Delimitation, Reservation for STs  rekindle new hopes for Gujjars, Bakerwals by Dr. Javaid Rahi

Delimitation, Reservation for STs  rekindle new hopes for Gujjars, Bakerwals

Dr. Javaid Rahi

As per media reports , the  Election Commission of India  is going to initiate the process for delimitation of all the  90 Assembly constituencies in proposed Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir with an appropriate reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes after October 31, 2019. Such news has  generated new ray of hope for  the Gujjars – Bakerwals who were  facing political apathy  since 1991 when ST status was granted to them by the Centre.

The Gujjar and Bakerwal community which constitute a major group among tribal of Jammu Kashmir having more than 20%  population in J&K  are ethnically , socially and politically a very important segment of the society. This is the third largest ethnic group of State after Kashmiri and Dogra ,has welcomed and hailed this announcement made by the government of India, is it will help  to empower tribal community at large and will help to  eradicate poverty, caste stigma and will end social inequality which they are  facing since centuries.

They hoped  that after proper  delimitation, when Assembly Segments were re-constituted in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the tribal Gujjar/ Bakerwal  Community will emerge  as a significant political force in the state. Knowing this, the Tribal ethnic groups were united behind this imagination, therefore, it embossed as an important vote bank which was very difficult to ignore or surpass by the political parties of the state.

Jammu and Kashmir State has substantial Chunk of Tribal Population which plays a big role in political process and power formations. There are 25 Assembly constituencies where Gujjars constitute 25% to 60 % of franchise. Besides there are twelve  Assembly segments where Gujjar Candidates won elections which includes ,Havali, Surnkote, Mendhar, Rajouri, Darhal, Gool,Gulabghar,  Arnas, Kalakote ,  Kangan and Uri . In other 14 constituencies, Gujjar/Bakerwal  vote can turn the tables which include, Kukarnag, Noorabad, Pahalgam , Kupwara, Karnah,  Nagrota, Inderwal,  Shangs, Tangmarg, Bandipur etc..

As per population distribution, Gujjars live in every corner of the  both the regions  of  Jammu and Kashmir having larger chunk of vote in  each Assembly as well as Parliamentary segments.

All  Political parties of the  Jammu and Kashmir recognized Gujjar/ Bakerwal  as an important and significant political force. After Independence (1947)  various races and groups tried to emerge on socio-political scenario of the state but Gujjars who were pushed to remote and far flung areas lacked behind in all walks of life. During past 72 year  all the linguistic and ethnic groups progressed in a big way except  Gujjars.

 This is for the first time that the government has made its mind for political empowerment of Tribal in the Jammu and Kashmir especially the Gujjars/ Bakerwals . It is pertinent to mention here that the Scheduled Caste community of the State enjoys this constitutional privilege from 1956 as seven seats have been reserved for scheduled castes in J&K Assembly. As per the provisions of J&K Constitution, the Scheduled Castes enjoy 8% reservation and it has been observed that the general condition of Scheduled Castes is far better than the people belonging to the Scheduled Tribes of the State. As said democracy cannot flourish nor will its objectives be fulfilled till it uplifts the communities which are victims of social inequality and caste stigma.

 If we go through the 72 years of independent India, we see that Gujjars/ Bakerwals  have always sacrificed their lives and property for their motherland. This has also been acknowledged by various scholars, top brass leaders of India and commissions constituted by the central and the Jammu and Kashmir  governments for recommending various steps to improve the life standard of Gujjar and Bakerwal tribes.

 After various recommendations by a number of commissions and panels constituted by the central and Jammu and Kashmir  government from time to time for amelioration of the lot of weaker sections of society in India. The Government of India had sanctioned funds for the development and upliftment of the Gujjars in Jammu and Kashmir in early seventies. As per the tribal elders,  Mrs. Indera Gandhi took keen interest in the political empowerment of Gujjars and organised big rallies and conferences. A department was also established to look after Gujjar affairs. Former Minister late Ch. Muhammad Shafi Khatana was entrusted the job of betterment of Gujjar and Bakerwal community and he was given a post of Advisor to Government of Jammu and Kashmir for Gujjars Affairs in 1971-72. This was for the first time that political importance of the Gujjars was recognized in order to achieve maximum gains. At that time, a good chunk in the budget outlay of the state specified for the development and welfare of the Gujjars in the state. During 1971-72, funds were also earmarked and placed at the disposal of District Development Commissioners of different districts for the development of this down trodden community.

 After establishing State Advisory Board for the Development of Gujjar and Bakerwals in the state in 1976-77, the central government released a special assistance of Rs.13 Crores to the Jammu and Kashmir Government for the educational and social  upliftment and betterment of Gujjar Bakerwal community. After Indera Gandhi , Begum Akabar Jahan wife of Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah has contributed her life for the upliftment of Gujjars/ Bakerwals.

In 1978 a special plans was formulated in J&K  and process for opening of Gujjar Hostels, scholarships to the Gujjar children of the state, rehabilitation of the Gujjar nomads were initiated. These were the great step towards overall development of Gujjars / Bakerwals

In 1991 Scheduled Tribe status was granted to Gujjar and Bakerwals by the centre . This status has brought  a big changes among the community to eradicate poverty, caste stigma, illiteracy .But the view has not been substantially changed as no political reservation was given to them. From 1991 to 2019 by successive governments who were in power.

The Gujjar/ Bakerwal  leadership have time and again  pressed hard to government to be sensitive in affairs of Gujjars and Bakerwals of the state but nothing concrete emerged. It was demanded that political reservation  be granted to Gujjars- Bakerwals but no step was taken in this direction.

In 2014 a Tribal Department was established in Jammu and Kashmir with a Minister  of Tribal affairs to look after the issues of nomadic communities .

This is worthwhile to mentioned here that  Gujjars/ Bakerwals who  live in strategically important, border and mountainous ranges of  Jammu and Kashmir have immensely contributed to sovereignty ,integrity of India besides  peace, harmony and brotherhood in passing decades and they are extensively following the concept of coexistence, unity for prosperity.

Owing to geographical settings,  in passing decades,  the indicators of  development  of ‘Schedule Tribes’   of Jammu and Kashmir , reveals an intense abating growth in socio-economic, education and health status of tribal groups. Inadequately represented in socio- politico-administrative structures-  the tribal being mainly  nomads, semi-nomads or differently habitats,  necessitate inventive initiatives,  form the government for effective resolution of  adversities , they are facing since long.

The new proposal of Centre to grant Political Reservation to Gujjars / Bakerwals is  largely hailed  by  the  community as it will be a  “biggest gift” of the 21st century for STs of J&K as the community have been agitating to get political reservation Since 1991.

These historical steps will strengthen Gujjar identity in the state and the people belonging to far flung areas of the state will be able to play their positive role in the development and progress of the region and country .

(The Author is a Tribal Researcher and can be mailed at )

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