Pahari Tribe’s ST Status struggle in J&K

Altaf Hussain Janjua
Pahari Tribe of Jammu and Kashmir is as embedded in a mosaic of collective traditionalism and reflected through their common origin, common language, distinctive dress pattern, distinctive food habit, common psychological makeup, similar physical feathers, tradition organization in basic institutions of marriage, family and kinship, lower positions in socio-economic scale and relative isolation from the mainstream society, tantamount to make the Pahari Tribe of Jammu and Kashmir an ethnic Group.
Struggle for Recognition of endangered Cultural, ethnic and linguistic identity of the Pahari Tribe started in early 70′ when “All Jammu and Kashmir Pahari Cultural and Welfare Forum was constituted. Pahari Tribe having compact population, major pockets are found among the foothills of the Pir- Panchal range with major concentrations in Poonch, Rajouri, Baramulla and Kupwara. Besides these four major pockets, their habitations are also found in Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian, Pulwama,Budgam, Ganderbal and Bandipora districts as well.
Constitution of All Jammu and Kashmir Pahari Cultural Welfare Forum on 1969-70, Karnah Cultural Club (1973), Establishment of Pahari Section in Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (1978), Pahari Programme and News from the then Radio Kashmir Srinagar ( 2nd October 1979), establishment of Pahari Advisory Board vide Order Number GAD-1439 (1989), twice Unanimous Resolutions in J&K Assembly and Council for ST to Paharis. Passing of Reservation act to Pahari Speaking People in 2014. Pahari Reservation Amendment Bill 2018 and granting of 4% reservation in Jammu and Kashmir from 2020, construction of Pahari Hostels are result of Five decades old struggle of Pahari Tribe for Status which is still pending.
The Govt of Jammu and Kashmir vide Cabinet decision No. 159 dated 8-8-1989 identified and recommended to GOI the name of Pahari Tribe at serial Number One of along with other various groups for ST status but GOI denied ST to them on the justification that they don’t qualify the required criteria. Apart from this the Pahari tribe also believes that their demand was turned down by Rajesh pilot who was himself a Gujjar leader and Union Home Minister at that time. On 6th of February 1993 the then Governor of State G.C Saxena addressed a letter to Shiv Raj Singh Chouhan the then Union Home Minister urging acceptance of the State Government recommendations regarding the grant of ST Status to Pahari Tribe. Governor of the State General KV Krishna Rao in his communication vide DO No GS/GOV(C) IG 193 dated 26 Dec. 19993 to Sita Ram Kesri, Union Minister of Social Welfare Department made a strong case for early inclusion of Paharis among Scheduled tribes. The Governor reiterated the state Governments view that Paharis and Gujjars/ Bakarwals were culturally and racially similar and face the same problems arising out of socio-economic backwardness. Prime Minister HD Dev Gowda in Feb 1997 in public meetings in Uri and Rajouri committed for ST Status but his Government didn’t last long as it fell short.
Former PM Atal Bihar Vajpayee in a public rally in Karnah in 1998 assured ST Status to Pahari Tribe. This can be verified from un-starred Rajya Sabha question No. 2399 in 13-08-20001. On 29 May 2011 the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir State addressed a letter to the Prime Minister pleading for grant of ST Status.
The chief minister drew the prime minister’s attention to the assurance held out to the Paharies by late PM Indra Gandhi and A. B . Vajpayee. It was also mentioned in the letter that pahari people are socio-economically very backward and are facing the brunt of being inhabitants of the line of Control. In 2007 this matter was discussed in the meeting of the consultative committee of Parliament for the ministry of Home Affairs. The Minister of Tribal Affairs had informed the committee that ST Status had not been granted to the Pahari community of the state because the Registrar General of India (RGI) had not accepted their claim to be a tribe. The RGI was of the view that Paharis were linguistic rather than an ethnic Group. The Registrar General of India raised seven queries and sought their reply from Jammu and Kashmir State via a communication on 16 of March 2001. In response, the State Govt. Appointed S.L Bhat Principal Secretary to Govt Social welfare Department) who responded to queries of RGI vides Letter No. PSSW/03/261 dated 23/06/2003 and justified ST Status for Paharies by referencing different census reports and commitments from the time to time.
