The main reason why India is called the world’s largest secular democratic state is its Constitution which is based on equality irrespective of caste, colour, creed, belief or religion. Our Constitution has accommodated the basic rights of every section of society in Article 14. India is a multilingual, multicultural and multi-ethnic society. One can see a sea of difference in people’s socioeconomic status, so in order to bring up the status of the downtrodden and poor Indians at par with the developed sections of Indian society, our Constitution has incorporated Articles 341 and 342. These two articles mandate reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. The people belonging to ST, SC and OBC groups are given reservation in seats in government jobs, educational institutions, in legislature, and relaxation in upper limit of retirement age and many scholarship benefits.
Article 342 of the Indian Constitution defines ST communities as those that have the below mentioned characteristics:
(1) Indication of primitive traits
(2) Distinctive culture
(3) Geographical isolation
(4) Shyness of contact with communities at large
These communities are eligible to enjoy the benefits of reservation under ST category. Numberless communities like Gujjar, Bakarwals, Gaddi, Aka, Apatani, Dafla, Galong, Khowa, Mishni, Khampti, etc, are getting benefits of ST reservation and have shown development in their standard of life, but there is one community, the Pahari, which resides in foothills of Himalaya and in spite of fulfilling all the requirements needed to come under ST reservation, is deprived of their constitutional right of reservation.
The Pahari people have been living a miserable life since independence. They live in kacha houses, with shifting agriculture and sheep farming their only occupation. They are deprived of access to higher education or government jobs. Despite comprising 56% of the population in the twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch, they are still not eligible to enter the state assembly under the new delimitation policy, as assembly seats of Rajouri and Poonch are being reserved for ST community.
The Pahari community has been struggling for ST status since 1978. Time and again many state governments like of Umar Abdullah-led NC government and Mehboob Mufti-led PDP government have submitted proposals to the Union ministry for granting ST status to Paharis. The central government also appointed a commission under the leadership of Peerzada Amin in 2013 to submit a detailed report regarding the culture, occupation and socioeconomic background of Paharis. After going through a detailed observation of Pahari community at large, the commission submitted its report to the Union ministry acknowledging that the Pahari community fulfilled all the five conditions necessary for coming under the ambit of ST reservation.
Not just this, Union Home Minister Amit Shah during his recent visit to Jammu & Kashmir announced during a rally that Paharis will be given ST status before the next assembly polls. This positive move by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government has given rise to hope in the hearts of Pahari people. They under the strong leadership of senior BJP leader and DDC member from Darhal constituency, Iqbal Malik, are now urging the honourable Prime Minister and Home Minister to grant ST status to Pahari people so that:
(1) They may be able to attain higher education in universities of India.
(2) They may be able to qualify exams for the IAS, KAS and IPS.
(3) They may be able to live a comfortable life.
And above all, they may be able to contribute to the development of our country.