Government is firing from the shoulders of Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs: RK Kalsotra on Article 370

Nawal Kishore Kumar
13 November, 2019

On 5 August, the Narendra Modi government effectively abrogated Article 370 and divided the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories. On being questioned during a discussion in the Rajya Sabha, the home minister Amit Shah had claimed that Article 370 was “anti-women and anti-Dalit.” Shah said, “What is the percentage of OBC there? OBCs are unable to get reservation there. Tribal and Dalit people are not given political reservation, which is why behen Mayawati’s party has supported this decision.” He also said that after Article 370 was removed, Kashmir would become an inalienable part of India.

According to RK Kalsotra, however, Shah lied in the Parliament. Kalsotra is a member of the All India Confederation of SC, ST, OBC (Jammu and Kashmir). He has been working for the rights of the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Classes communities since 1990. He noted that the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir had a provision for reservation. “The government of Hindustan is targeting the people of Jammu and Kashmir by placing the gun on the shoulders of Dalit, Adivasi and OBC people,” he said.

Nawal Kishor Kumar, the editor of Forward Press Hindi, interviewed Kalsotra at the latter’s home in Jammu on the government’s decision on Article 370.

Nawal Kishor Kumar: Questions regarding reservation in Jammu and Kashmir have been raised before as well. Is it true that Jammu and Kashmir does not have any provision for reservation?
RK Kalsotra: I was surprised when I read that the union home minister Amit Shah had said so. He is lying. There are provisions for reservation at government jobs. However, these reservations came into effect in Jammu and Kashmir twenty years after the Constitution had guaranteed the whole of India the benefits of reservation. For this, we had to struggle a lot.

NKK: Why was reservation not implemented in Jammu and Kashmir earlier?
RKK: You need to understand the social history of Jammu and Kashmir. There are two groups which are majorly influential. Among Hindus, they are the Dogra Rajputs and the Kashmiri Pandits, and among Muslims, they are the upper-caste Muslims. When India became independent and there was some consensus regarding the merging of Kashmir into the Indian union, that is when the question of [Article] 370 came forth. At that time, the Dogra Rajput, Kashmiri Pandit and the upper-caste Muslims were in power. They were the ones with predominance. They did not want to extend the benefits of reservation to Dalits, OBCs, Adivasis, and nomadic communities. This is the reason why we had to struggle for reservation for twenty years. Our leader Bhagat Amar Nath martyred himself for it. [On 23 May 1970, Bhagat Amar Nath began a fast unto death in Jammu. He died nine days later. The state government yielded and enforced a notification on the implementation of reservation. Many consider Amar Nath as the BR Ambedkar of Jammu and Kashmir, owing to whose efforts Dalits, OBCs and Adivasis received the benefits of reservation in the state.]

NKK: Before Article 370 was effectively abrogated, what kinds of reservations were in place in Jammu and Kashmir?
RKK: The government of Hindustan is targeting the people of Jammu and Kashmir by placing the gun on the shoulders of Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs. Apart from the eight-percent reservation provided for notified castes, ten-percent reservation provided for notified tribes, and two-percent reservation provided for OBCs, Jammu and Kashmir also has 20-percent reservation for residents of backward areas, three percent for those living at the Line of Actual Control, three percent for those living in hilly areas and three percent for those living at the border.

NKK: Are you all happy with this scheme of reservations?
RKK: No. Here around forty-one percent of the population [referring to OBCs] has only two-percent reservation while, after the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations [the report was tabled in Parliament in 1990], it should have been at least 27 percent.