In 2012 Home Secretary suggested that the State Govt may constitute a commission to look into the issue and make suitable recommendations. A detailed socio-economic survey was conducted under Prof (Dr) Pirzada Mohammad Amin Committee which was approved by the J&K Govt Cabinet and sent to GOI. The Peerzada Amin Committee Report in its recommendations have categorically stated that owing to the cultural distinctiveness, vulnerable, socio-economic condition and isolation of Pahari Community, there is a desperate need to mainstream this community by bringing them within the ambit of positive discrimination as governed by the constitutional principle of affirmative action and as applied to other marginalized communities of the country. It has been observed during the macro-field study that the Pahari community people of Jammu and Kashmir state largely resembles stock of people with primitive traits like traditional marriage practices, dress pattern, shyness of contact, hairstyle. etc. The inhabitants of mountainous and border areas live in close proximity with nature and still depend on it for their basic needs such as food, fuel and energy. Agricultural and allied agricultural activities are their main occupation. A remarkable resemblance underlying the patterns of social organizations, culture and way of life can be found between them and other tribal communities of the state.
Pertinent to mentioned here that Kaka Kalelkar Commission, Gajendragadkar Commission, Sikri Commission, Wazir Commission, and the Anand Commission were constituted for different purposes by the successive Governments and none of the commissions recommend ST Status neither for Gujjar/Bakerwal nor for Pahari Tribe. For the first time in 1989 vide Cabinet decision No. 159 dated 8-8-1989 Government of Jammu and Kashmir Recommended to GOI the name of Pahari, Gujjars, Bakerwal along with others communities. Under EWS/RBA/ALC categories reservations, Gujjar/Bakerwal Tribe also get benefits besides ST category.
Pahari Tribe case is more strong for ST status than any other community as it has been recommended by different commissions, committees from time to time may by it SL Bhat Report, Justice Sagheer Report , Interlocutors, Institute of Peace and Conflict, Pirzaad Amin Committee report and time to time J&K Govts recommendations. S.LBhat Report is worth mentioning here because it clears many doubts and justified ST Demand
In 1901 census both Pahari and Gujjari were treated as languages of respective communities along with Kashmir, Dogri, Punjabi etc. No distinction was made between two as regards their tribal or non-tribal character. Further Gujjars have been treated as caste rather than tribe along with other social groups like Hajjam, Lohar, Mochi, Teli etc. Bakarwali is not even mentioned as a language nor did Bakerwal Community return as a tribe.
As far as Justice A. S Anand Commission’s Report and its recommendations are concerned it is regarding socially educationally backward communities. This commission was constituted to remove defects in the rules that governed reservation in appointments and promotions of Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes as were in vogue at that point of time. It did not have the mandate to identify the communities which were eligible or otherwise for grant of Scheduled Tribe Status. It is not correct to hold that even Justice Anand Commission did not consider Paharis entitled to affirmative action of the state.
S.L Bhat in his report clarifies the Jammu and Kashmir State Govt Position regarding Pahari Tribe ST Status No census since 1901 has returned Gujjars, Gaddis or Bakarwals as Tribes. Not even people of Ladakh region. Exceptions seems to be the 1987-88, which followed the statement of political intent to declare certain groups as ST and was prelude to declaration of these Groups as ST, therefore, the question of Paharis not having been enumerated as tribe does not arise and it is not relevant.
All the census have treated Paharis, Gujjars, Bakarwals and others who have been given ST status as linguistic and social groups rather than tribes in the classical sense. There have been some stray references to Bakarwals as nomads. But there is no such description in favor of Gujjars. As a matter of fact, quite a few census reports have described Gujjars as settled group and Paharis as those who migrate in search of employment opportunities.
Denial of ST Status to Paharis in neighboring states cannot be a tenable ground for turning down a legitimate demand. Gujjars/Bakarwals and Paharis share Common social, economic and geographical disabilities and are more or less at the same level of development. If Gaddis who are not nomadic but upland shepherds have been treated as Hindus counterparts of Bakarwals, there is no reason why Pahari Tribe should not be treated at par with Gujjars with whom they have much in common.
Initially, Registrar General of India /GOI was not convinced about the merit of the demand of Gujjars and Bakarwals for ST Status. That is why they were not included in the original notification issued in 1989.They were included in the subsequent notification after reconsideration of their demand. RGI treated Gujjars and Bakerwals as a marginal case. Same consideration needs to be accorded to Paharis.
The Pahari Tribe has as strong a claim to the Status of a scheduled tribe as any other ethnic group that has been notified as a scheduled tribe. The Government of India, at the level of the Prime Minister, has repeatedly held out assurances that this demand will be accepted. To satisfy the genuine aspirations of the Pahari and to honor the political commitments made by the leadership of the country it is absolutely essential that the paharis are granted Scheduled Tribe Status.
(The author is an Advocate in J&K High Court)