The attack in Pulwama has spawned a nationalistic fervour rarely seen since the 1999 Kargil war. In the deadliest militant attack that Kashmir has ever witnessed, 49 jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force were killed, when a suicide bomber drove a car filled with explosives into a security convoy, on the Jammu-Srinagar highway in Pulwama, on 14 February. While senior CRPF officials confirmed the deaths of 40 jawans, the media reported that at least nine others later succumbed to their injuries. The Indian government subsequently accused Pakistan of scripting the bloodshed in Pulwama. In the days since the attack, residents of metropolitan cities across India have held vociferous protest marches and news channels have been mulling possible methods of punishing Pakistan.
Underlying the feverish display of nationalism by the urban middle-class, comprised predominantly of upper-caste Indians, is an irony that few have paid attention to—the lower-caste poor account for most of the deaths. I tracked the caste background of the 40 CRPF jawans whose deaths were confirmed immediately after the attack. While the names of a few jawans revealed their respective caste identities, for those bearing caste-neutral last names, I spoke with their family members on telephone numbers registered with the CRPF. I also determined the caste identities through conversations with journalists who covered the jawans’s cremation; local politicians; social activists; sociologists; and by scanning media reports.
The 40 jawans were primarily from lower-caste communities. In all, they comprised 19 jawans from Other Backward Classes (or backward castes), seven from Scheduled Castes, five from Scheduled Tribes, four from upper-caste backgrounds, one high-caste Bengali, three Jat Sikhs, and one Muslim. So, only five out of the 40 jawans, or 12.5 percent, came from Hindu upper-caste backgrounds. This figure bears out a truism starkly visible in India at present—the Hindutva nationalism of the urban middle-class, largely spearheaded by right-wing groups, conveniently exploits the sacrifices of the downtrodden.
Two among the slain jawans, Sanjay Rajput and Nitin Shivaji Rathod, both of whom resided in Maharashtra, were from the Vimukta Jatis community, which is identified as a socially and educationally backward caste and included in the central OBC list for Maharashtra. Rajput, however, was unable to secure a caste certificate, and qualified for the CRPF through the general category. Excluding Rajput and the Muslim jawan, only eight, or 20 percent, joined the CRPF through the general-category quota.