence recognised the backwardness of the community and he ensured that the long-overdue process for extending the reservation is carried out at once without wasting any more time. The reservation is a big relief, as it provides a level playing field to the pahari community to compete with other advanced communities of the state. Ethnic Pahari group derived its name from the word Pahad which means mountain and people who are the inhabitants of mountain or hills are called Pahari. Majority of them live in the Pirpanjal range in Himalayas. It is not only the geographical feature which gives a separate identity to these people. Pahari people also have separate cultural, ethnic and linguistic identity which provides distinct identity to the community vis-à-vis other communities of the state. Pahari people constituted a sizeable portion of population in the state before 1947.After Pakistani backed Qabalis (tribal) attack and subsequent ceasefire between India and Pakistan, the community was divided on both the sides of ceasefire line which was recognized later on as LoC by both the countries in 1971.The division of the pahari people due to LoC reduced their population in Jammu and Kashmir. As of now, they constitute around 20 percent of the state population and their language is the third largest spoken language of the state. Rajouri and Poonch district of jammu region accommodate majority of Pahari people (around 70 percent of it’s total) whereas the remaining 30 percent population is found in Kupwara,Baramulla,Uri, Anantnag and Jammu district.
The people are generally underprivileged, suffer from socio economic backwardness and live in pitiable condition with abject poverty. Along with the absence of basic infrastructure for education and lack of adequate health care facilities, inaccessible road connectivity, the tough terrains and topography have all played their part to increase their ordeal. The wars of 1965 and 1971, repeated conflict on border, frequent violation of ceasefire, and heavy shelling have also adversely affected their life. In addition to this their representation in Government offices and other sectors of the economy is negligible. Moreover, one can infer the feeling of exclusion in the community from the fact that pahari people were never given a serious consideration in politics and even when political parties do approach them, it is primarily with an eye on electoral gains than with any well intentioned and genuine desire for alleviation of their plight. In politics they are mute spectators and are not given any stake on any controversial issue between centre and state- be it is on Art 370, 35A or any other issue.
Despite all this it is pertinent to mention that when both PDP and NC gave the boycott call to election to local bodies, these people of district Rajouri and Poonch along with other communities enthusiastically participated in the election process. Their faith in democratic institutions and peaceful solution to political problems is highly appreciable.
With this announcement, the Pahari community (PoJk refugee)whose large chunk is residing in camps of Jammu since the days of their uprooting from their native homeland like Poonch, Mirpur, Muzaffarabad POJK and whose more than three generations have suffered all these years may now have some respite through this much needed reservation bill. After as many as seven decades of unemployment, desperation and feelings of alienation, there is finally some glimmer of hope in their lives. Refugees of PoJK community were the first who bore the brunt of partition and were forced to leave their native place to seek refuge in a land alien to their culture and geography. They lost all the property in order to save their life and ironically, are still struggling to earn their bread and butter. No attention is given to ameliorate their condition despite tall claims by political leaders. They considered themselves living in asylum as refugee in their own country with which they share historical,cultural and emotional ties since the time immemorial.
Even now they are not given substantial help or pacakage when compared to other displaced communities which are provided several packages for assistance.
Although extension of reservation to Pahari is a laudable and significant step , it has also opened a new debate focusing on the issue of inclusion (in Pahari reservation) of different categories claiming to be part of the Pahari community in the absence of any clear methodology to define Pahari people. Different sections of the community are justifying their claim on the basis of residence and linguistic criteria. Despite all these things reservation is widely celebrated by the community as a whole, pending markers to define who will fall in the ambit of ‘Pahari’ for the purpose of said reservation.