Tribal Status: A distant dream for Paddar

Jaswant Singh
Paddar, a sub-division of District Kishtwar shares its border with Pangi (a sub-division of Chamba District, Himachal Pradesh) on its east and Zanskar (a sub-division of Kargil District, Ladakh) on its north. The geographical proximity of the three sub-divisions makes it a natural unit with a very high degree of intra-regional comple- mentarities. Historically speaking, all of them have been a part of one principality of Chamba ruler and his dynasties till 1836 when Zanskar and Paddar were separated from Chamba and merged with Jammu kingdom by the Dogra rulers.
However, Paddar shares most of the resemblance and similarities with people of Pangi. As per the available sources, Paddar was mostly inhabited by those who migrated from Pangi way back in 8th century. Subsequently, both the places came to be ruled by local Ranas for a pretty long time. While in the middle of 17th century, Chattar Singh of Chamba brought Paddar under his full control along with Pangi by replacing the local Ranas and it remained under him and his successors till about first half of the third decade of 19th century.
So the culture, traditions, norms and values prevalent in Pangi aso began to regulate the life style of people of Paddar. The continuity of trade and cultural exchanges further kept the commonality intact. These similarities in local arts, cultures, traditions, institutions are distinctly visible in both the places. While being part of broader culture, Pangi and Paddar share special closeness and affinity. They are so closely and strongly interlinked by social life and tradition that nobody can imagine to separate them culturally. Both have made great contributions to enrich the common cultural heritage.
Given the commonality between Paddar and Pangi, people of both the places should have been treated equally in terms of grant of tribal status but people of Pangi were fortunate enough to get the status in 1975. While those living in Paddar except mongoloids are still scratching their heads to know the paradox as to what led to their exclusion. With the approval of Tribal status to Mongoloids of all the three sub-divisions of Paddar, Pangi and Zanskar, the only community left without the said status is the Indo Aryan community of Paddar which is still struggling for being granted the tribal status by putting forth the demands at various levels ranging from Governor of J&K to Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs but the efforts could not be concretized so far.
Feasibility of Tribal Status of Paddar
The people of Paddar qualifies as a Scheduled Tribe, as per the criteria while not spelled out in legislation-is well established, and includes indication of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of connect with the community at large, and backwardness. Paddar possess all the requisite traits.
The wide range of commonality existing between Paddar and Pangi also exhibits the same facets which are enlisted as under:
* A primitive trait is the most important aspect of a community. As regards primitive trait, both Paddar and Pangi have mainly two types of people- one with Aryan features and the other with Mongolian features. The Aryan community comprises of mostly Hindus and Mongalian race constitutes Budhists.
Besides, the Nag-cult, worship of snake prevalent in both the places plays an important role in shaping the culture of the two places. One can see temples of different Nagdevtas or Serpent Gods which are adorned with wood carvings of snakes of many forms in both the places. The role of the village deity is strong and presence of devis and devtas add a powerful dimension to the main body of Hinduism.
* Another component of commonality between Pangi and Paddar is distinctive culture. Local dialect is one of the aspects of distinctive culture. As far as local dialect is concerned, Padri dialect is spoken in Paddar whereas pungwali dialect is spoken in Pangi. Both being an off-shoot of Indo-Aryan group of languages have a lot of resemblance. Moreover, every facet of art and culture has become a way of life and is expressed in carvings, paintings, architecture and sculptures. Every form of art in these two places is heavily influenced by the common traditions. The close affinity between the people of these two places is a great asset. The cultural affinity remains the strongest and unshakeable link between these two places. In addition to that life style of people is very tough as they have to store food grain and other essential items such as fuel wood, pulses, grains etc. for winters during summer only. The fodder and grass for cattle is also stored on an average. Each family has to store the essentials for both humans and cattle for a period of five to six months. Most of their time is spent in spinning and weaving. Food habits and customs are the other aspects which have close resemblance and the inhabitants have kept the valley’s unique culture alive in folk songs, music and local dances.
* Geographical isolation is caused largely due to the location of the valley between the Middle and the Greater Himalaya which makes it land locked for winter season due to heavy snow fall. During this period, it remains cut off from the rest of the world and movement of people is restricted to bare minimum. Furthermore, the life remains confined to the house. Rarely one visits other villages in winters. Every one avoids travelling as there is great danger of avalanche, landslides and shooting stones. This geographical isolation is same as that of Pangi except the road connectivity and communication network which has a wide coverage in Pangi. Given the rugged topography and sparsely populated locations devoid of the facility of road connectivity and communication network in most of the places, many areas of Paddar remains geographically isolated.
