Tension Mounts in Kashmir Over Tribal Caste Quotas Ahead of Election, Highlighting Indigenous Rights

Tral, Indian-administered Kashmir – Bashir Ahmed Gujjar, a 70-year-old shepherd from a nomadic tribal community, never had the opportunity to attend school due to his family’s poor and transient situation. However, in 1991, the government introduced quotas for Scheduled Tribes (STs) in state-run educational institutions and government jobs as part of an affirmative action program to support historically marginalized groups, including the Gujjars. This allowed families like Bashir’s to send their children to school and secure government jobs, benefiting from the ST status.

Recently, the government passed a legal amendment to include the Paharis in the list of STs, sparking concerns among the Gujjars and Bakarwals that they will have to share their benefits with the new community. This has led to protests and fears that the gains made in the past three decades could be lost.

The BJP’s move to include Paharis in the ST category has raised suspicions that it is a political ploy to secure votes in the upcoming national elections. The Paharis, comprising Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims, have historically been better off than the Gujjars and Bakarwals, and their inclusion in the ST category could impact the political landscape of the region.

While some argue that the move is long overdue to uplift the Paharis, others see it as a divisive tactic by the BJP to pit communities against each other for political gain. The Gujjar-Bakarwal community fears that the BJP is using the Paharis to weaken their electoral influence and erode their social and economic opportunities.

The upcoming elections in Indian-administered Kashmir will likely be influenced by the inclusion of Paharis in the ST category, with the BJP hoping to secure their support while the Gujjars and Bakarwals resist what they see as a threat to their rights and representation. The political situation in the region remains tense as communities navigate the implications of this controversial decision.

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