21 Years Later, Chopans of Kashmir Still Await ST Status

Chopan shepherd boy outside a Kotha. Photo by Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat

‘Our sister communities like Gujjar-Bakarwaals, Changpas of Ladakh and Gaddies of Himachal Pradesh are already enjoying their rights under the Scheduled Tribe list of 1991 but our community has been neglected for last several decades’

THE Jammu and Kashmir Chopan Welfare Community (CWA) has urged upon the government of Jammu and Kashmir to take immediate steps for inclusion of their community in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list.

The Chopans of Kashmir have been waiting for the ST status since 10th April 2000, when the J&K Legislative Assembly had passed a resolution No. 5821-23/LEGS/2000 as recommendation for granting Scheduled Tribe status to Chopans of the erstwhile state.

As per several other official orders, the copies of which lie with Kashmir Observer, the Chopan Community were placed at special preference for its inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe list but even after 2 decades, the indigenous tribe is still crusading to receive its legal status.

Talking to Kashmir Observer, Abdul Ahad Chopan, District President CWA, said, “If we had a significant population, we would have been a strong vote-bank but we are no more than a lakh in numbers scattered around 15 districts of J&K. This is the main reason we haven’t been included in the ST list.”

He further added, “Our sister communities like Gujjar-Bakarwaals, Changpas of Ladakh and Gaddies of Himachal Pradesh are already enjoying their rights under the ST list of 1991 but our community has been neglected for last several decades, even though our demand for rights stood at 12th preference on Mandal Commission Report.”

Notably, Chopans, known as Pohuls in Kashmir, are a nomadic community scattered across J&K. Unlike their sister communities, they have no livestock of their own but rear sheep belonging to the local farmers.

“All previous governments have passed the buck to the next government for our community’s welfare but all failed to bring justice to our tribe,” Ahad said.

“For the last twenty years Chopans have demanded the same Scheduled Tribe status that has been given to all the shepherd communities in India.”

Back in 2018, J&K’s Social Welfare Department had also passed an order for the constitution of a committee in order to make a detailed study on the “Socio-Economic Status” of the Chopan Community.

The committee was headed by Dr. Pirzada Mohammed Amin, Head of Sociology Department of University of Kashmir.

“The committee had done a survey and mentioned that Chopan Community is living a dismal life due to the failure of receiving the ST status,” Ahad said. “But the report could never see the light of the day due to the frozen funds.”

Even though the indigenous community’s ST status was approved by the Backward Commission report, no further action was taken into the matter.

“If things continue to work in the same way,” Ahad said, “the day isn’t far when Chopan community will cease to exist.”

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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