In a significant development, the Lok Sabha has approved the Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir) Scheduled Tribes Order Amendment Bill, 2023, incorporating the Pahari ethnic group along with other communities into the union territory's scheduled tribes (ST) list.
Despite concerns from various quarters, including Opposition MPs questioning the government's strategy to safeguard existing ST quotas, the Bill received unanimous support during the session.
Speaking on the Bill, Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda assured the House that benefits earmarked for existing STs in Jammu and Kashmir would remain intact.
The Bill's passage follows consistent protests by the ST Gujjar-Bakarwal community, asserting that inclusion of the Paharis, considered a forward caste community, would adversely affect benefits meant for tribespeople.
While the government hailed the move as a step towards equitable development post the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, the Gujjar-Bakarwal community expressed vehement opposition, labeling it a "black day" for their interests.
The Bill also incorporates the Gadda Brahman, Paddari Tribe, and Koli communities into Jammu and Kashmir's ST list.
Meanwhile, Lok Sabha also discussed and passed a Bill adding the Valmiki community to the union territory's Scheduled Castes list.
Who Are The ST Communities In Jammu And Kashmir
The dominant ST communities in Jammu and Kashmir are the Gujjars and Bakerwals, who mainly live in the districts of Rajouri, Poonch, Reasi, Kishtwar, Anantnag, Bandipora, Ganderbal, and Kupwara.
With a population of nearly 18 lakh, they rank as the third-largest group in the region, following Kashmiris and Dogras.
Granted ST status in 1991, alongside the smaller groups of Gaddis and Sippis, the Gujjar-Bakerwal community gained access to various government job reservations and educational institution admissions.
Pahari Ethnic Group
The Paharis are Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, and include people of Kashmiri origin who settled in the districts of Rajouri and Poonch over a period of time.
In 1989, the Jammu and Kashmir government proposed their inclusion in the ST list, which was rejected due to lack of records.
However, in 2019, they secured a 4 per cent reservation in jobs and education institutions under Governor Satya Pal Malik's tenure.
Nayan Dwivedi is Staff Writer at Swarajya.
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