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J&K: How Govt’s Reservation Policy Ahead of Polls is a Setback for Job Seekers

This profound political context of the issue isn’t lost to young Kashmiris.

6 min read
Hindi Female

29-year-old Sahil Parray, an engineering graduate from Anantnag district in South Kashmir, appeared in the written examinations for the recruitment of police sub-inspectors in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in 2022. The results were announced last year. However, he did not qualify. The agency that organised the exams was accused of misconduct, and the issue got mired in the long drawn-out process of litigation.

But Sahil did not let this setback dampen his spirits. He was determined to appear in more competitive recruitment exams this year, including the prestigious civil services.

But a new order by the J&K administration has thrown him and lakhs of other regional aspirants into a state of permanent despair.

Behind J&K Govt’s Enhanced Quota Allocation for the Paharis

On 16 March, the J&K administration approved a 10 percent reservation for the former state’s Pahari-speaking people, a one million-strong linguistic community that was included in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category in December last year.

J&K Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission (SEBCC) describes the Paharis as people to have “evolved a culture typical of mountain dwellers” and are “relatively cut off from the mainstream society and confront a definite topographical disadvantage.”

While the reservation per se has seldom been a thorny issue in the Muslim-majority region, it is the percentage of allocation of quotas that has triggered a political outrage.

The government amended the J&K Reservation Rules (2005), rolling out fresh reservations for the newly added groups into the ST category in the Union Territory (UT), following the passing of the three J&K-related bills during the winter session of the Parliament through December and February.

The three bills provided for the inclusion of new castes in the Scheduled Caste (SCs) and ST lists while changing the nomenclature of “Weak and underprivileged classes (social castes)” to “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs).

“In light of the addition of four new tribes i.e., Pahari Ethnic Group, Paddari Tribe, Kolis, and Gadda Brahmins to the Scheduled Tribes Order as applicable to the J&K by the Parliament, the Administrative Council approved 10% reservation in favour of newly added tribes taking the overall reservation for STs to 20%,” a spokesman for J&K’s Lt Governor said.

In addition, the government also added 15 new castes to the OBC list and raised their reservation to 8 percent (from the previous 4 percent).


The Move Violates SC Judgment

However, this steep hike in J&K’s complex and often intersecting affirmative action arrangement has expanded the total reservation quota to 70 percent while squeezing the applicants filing under the 'Open Merit’ category into the remaining 30 percent. 

This, the legal experts and the aggrieved applicants tell The Quint, contravenes the landmark Supreme Court's (SC) judgments on the matter.

But more than anything else, in Kashmir – where the former state’s young population (29.3 percent of J&K’s population is between the age group 15 - 29 years) is already struggling with the soaring unemployment rate (34.80 percent), the latest move has ignited anxiety about the shrinking economic opportunities amid the larger political uncertainty ahead of the Lok Sabha elections this year. 

“It’s murder in broad daylight,” Parray said. “I hoped that I would qualify someday if I worked harder enough. But now even that is not possible.”

A son of a police officer, Parray aspires to become one himself driven by the zeal to leverage his entry into J&K’s premier law enforcement agency for serving the public at home. “There are ample opportunities for working in the police service. If you have good intentions, you can do a lot of good work for the community,” Parray said. “Coming from a family where there are so many cops, I have seen it first hand.”


The Skewed Pattern of Reservation System in J&K

As of 2020, a total of 56 percent of jobs and admissions in J&K were earmarked for the reserved categories. This figure was 52 percent before 2019. These include 8 percent for Scheduled Castes (SCs), 10 percent for STs, 4 per cent for OBCs, 10 percent for Residents of Backward Areas, 4 per cent for the residents of areas adjoining Actual Line of Control/International Border (ALC/LB) and 10 per cent for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS).

10 percent was further earmarked as Horizontal Reservation for ex-servicemen and People With Disabilities (PWDs).

But with new changes in place, the reservation quota has now increased to 70 per cent. Legal experts believe that pushing the number this far is in violation of the Indra Sawhney case of 1992 where a nine-judge bench put a ceiling of 50 percent on the number of reservations.

