After various recommendations by a number of commissions and panels constituted by the central and state government from time to time for amelioration of the lot of weaker sections of society in India, the Government of India had sanction a fund of Rs 13 Crore in 1975 for the development and upliftment of the Gujjars in Jammu and Kashmir. The announcement of this fund had come as a follow up to the Jammu and Kashmir visit of then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi when she was made aware of the plight of Gujjars. At that time the state had just come out of the political instability it had been passing through since 1953. There was no proper mechanism in place for the development and welfare of the weaker section of the society or for those people who had peculiar problems. Therefore, there was no institution in place to study are particular areas of demand and utilise the funds sanction by the central government. For this purpose, the government of the time constituted a board under the chairpersonship of the wife of then Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah -Begum Akbar Jahan. One of the dominant reasons for the nomination of Begum Abdullah to head the board was that she would always identity herself with the Gujjars. The legend goes like this that Begum Akbar Jahan was born to a Gujjar mother though her father was English. The board thus constituted was named as Jammu and Kashmir Gujjars and Bakerwals Development Advisory Board (currently headed by Gujjar leader Haji Buland Khan).
At the constitution of the board the government of time appears to have ignored the distinct identity of the Gujjars, their peculiar problems and socio-economic status. This become apparently clear from the composition of the board. Some non-Gujjar members like Mohammad Din Bandey and GM Mir Poonchi were also nominated on the board. This evoked a sharp criticism from the Gujjars as how non-Gujjars are expected to understand the needs and aspirations of the, Gujjars therefore, a demand came from several quarters for removal of these members from the board. This criticism was taken by a pinch of salt by the Pahari speaking leaders -a group to which Mohammad Din Bandey and GM Mir Poonchi belonged. (later, M.D. Bandey became vice chairman of the Pahari Advisory board in 1996 currently headed by a Rajouri based Rajput Shabir Ahmed Khan). Thus in back drop of this criticism the Pahari speaking leaders took an exception to the assertion of the Gujjars and they launched a silent campaign to keep Gujjars in their prevalent packing orders. This movement was later joined by Pahari speaking leaders of tall stature to remained senior ministers, legislators, parliamentarians and bureaucrats from time to time.
However, as far as the Gujjar & Bakerwal Advisory Board is concerned, the body abjectly failed to serve the cause in a spirit it was espoused to do. The amount of Rs 17 Crore sanction by the central government could have been sufficient at that time to establish a University. But the board, due to lack of planning and the spirit, doled the funds on creation of few hostels for the Gujjars and Bakarwals and shelled out rest of money on insignificant scholarships. It may not of be out of place to mention here that some of the Gujjar hostels, particularly in the one in Poonch, were set ablaze by some anti-Gujjar elements averse to the idea of Gujjars getting educational avenues. This underlines the plethora of servitude the Gujjars of Jammu and Kashmir have been passing through. In early 1980s the Gujjars and Bakerwals were declared as definite social caste thus entitling them to three per cent reservation in professional colleges. This, however, was strongly countered by the Pahari speaking leaders who putforth a dominant demand for setting up of Pahari board on the analogy of the Gujjar board and they also demanded reservation under the category of Other Backward Classes. Their pleas was based on the premise that the Pahari speaking people and Gujjars are drawn from a similar social background, which however, is debatable.
After a five decades of struggle by the Gujjars, the Government of India grated them the Scheduled Tribe status on April 19, 1991. Besides, Gujjars and Bakerwals the Scheduled Tribe status encompassed ten other tribes including Bot, Beda, Mon, Gara, Changpa, Purigpa, Balti, Dard/Sheen/Brokpa of Ladakh Region besides Gaddi, Sipi of Doda and Kathua districts of J&K.
This was milestone in the social amelioration of Gujjars in Jammu and Kashmir and with 10 per cent reservation (to 12 tribes) open up educational and service avenues for the Gujjars. But immediately after this development, the movement of Pahari speaking people got strengthened and managed to convince the then state administration headed by the Governor to create Development Board for the Pahari speaking people. They also launched an aggressive and concerted campaign for the reservation under Scheduled Tribe. Though the demand of reservation could not see through the light of the day immediately, but the Pahari advisory board was put in place by the state government in early 1990s.