NKK: Which castes are included among the OBCs of Jammu and Kashmir? Could you tell us about other minority groups apart from these?
RKK: According to the Jammu and Kashmir Gazette of 2005, OBCs include Bahach Hanjie and Shikarawalla [boat rowers], fishermen including Gada Hanz, Kumhar, Shaksaz, cobblers, Bhangi, barbers, village washermen, Bhand, Mirasi, Madari or Bazigar, Kulfaqir, Grati, Teli, Lohar, and others. Among scheduled tribes, we have Balti, Beda, Bot or Boto, Brokpa, Drokpa, Dara, Shin, Changpa, Garra, Mon, Puripa, Gujjar, Bakarwal, Gaddi, and Sippi—who had ten-percent reservation. Similarly, the Scheduled Castes in our state include Barwala, Basith, Chamar or Ramdasia, Chura, Dhyar, Doom or Mahasha, Gardi, Jolaha, Megh or Kabirpanthi, Ratal, Saryara, Watal and other castes. They received 8-percent reservation. I might as well mention that although we received reservation later than the rest of the country, this reservation was not on the basis of Indian law but on the basis of the 1927 Jammu and Kashmir Constitution.

NKK: What do you have to say now that Article 370 has effectively been abrogated?
RKK: We believe that our rulers have not done justice to our social condition. They have their own selfish interests as well. But for all of this, we have complaints against our government. Our people governed our state. But now that the status of a state has been snatched away from Jammu and Kashmir and it has been reduced to a colony of India, there is not much hope left.

NKK: What do you want from the Indian government?
RKK: If the Indian government genuinely wants the betterment of Jammu and Kashmir’s Dalits, OBCs and Adivasis, then it will implement the same reservation that is in effect nationally. That is, OBCs should get the Mandal Commission-recommended 27 percent as is implemented on a national level, not two percent. Dalits and Adivasis already have eight and ten-percent reservation respectively. The government should leave that as it is and should increase it. It will not do to merely say that after the abrogation of Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir’s Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs will get benefits.

NKK: Article 35A has also been abolished. Now, state outsiders will be able to buy land. How will this decision impact Dalits, OBCs and Adivasis?
RKK: It will obviously impact them. Dalits, OBCs, Adivasis and nomadic communities have little land. Our people are the most victimised during financial stress. Now, if outsiders come then firstly, they will buy our land and on the strength of money they make us slaves on our own land. I want to tell the history of this place—the history of this land. This is related to Raja Gulab Singh, who was a Dogra Rajput. Today’s Karan Singh is his grandson. Gulab Singh was the one who bought the principality of Jammu and Kashmir for Rs 75 lakh [referring to the Treaty of Amritsar, 1846, through which Gulab Singh purchased the lands of Kashmir from the British]. In all of India, Gulab Singh was the only one who acquired this principality by paying the British. Along with him came his regiment from Punjab as well as members of the Valmiki society. The Raja gave land to everyone. Apart from them, the Raja continued to give land to those who were close to him. This included Kashmiri Pandits as well as upper-caste Muslims. So the land here remained with these people. In 1976, our chief minister Sheikh Abdullah implemented land reforms and because of him, today, every resident has land. You can tour the whole city and will not find indigenous inhabitants without land.

I am surprised when India’s government says that the abrogation of Article 370 will drive away our poverty. I want to clarify that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are not poor. Go outside and check. You will not find an indigenous inhabitant of Jammu and Kashmir among people working on the roads. This is because eighty percent of the employees in the state government’s jobs are our own people; the indigenous population. Our land is fertile. We harvest everything from fruits to food grains.

NKK: Can you describe what the previous governments have achieved?
RKK: Take Jammu as an example. We have six universities. Almost every village has a school. We have hospitals for curing patients. What more does a population need? Peace, employment, and dignity. But now the government has jinxed this.

NKK: How do you view Amit Shah’s statement on Kashmir becoming an inalienable part of India with the abrogation of Article 370?
RKK: We have been with India since the very beginning. We have also followed the Constitution of India after 1950. The tricolour flag has the same respect as our state flag. We have never differentiated ourselves. Take a look at history. We have no link with Pakistan. But we want our culture and traditions to be maintained, our pride, our self-respect and our dignity to remain.

This interview has been translated, edited and condensed.