Caste and Politics in Pir Panjal | Zulfiqar Ahmed

Pir Panjal, geographically speaking, is a large area of Jammu and Kashmir state but in common parlance Pir Panjal is a phrase used to describe the region stretched over the twin districts of Poonch and Rajouri. This region is known for its socio-cultural diversity. People of different religions, ethnic groups and castes live here since ages. They have different food habits and dress patterns, languages and cultures.

Representational Picture
Source: Internet
  Diversity is indeed the strength of any progressive society but sometimes this diversity is used by political 'leaders' for their political gains. Similar political misfortune has happened with the people of Pir Panjal region. Caste has been predominant in the politics of this region. Caste has been used as a political tool by different political leaders to gain their vested interest fulfilled and to shape their careers as a politician.

Although there are several castes and sub-castes in Pir Panjal region like Malik, Shah, Khan, Dar, Mughal, Sheikh, Bhat etc. People of these castes are mostly Pahari speaking and come under the one-fold category. On the other hand, there are large numbers of people who speak Gojri language and thus come under the second-fold category. Politicians of this region since decades have been polarising people for vote by creating a Pahari vs Gujjar narrative.  These politicians have been successful in creating pockets of voters in different areas on the basis of caste very easily. they have not only set the region on fire but keep adding fuel every then and now.

Furthermore, the people of this region are political immature which makes it very easy for these politicians to stimulate their consciousness that their identities, culture, and language is under threat in every election. The people forget that they lack basic amenities like road connectivity, schools, clean water and electricity but since decades they don't forget injecting in them the venom of caste. 

It seems that the politicians of this region don’t want people to receive the education because if they get this priceless treasure they will get politically aware and will start questioning their hegemony. Politicians of this region even install their foot soldiers at different constituencies to manipulate people on the basis of caste so that they get what they plan to achieve. This problem becomes worst when even bureaucrats at the gross root level make the nexus with these politicians and work on caste lines. 

These politicians don’t want to change the status-quo as long as they use caste as a tool to achieve their political gain. Further, the polarisation of people on the basis of caste line has created social dividends among the people of different castes in the society. Not only these politicians use caste as a means before election to manipulate voters but they also exploit people in the name of caste even after the election. 

People of the particular sub-regions (villages) are deprived from the welfare activities because of their caste identities. Every then and now election is fought in this region even at the gross root level on the basis of identities, those identities which have been exploited by the politicians to reach their political ends. 

These twin border districts of the Jammu & Kashmir are far away from the capital cities of the state like Jammu and Srinagar. They need infrastructure like Roads, Schools, Colleges, Hospitals. Large area of these twin districts is hilly. Due to the topography, it lacks cultivated land and further, there are no factories in this region which can provide employment to the youth. There is no option of employment for them other than governmental gobs. Hence, it is the responsibility of the self-claimed leaders to create employment opportunities for the youth, instead of discussing caste and identities of the people. 

However, it is also the responsibility of the educated youth of this region to question the politicians on the developmental agenda and performance. Otherwise, they will continue to create and further wide rifts in society, which will have terrible consequences in the future.

  About the Author: Zulfiqar Ahmed is a Research Scholar in the department of political science, Aligarh Muslim University.

Disclaimer: The views of the author are personal

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