“Governments are legally bound to comply with this judgment before bringing in any changes. I am surprised how the government has brought this amendment,” said Mohsin Dar, a lawyer at JK&L High Court. “Unfortunately, we don’t understand why these issues happen around the time of elections.” 

Dar added that the changes took place pursuant to the passage of the three reservation-related bills in Parliament earlier this year as J&K’s own (downgraded) legislature remains inoperative. 

For local people in Kashmir, it is also galling that the central government is able to make far-reaching decisions on their behalf without even taking them on board.

“J&K sends six representatives to Lok Sabha. Unfortunately, none of them were able to articulate our misgivings over the matter,” Dar added. “The allotment of the new reservation quota is totally unconstitutional. As per the 2011 census, around 75 percent of J&K’s population is in the General category and now they will be competing for just 30 percent of the vacancies. How is this justified?”

The History of the Pahari Agitation

Extending reservation benefits for the Paharis was a long-pending demand for which the community had been agitating since 1991 when the government notified the J&K (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Act that brought the nomad tribe of Gujjars into the ST list.

The Paharis claimed they lived in the same conditions as the Gujjars, and thus, had been left out unfairly.

In 2014, the then J&K State Assembly under former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah passed a bill to grant ST status to the Paharis. But the bill was returned by the then governor NN Vohra on the grounds that the state’s Social Welfare Department was yet to obtain a recommendation from the Commission of Backward Classes identifying the areas the said people inhabit.

The point of establishing such a commission was to establish the criteria on the basis of which Pahari-speaking people could be identified as a distinct community with a legitimate need for reservation benefits.

In February 2018, the J&K State Advisory Board for Development of Pahari-speaking people issued the first-ever population survey of the Paharis. It found that there were over a million Pahari speakers in J&K accounting for 8.16% of the former State’s population. Most of them were concentrated in the districts of Rajouri (56.10%) and Poonch (56.03%).

In 2020, the Lt Governor administration of the newly formed UT amended the 2005 Rules to include the Paharis in the category of socially and educationally backward classes which entitled the community to 4 percent reservation. 

The same year, a Commission for Social and Educational Backward Classes headed by the educationist GD Sharma was set up to make recommendations “for suitable inclusion or exclusion or modification of the Castes and Tribes” in J&K. 

Just three days before Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s J&K visit in October 2022, the Commission recommended granting ST status to the Paharis, thus, becoming the basis for the three laws introduced in Parliament during the winter session. 

How the BJP's Electoral Strategy Plays Into It

However, the political observers in J&K believe that in the absence of the latest census and in light of the delimitation of electoral seats in 2022, expanding the reservation quotas is clearly a part of the BJP’s electoral strategy ahead of the forthcoming elections. 

As The Quint reported in 2022, the delimitation of Lok Sabha seats saw the regions of Poonch and Rajouri (previously part of Jammu Lok Sabha constituency) where the Paharis form a large chunk of the population, being annexed to the Anantnag Parliamentary seat in Kashmir. 

“The Anantnag constituency now has 18 assembly segments across two provinces with two different voting patterns,” one Srinagar-based analyst said, pleading anonymity.

“The BJP will bank on low turnout on the 11 assembly seats that are in Kashmir so that a high turnout across 7 segments in Rajouri-Poonch can work in its favour. And they know how to do it. They have engineered low turnouts in the past by launching encounters with militants in neighboring districts in Kashmir," he deliberated.

This profound political context of the issue isn’t lost on young Kashmiris.

Aspirants like Parray say they don’t see any future for them in Kashmir. “Just because they are desperate to get this seat of South Kashmir, they are murdering our hopes. On one hand, they claim to integrate J&K with the rest of the country but on the other, the political measures being taken here continue to make this place a state of exception.”

(Shakir Mir is an independent journalist. He has also written for The, Article 14, Caravan Magazine, Firstpost, The Times of India and more. He tweets at @shakirmir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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