Two years after Article 370 was struck down, safai karmcharis in Jammu yet to get caste certificate, reserved seats. Here's why

State President of All India India Confederation Of SC/ST/OBC Organisations (J&K) RK Kaslsotra said that political parties have exploited the name of Valmikis as Article 370 is applicable to everyone
Image for representational purpose only | Pic: Edexlive
Image for representational purpose only | Pic: Edexlive

Two years since the abrogation of Article 370, not too much has changed for the safai karmcharis in the Jammu region. One of the biggest things they were promised were the provision of community or caste certificates — right after Kashmir was given UT status. Two years on, those certificates, that would give them a shot at better jobs, and their children a shot at better colleges and education, have not yet come to be.

Gharu Bhatti, a community leader of Valmiki community, talks about how they were brought to Jammu from Punjab in 1957 solely as sanitation workers — and what the provision of a community certificate would mean to his people. He said, "We are still waiting for our caste certificates. There is no government notification as of now, but there is an aayog (commission) that has been set up and they will be deciding on it." Bhatti is referring to the J&K Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission' which came into existence last year and is headed by retired judge Justice GD Sharma and former IFS officer Lal Bharti.  

Has the delay in getting these certificates — and the much-hyped promise of a better life — got them on edge? Not quite. Bhatti added, "We were specially called by the aayog. We are hopeful that we will get it. It is probably delayed because of COVID." Even though caste-based reservation is not yet a reality for the Valmikis, Bhatti added that they are now at least eligible for other government jobs as now they have their domicile certificates. "That wasn't the case before. We were just safai karmcharis  before because we were not recognised as permanent residents here." We could only work in municipal corporations and had been deprived of domicile certificates, permanent residency certificates, and caste certificates resulting in no voting rights, or the ability to access Scheduled Caste (SC) reservations.

Others who work as safai karmcharis aren't quite as optimistic. John Khokhar*, who also hails from the same community, said, "The government has made the change on paper by breaking down Article 370 but there is no change here. People in positions of power are the same and we are still safai karmcharis," he said. Dalit Christians in the region are trying to convince the commission to recognise them as belonging to the OBC community. Their plight is similar to that of the Valmikis as they too say that they were brought from Punjab in the 1950s. However, unlike the Valmikis, Dalit Christians are not eligible for SC reservations as the provision currently is only valid for Hindus.

Which is a primary reason why people like Khokhar are up in arms against the way the Narendra Modi-led government sidelined Article 370 that, until then, had granted Jammu and Kashmir special status. "The way it happened (abrogation of article 370) wasn't right. Equal rights were promised to women, refugees, safai karmcharis and gorkhas. They should have amended Article 370 to help these people instead of abrogating it," Khokhar opined. 

Ironically, this is exactly the demographic that the BJP was looking at when they made the decision and rationalised it. On August 5, 2019, while abrogating Article 370, Home Minister Amit Shah had called the provision as "anti-women" and "anti-dalit". He had said, “What is the percentage of OBC there? OBCs are unable to get reservation there. Tribal and Dalit people are not given political reservation...”

That's probably why a large section of people see the move as either a conspiracy or just plain ineffective. State President of All India India Confederation Of SC/ST/OBC Organisations (J&K), RK Kalsotra said that political parties have exploited the name of Valmikis as the impact of abrogation of Article 370 is on everyone and not just Valmikis. "Have they made any special provision for them such that their name is being used by politicians? Anybody with a domicile certificate will be able to get different government jobs and land here. It is not just Valkimis."  

Kalsotra has been fighting for the rights of the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Classes since 1990. He added, "Our concern was different, we have gheraoed parliament for it. We have raised our voice for the rights of Valmikis here inside the parliament for it. We demanded representation specifically for Valmikis of Jammu in jobs and education. This abrogation of article 370, is it especially for them (The Valmikis)? So why is the BJP using their name?"

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