* Shyness of contact with the community at large is another component with which the people of area are identified. Due to the geographical isolation and the weather, the communities were expectedly in ward looking which made them little aware about languages and cultures of other communities resulting in reluctance of people to interact with other communities. Being an inward looking and geographically isolated as Pangi, expectedly it had turned to itself for social interaction and entertainment. As of now, such a tendency is no more visible in the area which is partly attributed to the tourist inflows to the area and partly to the introduction of electronic means of communication.
* Backwardness, be it educational, economic and cultural hampers the future prospects of the people of Paddar in knowledge society of 21st century based on competition, digital literacy and entrepreneurial skill. The backwardness is so severe that nearly 90 percent of the population is directly involved in agriculture and livestock. However, more or less everyone is directly or indirectly connected with agriculture and livestock. Life is still dictated by the cycle of seasons and the acts of sowing and reaping which makes people extremely poor. As per the NFSA records, there are 76.60 percent BPL families in Paddar which is indicative of the acute economic backwardness of people. As far as education of people is concerned, they are far behind other communities in modern education. The literacy rate of the area stands hardly at 51.61 percent as per 2011 census. This has led to their further economic backwardness. Moreover, they are not yet free from the shackles of cultural backwardness as most of the people still believe in superstitions and witchcraft. It still follows primitive methods of living. They remain a tribe with features that are unique to them. Additionally, they share a high degree of commonality with Pangwali Tribe in the region. Over the decades, it has languished in extreme marginalization.
Moreover, it also falls under the definition of tribe which as per Article 342 of the Constitution of India is defined as “an endogamous group with an ethnic identity; who have retained their traditional cultural identity; have a distinct language or dialect of their own; economically backward and live in seclusion, governed by their own social norms and largely having a self-contained economy.” The Padri community also is an endogamous group with its specific ethnic identity, retained the traditional cultural identity, have a distinct dialect of its own called Padri, is economoically and educationally backward and has its own social norms which govern the socio-economic life of the community.
The material culture of Paddar clearly indicate that they still have the traits of primitive communities. They use very simple tools which are handled manually. It has a traditional community-based institution called a panchi system headed by the male members of community. There is also internal segmentation in the society in terms of distribution of power and income. The culture of Paddar is quite different from Hindus but very much similar to the Pangwali tribes.They worship their household, clan and village deities. They have a distinct set of gods and goddesses compared with the Hindus and other religious communities. However, many of their gods and goddesses are the same as those of scheduled tribes of Pangi. Like other tribes, their places of worship are extremely simple and many of their rituals are performed by the traditional Thakar (priest) who belongs to their own community.
Impact of Denial of Scheduled Tribe Status on the Paddar
The main impact of this denial has economic and educational. For instance, the Padri community does not get the educational benefits provided by the government to the Scheduled Tribes viz. stipend and post-metric scholarship, welfare schools and special schools. Reservations are available for higher/professional education for Scheduled Tribes. The Padri community is not eligible for such benefits. Due to extreme poverty, they have not been able to support the education of their children on their own and this makes them educationally more marginalized than the Scheduled Tribe community of Pangi. In most cases, they have no adequate documented proof and so do not receive any institutional agricultural support in the form of loans, subsidies, seeds, and fertilizers, as are provided to the Scheduled Tribes. As a result, the people of Paddar continue to live below the poverty line. The division between Pangi and Paddar has resulted in a major economic divide between the two communities. The ST status has allowed people in Pangi to get due representation in government services, bigger annual allocations for development works and all this has not been witnessed in Paddar.
Possible Way out
There is a need to adopt an integrated approach to promote their all-round development. It is essential that the government sancton scheduled tribe status, preferably the status on the pattern of Pangi, so that they obtain access to benefits meant for them. A sectoral and piecemeal approach to their development will not be of much significance. It is also essential to adopt a participatory approach to their development in which they are enabled to become a partner rather than a mere beneficiary of development policies and programmes. In fact, it is strongly held that the Padri community should be recognized by the government as a tribal group which would entitle them to special government schemes like micro-projects for their overall development in a short span of time.


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