Gujjar-Pahari: The Vicious Divide in Pir Panjal Region

By Sajid Bukhari 

“THE greatest weapon white men have used in the past against our people has always been their ability to divide and conquer.” With these words, Malcolm X was trying to make blacks understand that people in power exploit them for their gains and then to further maintain this status quo, divide them at different levels on different issues to divert the oppressed from raising their voice against injustice and oppression. Blacks of mid-20th century were wise enough to take words of Malcolm X seriously and thus liberated themselves .

Comparison between the above mentioned situation and dynamics between Gujjars and Paharis in Pir Panjal region of Jammu and Kashmir, illustrates a stark difference where Gujjar Pahari rift is not only deeply interracial but also prolonged.

This rivalry is not new. Like a dormant volcano it has always been there but the turn of events leading to sudden eruption of hatred and hostility are concerning as August 2021 marked only the second anniversary of abrogation of the special status of J&K and its bifurcation by the BJP led government. This situation was something which required people to focus on impending capitalist ambitions to exploit the resources of this region, and much dreaded demographic changes. Situation demanded them to be united and  unanimous  against this exploitation and for securing  their rights. However, they have been successfully turned against one another to divert the focus.

The reason behind recent animosity and rift is the demand for the Schedule Tribe status by Pahari speaking people which has been opposed by the Gujjar Tribe. This debate of demand and its opposition has created a lot of chaos in the society because Paharis think it is their right to get this status whereas the Gujjar Tribe claims that adding Paharis into Schedule Tribe would violate their rights.

The term ‘Scheduled Tribes’ is not defined anywhere in the Constitution though Article 366 (25) refers to scheduled tribes as "such tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 to be Scheduled Tribes for the purposes of this constitution", whereas Article 342 states, “for specification of tribes or tribal communities or parts or groups within tribes or tribal communities which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Tribes in relation to that State or Union territory, in pursuance of these provisions, the list of Scheduled Tribes is notified for each State or Union Territory and is valid only within the jurisdiction of that State or Union Territory”. The procedure followed for specification of a community as scheduled tribes is not given in any statute but was explained by the Lokur Committee of 1965 as indications of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, and backwardness of such Tribe, both educationally and socially. In 1989, Eight communities that are Bot, Brookpa, Changpa, Garra, Mon, and Purigpa, Balti and Beda, were notified as tribes in Jammu and Kashmir whereas Bakerwals, Gujjars, Gaddis and Sippis were notified as the scheduled tribes under the constitution after Scheduled Tribes Amendment Act, 1991. Despite recommendation from the government of Jammu and Kashmir in 1989 and thereafter, Paharis were not recognised as Tribe and their demand was rejected several times. The demand is peaking again as  GD Sharma Commission is soon to submit its report, inter-alia, on the inclusion and exclusion of the communities from the current list of Educationally and Socially backward classes.

There is no debate over how Gujjars and Bakarwals are the most backward in the region. People belonging to the same face alienation for years because of casteism and other socio-political reasons, even now they are stigmatised at different levels making them the most deserving for affirmative actions which they already enjoy. Nevertheless, it is also to be taken into consideration that there is no concept of creamy layer exclusion in Scheduled Tribe reservation like Other Backward Classes, thus resulting in horizontal discrimination within the tribe. This renders the underprivileged poor, alienated and backward in all dimensions.

Whereas in the case of Pahari Speaking people, there is no trace of any stigma attached with their identity but as per a study of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies New Delhi, socio-economic conditions are not as good as the people of many other communities of Jammu and Kashmir. This became more authentic when the State Backward Class Commission of Jammu and Kashmir, in its report of 2017 submitted, “From perusal of the record obtained from various institutions, we are satisfied that a case is made out in favour of Pahari Speaking People to be considered for being treated as a class of people suffering from socio-economic backwardness and inadequacy of representation and, in the judgment of the Commission, deserve reservation to the extent of three percent”.

There  are  some  communities  and  groups  like  weavers and ironsmiths  in  Rajouri  and  Poonch  which  go  through almost the same  circumstances of nomadic life as  Gujjars  do. However, a majority of Paharis include not only so-called “upper caste Muslims'' but Brahmans, Mahajans and other “upper caste” Hindus as well. This seems to be one of the reasons that Paharis were never considered a part of one tribe.  Meanwhile, any commission constituted under Article 342 of Indian Constitution for this purpose will firstly see whether all Pahari speaking people qualify as a ‘single tribe’ and then the rest of the procedure will be followed to decide whether they can be recommended to be Schedule Tribe or not.

There are arguments from both sides of the parties but contention of this article is not to analyse who deserves what, rather to emphasise how this issue is being used to increase animosity between people of this region.

Historically speaking, this animosity didn’t develop overnight but was being injected over time. For instance, since long, days such as  Gujjar Day are being celebrated every year on 22nd May on the day of Kushan King Kanishka to assert different identity from the rest of the society.

This further widened the gulf and created a sense of alienation in the society, and as a reaction Paharis started organising conventions at  different places to further polarise the people, adding fuel to the divisive fire. More surprising is the fact that such days and such conventions aren’t only to gain political advantages but are being endorsed and promoted by most elites of the society including educationists, government officers and so-called civil society. On the other hand, leaders from both sides find it an easy ground to make their careers.

People might see it as a mere rift on reservation but the fact is that this rift is what will divide people in a way that our upcoming generations will treat each other as untouchables. It is not just a prediction as it has already started reflecting itself within the people from both sides starting from social media.

This could be further seen in our social relations in this region which has followers of Islam as majority, a religion which rejects any and every type of superiority and believes in complete brotherhood yet there are rare cases of inter-caste relations. Needless to state, even in worse situations there shouldn’t come any trait of superiority in our heart and mind, particularly in case of Muslims because even the last Sermon of Prophet Muhammad (s) which is gist of Islam defies such discrimination in all its forms as reported in Musnad Ahmed, "O People! Your Lord (God) is One and your father (Adam) is one. Beware, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab and a non-Arab has no superiority over an Arab, a white has no superiority over a black and a black has no superiority over a white, except with righteousness/piety..."

However, in our case, the level of ignorance and hate is so high that it permeates even in universities and educational institutions, where students from different corners come together and have friend circles from different regions, religions and ethnicities. A major section of students of Pir Panjal find themselves comfortable only with people from their own communities. Meanwhile, Gujjars share spaces exclusively with Gujjars and Paharis with Paharis only. This is the mindset of learned people. As for those who don’t have the opportunity to learn, not much can be expected.

People of Pir Panjal need to understand that divide and conquer is an old tactic and this is what people in power are playing. A few months ago they danced and lured Gujjar community and now people from Pahari community are being gathered in conventions in the name of reservation that too under their political party’s banner. It is sad but true that the public, despite knowing their history, are falling for the trap. It is fine to ask for something but at the cost of conscience and what the upcoming generation will have to pay is something unimaginably devastating therefore it is high time for the people from both sides to sensitise people and sit on a common platform to decide future course of action and responsibility to stabilise the situation. More importantly because of the current situation of Jammu and Kashmir, any sort of division anywhere at any level will only lead people of Jammu Kashmir towards destruction and desolation.


Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • Sajid Bukhari is a law student at Aligarh Muslim University and can be reached at [email protected]

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