Mobile Internet Suspended in Poonch-Rajouri; Omar Abdullah Barred from Visiting Region

Srinagar: A day after the Lok Sabha passed the Constitution Jammu and Kashmir Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2024 to provide Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to Pahari and three other communities in the Union Territory, the authorities suspended mobile internet services and banned mass gatherings in the twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch “as a precautionary measure.”

Meanwhile, former chief minister and National Conference (NC) vice president Omar Abdullah claimed on Wednesday that he was stopped by the authorities from visiting the Sunderbani area of Rajouri where he was scheduled to address a public rally.

Though the Centre has, once again, clarified that the inclusion of Pahari, Paddari, Koli and Gadda Brahmins communities in the list of ST in J&K would have no impact on the current level of reservations available to the existing ST communities like Gujjars and Bakarwals and that they would continue to get reservations like before, the move has angered the latter.

The tribal Gujjars and Bakarwals have over the past few months held a series of protests across J&K particularly Poonch-Rajouri region against the Centre’s including the UT’s 0ne million Pahari speaking community to the ST list.

However, the recently formed J&K Gujjar Bakarwal Joint Action Committee had in November last year “discontinued” a ‘paidal march’ or foot march from Kupwara in the Kashmir Valley to Kathua in Jammu region midway following Union Home Minister, Amit Shah’s, assurance that there will be no dilution in the existing quotas in government jobs, admissions to professional institutions and other benefits guaranteed to Gujjars and Bakarwals as STs. The action committee had also planned to march on Delhi in the second phase of the agitation under the ‘save tribals march’ programme to resent the move of granting ST status to the Paharis which it believed will deprive the Gujjars and Bakarwals who comprise about 15 percent of J&K’s population of their special rights in education and jobs.

Last year, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) gave its consent for the inclusion of the Paharis in the SC Tribes list of J&K. Despite stiff opposition from Gujjars and Bakarwals who were declared a Scheduled Tribe way back in 1991, the commission headed by Justice (retired) G.D. Sharma set up for socially and educationally backward classes in J&K had strongly recommended the inclusion of the Paharis in the list.

Later the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs sought opinions and views of the NCST on the proposal. The NCST also gave green signal to the inclusion of J&K’s three other ethnic groups -Paddari, Koli and Gadda Brahman- in the UT’s ST. Already, there were 12 communities of J&K enlisted as STs.

While welcoming the grant of ST status to Paharis and, at the same time, hoping the move should not affect the reservation rights of the Gujjars and Bakarwals, Mr. Abdullah told reporters in Jammu, “I was not allowed to go to Sunderbani where my party men had worked hard to organise a public meeting today.” He added that the police locked the doors of his home in Jammu and told him that in view of the law-and-order situation he cannot go to Sunderbani.

The NC leader said, “It was the habit of the police in the Valley to lock homes and then deny any such thing, but now the same is done by the police in Jammu as well. Even the sub-divisional police officer (SDPO) accompanied me to the (party) office like a criminal is being escorted”. He said that this was for the first time that the SDPO accompanied him from his house to the party office “to personally see that my vehicle does not take any other turn.”

Mr. Abdullah further said, “I have said it before, and I want to reiterate that democracy is not allowed to reach J&K. They have once again proved it. They are saying everyone is free to carry out political activities, but it is only for those who are praising the BJP and its government. The people like us who are not government stooges or not involved in BJP flattering face such types of curbs. We are now accustomed to such things.”

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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