In Kashmir, Gujjar Bakerwal activists decry injustice against open merit in new reservation policy

In Kashmir, Gujjar Bakerwal activists decry injustice against open merit in new reservation policy
The recent decision of Jammu Kashmir to add new castes to the reservation list which has limited the opportunities for Open Merit candidates. The decision is being opposed, interestingly, by the activists and members of the Scheduled tribes.

Various Gujjar and Bakerwal activists from Rajouri, Poonch and Kashmir have outrightly spoken the limitation of opportunities for the open merit candidates in the region.

The recent decision by the Manoj Sinha led administration to substantially raise Scheduled Tribe (ST) reservations by 10 per cent has reduced open merit to only 40 per cent and also prompted serious concerns about fairness.

Jammu and Kashmir Reservation Act of 2024 has introduced these significant changes. Under this amendment, the Pahari Ethnic Group, Padari Tribe, Kolis, and Gadda Brahmins have been granted a 10% reservation quota, stirring both anticipation and concern within the region.

The original act, enacted in 2005, focused on providing reservation quotas for Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), ALC (Line of Actual Control) and RBA (Residents of Backward Areas). These tribes were known as Socially Economically Backward Classes, as the term OBC (Other Backward Classes) was not coined then.

The Indian Constitution Amendment Act 103, approved in 2019, introduced a 10 per cent reservation quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) on an all-India level.

Jammu Kashmir implemented this by redistributing quotas, reducing the RBA’s reservation by 10% and adding it to the EWS category.

Under the revised quota system, reservation percentages stand as follows: SC; 8%, ST; 20%, EWS; 10%, RBA; 10%, OBC; (including 15 new castes) 8%, and ALC/IB; 4% totaling 60%. When considering horizontal reservations (3% + 6%), the quota for open merit candidates further reduces.

Though the Gujjar Bakerwal community had their own fears and protested for over three years against the proposed distribution of their reservations, the community today is speaking vocally against the limitation of opportunities to open merit candidates.

Zahid Parwaz Choudhary, one of the most prominent activists of the the tribal population of Kashmir said that it was injustice that the only 40 per cent opportunities were available to the candidates that constitute 75 per cent of the total population.

“I feel it’s unfortunate and highly unjustified. We (Gujjar Bakerwal activists) are not merely for our own rights, but also the rights of every individual who is facing injustice,” said Zahid, who has been vocal against every issue the Gujjar Bakerwal community has faced since August 2019.

Muzaffar Ahmed Choudhary, another Gujjar Bakerwal activist said, “This is a historical blunder after India gained independence. A political party has freely distributing reservation solely for the sake of vote politics. How can a linguistic group suddenly be categorized as an ethnic group overnight? This is indeed true that majority of poor individuals who fall under the open merit category, and who are the majority in Jammu Kashmir are being disregarded & the govt is jeopardizing their future by reducing their percentage in the open merit quota.”

He further said that the issue should be challenged in the court of law or else we will find ourselves begging on the streets. “Speaking up now is crucial for the future of the youth of Jammu and Kashmir,” Muzaffar pleaded.

Another activist of the tribal community Shahid Ayoub said that the introduction of new castes to the Reservation quota was merely an electoral gimmick to woo voters for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

He wrote in tweet, “Govt. distributed reservation like ration to fetch votes to a section of society who were already enjoying multiple reservations in Jammu and Kashmir. They ignored the majority of the Unreserved Population and invested on a small number to win some specific Lok Sabha and Assembly seats and took the Unreserved population very lightly.”

They believe that unreserved have no choice but to vote for BJP but it’s high time for the unreserved section of the society to decide future course of action, what they can do right now is to vote BJP out and register your protests through Ballot. It’s the most powerful right you have which you can exercise and bring change in the system, force opposition leaders to take a stand for you and make it an election issue in Jammu Kashmir, Shahid said.

“Reservation is always proportional to Population, you don’t just wake up and distribute reservation. Proper identification of Tribals and Backward Classes is still a question mark on the system and now extending reservation beyond 50% is another low. Public should wake up,” he added.
(Source: The Kashmiriyat) 

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