Amid protests in Jammu, Lok Sabha passes Bill to include Paharis in J&K’s ST list

Bill also added Paddari Tribe, Gadda Brahman, and Koli communities to ST list; another Bill to include Valmiki community and synonyms in SC list was also passed

February 06, 2024 11:18 pm | Updated 11:19 pm IST - New Delhi/Srinagar

Union Minister Arjun Munda speaks in the Lok Sabha during the Budget Session of Parliament, in New Delhi on February 06, 2024.

Union Minister Arjun Munda speaks in the Lok Sabha during the Budget Session of Parliament, in New Delhi on February 06, 2024. | Photo Credit: ANI

Amid street protests led by the Scheduled Tribe Gujjar-Bakarwal community in Jammu against the inclusion of the Pahari Ethnic group in the Union Territory’s Scheduled Tribes list, Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Bill to include this community in the UT’s ST list, with Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda categorically asserting that benefits meant for existing STs in the UT will not be disturbed whatsoever. 

The Lok Sabha passed the Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir) Scheduled Tribes Order Amendment Bill, 2023, through voice vote with support from across party lines even as Anantnag MP Hasnain Masoodi sought guarantees from the government on its specific strategy to ensure the quota for existing STs is protected. Other Opposition MPs questioned the government over its delay in processing requests for inclusion from other communities in other states.  

In addition to the Pahari Ethnic Group, the Bill also adds the Gadda Brahman, the Paddari Tribe, and the Koli communities to the ST list of Jammu and Kashmir. Together with this, Lok Sabha also discussed and passed a Bill to add the Valmiki community to the Scheduled Castes list of the UT, along with its synonyms.

With the government considering the proposal to include Paharis for a couple of years now, the Gujjar-Bakarwal community has been mounting a stiff opposition to it. The ST community has argued that the Paharis were a forward caste community and that including them in the ST list would invariably result in Gujjar-Bakarwal and other marginalised ST communities being crowded out of benefits meant for tribespeople.

Also Read | Centre moves Bill to provide reservation to OBCs in local bodies in J&K

Protests by the Gujjar-Bakarwal community in Jammu and Kashmir have been consistent, with scores of students from the Gujjar and Bakerwal communities holding street protests in Jammu on Tuesday even as students at the Jammu University held a protest the previous night. 

Guftar Ahmad, a prominent Gujjar leader, termed the move to grant ST status to “upper caste” in J&K as a black day for the community, even as Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda in the House on Tuesday called the passing of this Bill a sign of how the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35a had shown their government’s intent to unit India - “from Kashmir to Kanyakumari”.

“If this had not been done in 2019, we would now be writing in exceptions for J&K on most legislation being brought in this House,” Mr. Munda said, adding that now, Constitutional guarantees like reservation will be provided to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Assuring the entire Gujjar-Bakerwal community and other ST communities in J&K, Mr. Munda asserted, “I am categorically stating that all those who are already Scheduled Tribes in Jammu and Kashmir, their reservation quotas in public education and jobs will remain undisturbed. Now, everyone deserving of it will get the quota and I again assure you that no quota of existing STs will be affected.”

During the discussion on the Bill, Mr. Masoodi of the J&K National Conference, took sharp aim at the Union government for not clarifying how it was going to ensure that Gujjar-Bakerwal’s share of benefits remains protected. “Our stand on this has always been clear. We have always supported ST status for Paharis but on the condition that no existing ST’s rights or quota should be diluted for it. The government is even now not clarifying specifically how it will protect existing STs’ rights after including Paharis in the list.”

Responding to Jammu MP Jugal Kishore Sharma’s (BJP) allegation that elite families of the National Conference, People’s Democratic Party, and the Congress, had prevented development of the region’s peoples, Mr. Masoodi stressed that it was his party’s administration that had initiated the proposal to include Paharis in the ST list by sending the paperwork to the Centre in the 1980s. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Ahmad, a lawyer by profession, said, “The BJP government is going to grant ST status to the upper caste community that has ruled this place in the past. It’s a war waged by the BJP and our community will give its reply in the upcoming elections. The BJP has destroyed the idea of reservation.”

During the discussion on the Bill to add the Valmiki community to J&K’s SC list, several MPs from the BJP pointed out that this move was just another example of the PM Modi-led Government showing respect that was a long-time owed to marginalised communities of the country. 

Sirsa MP Sunita Duggal (BJP) and Mr. Sharma, were among the members who connected the inclusion of the Valmiki community to the consecration ceremony held at Ayodhya’s Ram Temple last month. “Just like the PM naming the Ayodhya airport after Valmiki shows his reverence and respect for the community, this too is a sign of that,” Mr. Sharma said. 

While replying to the discussion, Social Justice Minister Virendra Kumar said that the “Balmiki” community was already in the SC list but adding the names “Valmiki” and its synonyms were important to help people sign up for government schemes and benefits. He added that these were migrants from Punjab who were relegated to cleaning drains and roads without any right to own property or vote in Assembly and local elections or reservation in jobs and education. 

“Now, these people will be entitled to all benefits that are meant for SC and ST people under the Constitution of India and the laws made by Parliament - from housing schemes and health programmes to reservations in public employment and education and protections offered by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,” Dr. Kumar said. 

During the joint discussion on both Bills, members of the Opposition raised several points while largely expressing support for the Bills. NCP MP Supriya Sule once again sought to know why the government insisted on adding communities to the SC/ST lists one-by-one and not all at once. 

Other Opposition MPs like the Congress’ Kodikunnil Suresh demanded that the current living conditions of SCs and STs needed immediate attention and that including communities and making laws were just the bare minimum being done to that end.

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