Pahari Community of Jammu & Kashmir

Adfar Shah

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah announced 5% reservation to Paharis besides 2% to OBCs on the eve of Independence Day. Omar also maintained that he would continue to pursue the declaration of Scheduled tribe Status for Pahari speaking people at the central level. However, Paharis say it was never their demand; they demand and deserve ST status only and State should deliver the promises made to them.

Pahaad in Urdu lexicon means mountain and Pahadi means the one who is a mountain dweller or who lives in the hills. Their language is known as Pahadi or Pahari and they identify themselves as the Pahadi Speaking People (PSP).Though they live among or near the Gujjar/Bakerwal localities, however possess a separate community consciousness and detach themselves in many ways from Gujjars and Bakerwals like customs and Castes. However, it is believed that Pahadi’s belong to the Aryan race which once raided India and settled down in the upper reaches (though debatable). Pahadi language is spoken by lakhs of people across the two Kashmirs’ (Kashmir & Azad Kashmir) besides in some neighbouring States like Himachal and Uttrakhand also. Pahadi is believed to be an ancient language though assuming various names since ancient times/regional dialects like Parimu, Hinko, Rajourvi, Potowhari, Chabali, etc,. Pahadi’s believe that their language developed during the Buddhist period or even before that and enjoyed a prestigious status for a long time. However currently it is an endangered language and has lost its ancient glory and fame, may be due to the encounter with the dominant Kashmiri culture or due to the greater influence of modernity. Though there is no dearth of Pahadi literature in the Pahadi language (an Indo-Aryan language of Tankri/Gurmukhi/Shahmukhi/Sharda Lippi script), however there is a considerable dearth of translation works of this rich language.

Source: Jammu & Kashmir Pahadi Cultural and Welfare Forum (JKPCWF),

Paharis vs Gujjars: A Confused Dichotomy

Now a days, there is witnessed a clear dichotomy and a sense of rivalry between Pahadi’s and the Gujjars. Gujjar vs Pahari has been a successful political card played by the vested interests and has thus created a further divide between the two communities. There is huge resentment among Pahari speaking ethnic community after the Gujjars were given Scheduled Tribe status in Jammu and Kashmir (Oneindia: November 21, 2008). Though experts like K Warikoo (2000) believe that “Pahari, which was enumerated separately in 1941 Census, isclosely connected with Gojri and is spoken in much the sameareas”.

While Gujjar communities do not want Pahadi’s to enjoy Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for they believe that they (Gujjars/Bakerwals) themselves despite having the ST status are still to avail all the ST benefits and see any considerable upward social mobility or change in their community. Tanvir Hussain Badhana,23, a Gujjar student from Poonch, studies Political Science in a prestigious university in Delhi. He is also not comfortable with such a demand of Phari’s. He argues, “The ST status for the Pahari community will further increase the gap between us (Gujjars) and them (Pahari’s).Granting such an unneeded privilege to Pahari’s will certainly invite Gujjar agitations in the state for it will decrease the development opportunities of Gujjars and other ST’s and hence prove a deterrent to the Gujjar upliftment. Being downtrodden and pretty less in number than the Pahari’s, Gujjars (about 15 lacs), deserve it than any other community. Pahari’s mostly live in plains, enjoy settled life but we live in hilly terrains and are mostly nomadic pastorals and socio-economically backward than them. We are still to come at par with Pahari’s despite ST primarily because Gujjars are still ignorant and economically very backward. Why are Pahari’s only after ST when they can demand OBC or other privileges”, he questions.

So a considerable wedge exists there. Gujjars claim that their welfare proposals/programmes have notbeen implemented fully and properly till date. They also believe that Pahari’s progress through ST status can hinder their development and smash their identity. They also feel that Pahari’s if granted ST will be developed at the cost of Gujjar progress and development. The apprehensions are numberless but to social analysts it sounds an eccentric logic to oppose Pahari’s interests or demands.The quest remains that, are Gujjars really so afraid/worried of their identity if Pahari’s are granted the ST status?

Unfolding this incessant demand of Pahari’s, K Warikoo in his article, ‘Tribal Gujjars ofJammu and Kashmir’, published in the “Himalayan and Central Asian Studies( vol.4(1),3-20)”,writes,

“The new Pahari demand was backed by the valley dominated political and bureaucratic Muslim elite, which succeeded in persuading the State Governor to take a few steps in this direction. On 17 May 1992, the non-Gujjar ‘Pahari Board’ was set up, with eight Kashmiri Muslims, eight Rajput Muslims, two Syeds and four non-Muslims as its members. On 18 December 1993, the then State Governor, General K.V. Krishna Rao issued a statement urging the central government to declare the Paharis as Scheduled Tribes. Obviously, these attempts to construct new identities such as ‘Paharis’, were aimed at undermining the Gujjars and their ethno-political aspirations in the areas where they are dominant. That is why the demands of ‘Paharis’ of Rajouri, Poonch, Kupwara and Baramulla, (where Gujjars are concentrated) are raised, whereas the backward and neglected hill people of Ramban, Kishtwar, Padar and Bhadarwah, who speak distinct dialects of Rambani, Kishtwari, Padari and Bhadarwahi, have been excluded from the purview of the so called ‘Pahari’. This is a subtle move to deprive the Gujjars of their numerical advantage and fully marginalise them in the political, administrative and other institutional structures of the State”. (Warikoo,2000 :15)

Concurrently, Pahadi’s too feel both dismayed and angry for they are deprived of the status when their fellow communities like Gujjars/Bakerwals have been bestowed this privilege much earlier (April 19, 1991) despite all the communities live under same social and geographical conditions and face problems alike.