In the post-1996 period when the popular government returned to Jammu and Kashmir under Dr Farooq Abdullah of National Conference. In 1996 assembly elections most of the Gujjars in the fray lost at the hustings except late Choudhary Mohammad Hussain (from Darhal in Rajouri district) and Mian Altaf Ahmed (from Kangan in Srinagar district). However, this time eight members from the Pahari speaking group returned to the legislative assembly, four were nominated to the legislative council and one got a nomination for the Rajya Sabha. Three of the legislators got senior level cabinet berth in the National Conference government. On the contrary during this period none of the Gujjars legislators was in Dr Abdullah's cabinet (Mian Altaf remained a Minister of State for first three years before he was elevated to the cabinet rank while Choudhary Mohammad Hussain was made a Minister of State when the government was at it the fag end of its term). This strong group of the Pahari legislators prevailed upon the incumbent regime and got the OBC status approved by the cabinet. It is pertinent to mention here that the OBC status is one of the pre-requisites for any group to get entitled for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe status. Before this could become a reality the cabinet decision was sent to the Law department for ratification and opinion. The Law department raised certain questions on the issue. One the questions raised by the Law department, before the resolution could be sent to the Government was India, was that the definition of the Pahari speaking people is not clear. The department also remarked that the social structure of Paharis is diverse and there is no immediate reason as why they should be included in the OBC category. In the meanwhile, the state went for the assembly elections and the process could not be taken forward. But before that the proposal had been sent to the Government of India. It is learnt that the Registrar General of India returned the proposal to Jammu and Kashmir with objections that the RNI's office is not convinced with the definition of the Paharis as put by the Jammu and Kashmir government and asked the government to reconsider the case. This put a halt to the ST and OBC status files of the Pahari speaking people pending before the Government of India.
While projecting their demand for the grant of reservation under the constitutional provisions of the Scheduled Tribe, the Pahari speaking people are basing their plea on the main premise that they come from backward which is akin to that of Gujjars. They say that their social structure, background and problems are as peculiar as those of the Gujjars. This is however, far from reality. A little peep into the historical background throws enough light on the social plight of the Gujjars and reveals that Gujjars have been an oppressed lot and continue to be so. That Paharis have been rulers and the Gujjars the rules. Though the political structure and system of administration has changed over the years but the basic realities and social structure continues to be same even in the post-1947 modern democratic political set up.
According to the historical evidences, as clearly elaborated in Harshcharitra, Gujjars came to India during 5th century AD alongwith certain other tribes. From 5th to 11th centuries they ruled Western to the Northern parts of India and particularly rules the kingdom of Greater Gujarat with their name. However, between 11th and 13th centuries some of the regions due to their internal internecine and other reasons like drought started migrated to the upper reaches of the Himalayan belt. During this period there are evidences of Gujjars converting to Islam in the course of various battles with Muslim rulers. The territory, which is latter, was to be known was Jammu and Kashmir was under the rule of Muslims. The Gujjars settled down at several places in Jammu and Kashmir and the rulers of the times considered them threat for their combatant and aggressive nature. Though the polity of the state slowly transferred from Muslims to Sikhs and then Hindu Rajputs but Gujjars were always considered as threat to the ruling clans. Therefore, to ward of this threat, the rulers of the times through a well thought out phenomenon settled the harsh
groups among the communities around the areas inhabited by the Gujjars. The Gujjars were mostly in the hilly and tough terrains while the communities mobilised by the rulers to keep a watch on the Gujjars were settled in the fertile land areas adjoining or around the Gujjar inhabitations. Thus a phenomenon took shape in which the Gujjars were put under direct oppression of the different affluent classes particularly the Muslim classes of Rathis, Maldayals, Thakyals,Thakurs, Turks, Pashtoons, Mirs, Mirzas, Maliks, Dullis, Khans , Sudans, Sayeeds and some groups of Hindus and Sikhs forming the affluent class of the society. Almost all local forms of economy and political structure were directly controlled by these sections while Gujjars were subjected to a second fiddle.
The agricultural lands and the avenues for trade and business were largely owned, possessed and controlled by them with a little scope for the Gujjars. A look at the contemporary structure of atleast four districts in Jammu and Kashmir viz: Rajouri, Poonch, Baramulla and Kupwara reveals that the agricultural lands and avenues of business are still largely controlled by these people and the Gujjars still continue to play a second fiddle to them. In the post-1947 liberal, democratic political structure when the government and administration at the state and central level started looking at the oppressed plight of the Gujjars all those groups who ruled and oppressed the Gujjars for centuries together grouped up and assumed a compulsive homogenous identity to Paharis -the Pahari speaking people. The present discussion is, however, left to be open ended for the sociologists, anthropologists and other social scientists and policy makers to study and conclude whether Gujjars need more avenues to come at par with other communities or the "Pahari speaking people" need to be brought in equal parlance with the Gujjars.