Gujjars oppose ST status for Paharis

JAMMU: The decision of the state Cabinet to recommend Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for the Pahari-speaking people has opened a new Pandora’’s box in the already political surcharged J&K.

Dinesh Manhotra

Tribune News Service

Jammu, August 1

The decision of the state Cabinet to recommend Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for the Pahari-speaking people has opened a new Pandora’’s box in the already political surcharged J&K. The reason being the Gujjars, who have this status since 1991, smell a deep-rooted conspiracy allegedly being hatched by the Kashmiri ruling elite to deprive them of their constitutional rights.

Leaders of other weaker sections have also observed that the Cabinet’s recommendation was nothing but a blatant attempt to dilute the ST status to snatch rights from the deserving tribal communities of the state.

“It is a sinister design of the Kashmiri-centric Pahari leaders to deprive the genuine tribal communities of their constitutional and legal rights,” observed Choudhary Shah Mohammad, an eminent lawyer and prominent Gujjar leader.

As Pahari-speaking people have been mounting pressure on the government to grant them the ST status, the Cabinet, in its meeting on July 28, had considered and approved the submission of the report of the Committee of Experts constituted to study the “Socio-Economic Status and Common Ethnic Characteristics of Pahari-speaking People in Jammu and Kashmir” to the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs for the grant of ST status to the Pahari-speaking people of the state.

Dr Javed Rahi, secretary, Tribal Foundation, questioned the credibility and credentials of the Expert Committee. “There is not even a single political scientist and economist in the Committee of Experts then how come this panel can study socio-economic conditions of the Pahari people?,” questioned Dr Rahi, adding that there was no reason to give a serious thought to its recommendations.

Observing that Cabinet’s recommendation was nothing but a ploy to create a hurdle in the socio-economic growth of Gujjars and Bakerwals of the state, advocate Shah Mohammad argued that it was difficult to identify Paharis. “The ST status is being granted to the tribe as a community but there is no such tribe like Paharis. Most of the people, who are projecting themselves as Paharis, are upper caste Muslim Rajputs, who had small kingdoms before 1947,” he said.

It is ironical that the J&K Backward Classes Commission, headed by Justice IK Kotwal, had turned down the demand of Paharis to get the backward class status. “How come a community, whose claims of getting the backward classes status was rejected now is claiming the ST status?,” he asked while recalling that the then state Cabinet in its meeting on February 17, 2000, had also turned down the status for Pahari-speaking people.

The state unit of All India Confederation of SC/ST/OBC Organisations has also condemned the decision.

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