       Priyashree Andley, a noted Journalist, in her article titled Scheduled Tribe Status for Paharis in J&K: A Gujjar Nightmare”(September 11,2006),mentions that, “The Paharis’ demand for ST status is based on a claim that their socio-economic condition is similar to the Gujjars, who got ST status in 1991. The Congress recognized this demand in its manifesto and the Common Minimum Programme (CMP). The Government of India had rejected this demand in 2000 and 2002, based on the recommendations of a Parliament panel due to lack of evidence supporting the existence of a Pahari tribe.”

On Gujjar-Pahadi tussle and the wedge between these two communities, she further argues, “Granting a similar status to the Paharis is unacceptable to the Gujjars because, firstly, they are still struggling for their rights; secondly, this issue gets embroiled in the politics of terrorism; and thirdly, political groups are using these vulnerable tribal people for electoral gains.”

While Gujjars feel irked by their struggle for ST status, Pahadi’s too have developed grudges and annoyance against Gujjars for Gujjars/Bakerwals have been earlier bestowed with this privilege. Pahadi’s are desperate after the ST status because they take it more as a savior of their deteriorating identity and feel that attaining the status will bring a very positive change in their lives.

“They (Gujjars/Bakerwals) live in our locality, almost share the same culture, eat the same food we eat, wear the clothes we wear, just differ us slightly in language. But this difference is costing us everything and depriving us from all the benefits they enjoy by the state. Tell me! is it a sin to be a Pahari?” Says Shameema Mughal,28, (name changed), a graduate Pahari damsel from Waliwar in Lar Tehsil of the district Ganderbal. Adding to Shameema’s comment, Sidiq Mughal,35, a proud Pahari who resides in the upper reaches of Lar town says, Our existence is in danger, we are in acute identity crisis, and we are now taken as Gujjars and Bakerwals but deprived of the benefits they enjoy. We do not desire merger but a distinct Pahari identity and for that this reservation is very important. No doubt we have lot of Pahadi poets and our cultural academy has a Pahadi section as well, but only this much is not sufficient”

The community is conscious of their rights now. They have formed forums and launched Pahadi Movements in different parts of the State to achieve their cause. They are continuously fighting for it for more than two decades now. One such forum is JKPCWF (Jammu & Kashmir Pahadi Cultural and Welfare Forum) is operating since 1974 with one member from each district of the State and headed by a Chairman. Besides, JKPPM (Jammu and Kashmir Pahari people’s Movement), Jammu and Kashmir Pahari Students Welfare Association and few other student bodies, All Jammu & Kashmir Pahadi Speaking Youth Forum (PSYF) and a plethora of Virtual/online forums, etc, have been mobilizing Paharis and have been somewhat successful in uniting the whole community and demanding incessantly for this privilege (Scheduled tribe).

Commenting upon this issue, Farooq Khan, 33, a political activist of the Pahadi Basti area in Lar, says, “After fighting for long for the ST status, only in 1989 the state government recommended to the Centre to grant ST status to us (Pahari’s) Gujjarars-Bakarwals and some other communities in Ladakh. The pity is that all of them got it (ST Status), just we were ignored. The fight still continues and we will keep striving for this cause”.

Pahari is spoken by lakhs of people in the State, especially the district Poonch comprises alone of 67% Pahadis, followed by Rajouri, Kishtawar, Doda, Rambhan, Riasi, Kalakote, Darhal Mendhar, Thana Mandi, Surankot, Chandimarh, Uri, Chandanwari, Keran, Karnah, Tangdar, Teetwal and other areas. As per the available data, Pahadi’s round the State comprise of 23.5 lakh people i.e. a percentage of 22% of the J&K State’s total population (12548926 representing 1.04% of the country’s population as per 2011 census). A survey by Jammu & Kashmir Pahadi Cultural and Welfare Forum in 2007 reveals that alone in District Ganderbal, a small and newly carved district of central Kashmir, there were 43566 total Pahadi’s (including Pakhtoon community), out of which 22239 were voters, in Tehsil Kangan of the district, there were 23770 Pahadis and the voter population was 12893, while in Tehsil Ganderbal (including Lar Tehsil of the district), there were 18796 Pahadi’s, out of which voter population was 9356.

Umer Gul, 52, a Pakhtoon leader from Watlar village of Ganderbal District, who is also a member of Jammu and Kashmir Pahari Cultural and Welfare Forum, gives a different definition of a Pahadi, He says, “Earlier we were fighting for ST status separately as Pakhtoons. Later as Pahadi’s and Pakhtoons, we made the struggle joint to fight for the ST Status of Pahadi-Pakhtoon communities. As a Pakhtoon he also believes that Pakhtoons too are like Pahadi’s just the culture differs between the two communities but the problems and socio-economic backwardness is same in both the communities”.

