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BJP’s Demographic Engineering in IIOJK

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BJP’s Demographic Engineering through Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes in IIOJK

Since the revocation of the special autonomous status of the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) on 5 August 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has undertaken a range of tactics to engineer demography by favouring Hindus largely concentrated in the Jammu region of IIOJK. These tactics include delimitation exercises, giving domiciles to non-Kashmiris, and allowing non-natives to buy properties in IIOJK. More recently, the BJP tabled four bills in the Lok Sabah (the Indian parliament), increasing quotas in jobs and educational institutions and representation of the Hindu-dominated Jammu region in the IIOJK state assembly (see Table 1 below). These bills will allow, in the long-term, the suppression of Muslim voices by slashing their numbers in legislative business and bureaucratic administration in the only Muslim-dominated state, thus further consolidating the Indian occupation of Kashmir.

Scheduled Tribes (STs) are geographically isolated tribes in India. According to the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, there are over 700 STs in India. In the Indian Constitution, Articles 243-D, 243-T, 330, and 332 push to reserve an equal share of reserved seats for both Scheduled Castes (SCs) and STs in panchayats, municipalities, State Legislative Assemblies and the Lok Sabha, respectively. The fifth Schedule of the Constitution assures the establishment of Tribes Advisory Councils in which 3/4th of the representation comes from STs. The council’s responsibility is to have a say on the matters of welfare and advancement of the tribes.

The Constitution Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2023, ensures the inclusion of the Pahari community and a few other tribes/communities into IIOJK’s ST list. The bill promotes the BJP’s ambition of gaining the trust of the Pahari community in Jammu’s Pir Panchal Region. Paharis comprise Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs dwelling in the hilly areas of IIOJK. BJP’s manoeuvring aims to attract Paharis, who constitute the majority in seven out of eight segments in Pir Panchal. Their inclusion in STs would enable them to contest polls on seats reserved for STs. According to the 2011 census, the Pahari-speaking population outnumbers other castes in Nowshera, Kalakote-Sunderbani, Rajouri, Thanmandi, Surankote, Poonch-Haveli, and Mendha. Only in Darhal are Gujjar-Bakerwals in the majority, constituting 54% of the population.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has undertaken a range of tactics to engineer demography by favouring Hindus largely concentrated in the Jammu region of IIOJK.

At the same time, BJP plays safe with the Gujjar-Bakerwals, who have a significant population in IIOJK and got the STs status in 1991. In 2014, the BJP pulled off a victory in the only Hindu-majority Nowshera and Muslim-dominated Kalakote. The victory in the latter came after the BJP managed to woo Gujjar and Hindu voters. BJP assured them that the inclusion of Paharis in STs would not diminish their job and education quotas. Other than Paharis, Padder, Gadda Braman, and Koli tribes will also get ST status. A reserved ST seat for Paddaris will help the BJP in the Hindu-majority Padder-Nagseni seat in Kishtwar District, which was carved out in the delimitation exercise. According to the 2011 census, the Padder sub-division has an overwhelmingly Hindu majority, constituting 83.63%, followed by 9.46% Buddhists and 6.84% Muslims.

On the other hand, SCs are sub-communities within the Hindu caste system. The SCs have adopted the name Dalit or Harijan, meaning the children of God. These sub-communities have historically faced oppression, extreme social isolation, and deprivation of their rights in India owing to their perceived low status in Hindu society. Major varnas or castes such as Brahmin and Kshatriya have forced them to do work that is deemed unhygienic, like disposal of animal corpses, cleaning of excreta, and sanitation. According to the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1950, only marginalised Hindus can be considered SCs.

The second bill, the Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir) Scheduled Castes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2023, ensures the provision of SC status to the Valmiki community, who migrated from Punjab. The Valmiki community had been considered non-natives before the revocation of Article 370 and 35A on 5 August 2019. They were taken into IIOJK by the state government in 1957 after the strike of safai karamcharis (sanitation workers) in Jammu. The bill will allow them permanent residence and reserve quotas in various jobs and educational institutions, which will increase the Hindu population in the occupied state.

The third bill, the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, pushes for the renaming of “weak and underprivileged classes (social castes)” as Other Backward Classes (OBCs). “West Pakistan refugees” and Gorkhas will also benefit from it. Both were considered non-natives before the revocation of Article 370. The majority of social groups to be renamed as OBCs are from Jammu, BJP’s stronghold. 12 out of 15 new social groups being added to OBCs are from Jammu.

The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, increased the number of legislative seats in IIOJK from 107 to 114. Out of 114, 24 are left vacant for Pakistan-administered Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), and nine seats are reserved for STs for the first time. The bill also seeks to reserve two seats for “Kashmiri migrants” and “displaced persons” from Azad Kashmir each. According to the bill, those displaced were mainly Kashmiri Hindus and Pandits. Now, Jammu seats have increased from 37 to 43 after adding six seats, while the Kashmir region has got only one seat, making it 47. Interestingly, despite being the majority region, Kashmir’s share in the assembly has reduced from 56% to 52%, while Jammu’s share surged from 43% to 48% (see Table 2).

According to IIOJK’s reservation rules, 8% of jobs and admissions in professional colleges are reserved for SCs. Kashmir does not have an SC population; therefore, Jammu is the only beneficiary of the reserved rules. As per the 2011 census, Jammu has 99.27% of IIOJK’s SC population (9,17,724 people). STs have a 10% quota in jobs and admissions in professional colleges. Again, Jammu takes advantage of it since it has 63% of the ST population. The last census indicates that 8,10,800 out of 12,75,106 STs in IIOJK live in Jammu, while a portion, making 4,64,306, reside in Kashmir (see Table 2 below).

These bills benefit Hindu-concentrated Jammu more than Kashmir, suppressing the Muslim population. Apart from greater opportunities in bureaucratic administration, Jammu will have almost a similar number of seats in the legislative assembly compared to Kashmir, owing to the inclusion of non-natives into J&K’s increasing Hindu population. Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister of IIOJK, told reporters the “fallout of voting rights to non-J&K residents will be that tomorrow’s assembly will be in the hands of outsiders.” This will have repercussions for political freedom movements seeking separation from India in the case of a neutral or even manipulated plebiscite because the demographic changes will integrate the IIOJK politics with that of India.

Usman Ali

Usman Ali is a graduate of International Relations from the National University of Modern Languages, NUML, Islamabad. His research interests include the affairs of the South Asian countries. He currently serves as a Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.

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