Narrating the data he further maintains that, “A Survey conducted by JKPCWF in 2004-05 reveals that alone in district Ganderbal, the population of Pakhtoons stood at significant 20566 out of which 12796 Pakhtoons belonged to Tehsil Ganderbal and 7770 to Tehsil Kangan of the District.

Unfolding his own community he reveals, “Pakhtoons are known as Pathans. There are two main sub-groups in Pakhtoons as well, i.e. Pashtoons and Kustuuns. Pashtoons speak Pashtu and Kustoons speak Kustuni. For Pashtoons, It is difficult to understand the language of Kustoons. However there have been enough inter-community/inter-racial marriages between Paharis and Pakhtoons .We differ with them in our language and culture but our issues and ailing are same. We are known as Pathans and arrived here in Kashmir before the Kabayle Raid (tribal raid of 1947) and that is why we are known as Mahajirs but later got permanent State domicile in 1969 during the Bakshi reign. Currently we are above one lac in the whole state but invisible and lost in the crowed. Our demands are simply that whatever is given to Gujjars/Bakerwals. We deserve that also for we all belong to same landscape and socio-economic conditions. We as Pakhtoons and Pahari’s are collectively known as ‘Khans’ by the wider society but compared to Pahari’s even we lack a sufficient public space, political and cultural representation and our culture is on the verge of extinction. Government should do something seriously to preserve our culture and there must be an emphasis on conducting studies/research and documenting our cultural practices and life pattern as well”.

Pahadi’s feel discrimination in public sector employments like their poor representation in Government services, Public sector undertakings, etc. They feel a sense of social exclusion despite being a sizeable proportion of the State’s population. They feel themselves the victims of the politics of exclusion and internal conspiracies. Pahari community is currently in identity crisis, they feel the bias against them in political circles has prolonged their suffering and demands.

Nayeem Khan, a Delhi based journalist in his article in Freepress Kashmir titled, “Lost in the crowd: Kashmir’s Pahari Community” (March 15,2013) maintains that “In Kashmir, the majority of Paharis reside far away from main towns of Uri, Boniyar, Karnah, Keran, Poonch, Rajouri, Jumagand, Macchil, Larridora Chandoosa and so on.On the discrimination against Pahadi’s, he further maintains that, “Paharis live just like how the Gujjars or the nomadic Bakerwals or shepherds do; their children study in the same school and all of them face the same hardships in daily life. But due to these similarities, they have gradually come to be identified as Gujjars and Bakerwals, which it is not.”

Pahadi’s feel disgusted about the frivolous debates of both pro and anti reservationists for they believe that people have never understood their agonies and the hardships they face on routine basis. They feel their issues are not reported or addressed adequately and objectively. They are fed up with disempowerment and lack of ample livelihood sources. They also feel dismayed over the State’s selective functioning pertaining to such reservation matters.

Chairman of the Jammu & Kashmir Pahadi Cultural and Welfare Forum (JKPCWF), Mr Sharaft Ali Khan, 65,(Poonch), argues that, “it is not that we are like them (Gujjars), the fact is that they being a minuscule proportion as compared to Pahadi’s have started following our cultural ways and patterns for they live amongst us. The differences need to be understood and for that we need research to be carried out on Pahari culture and Socio-economic aspects of the community”.

On Pahadi Language he further argues that, “It is an ancient language that had different names in the past like Hinko, Pothohari, Parimiu, Chabali, Urvi, Karnahi, Rajourvi and Punchi. However it was given collective single name as Phadi by the then Pahadi leader and famous Islamic scholar Maulana Syed Masoodi. It is written in Gurmukhi script and is rich in literature. There is a mention of Pahadi’s in the Famous book on Kashmir, i.e., The Valley of Kashmir (1895) by Walter Lawrence. However, he confuses Pahadi’s as Gujjars and argues that they speak Hinko and Parimu, where as Hinko and Parimu are not Gujjar dialects but simply old names of Pahadi language. We have ample literature in Pahadi especially poetry but I feel violence has been meted to Pahadi language by writers also. He firmly says that Pahadis differ from Gujjars majorly by caste. There are so many good poets of Pahari language as well like late Main Mohammad Baksh who is known as the Allama Iqbal of Pahadis.His Kalam is revered by Paharis’ of both the Kashmirs’. He writes,


                                          “Niccha Di Ashnayee Koloon

                                                   Faiz Kisse Nii Payaa

                                           Kekar Tey Angoor Chidhaya

                                                Har Guccha zakhmaya”

     (To befriend a devious person simply means harm. It is like raising/laying grapes against a thorny tree, which spoils all the grape clusters).

Paraphrasing the fallouts of granting special privileges to different communities and envisioning its complexity, Zafar Choudry, an eminent media person and Gujjar author, in his article titled, ‘Understanding the Gujjar-Pahri Faultline in J&K:A Gujjar Perspective’ (June 2011,IPCS Report), argues, “Inclusion of Paharis in STs would clearly further cause an imbalance and unrest among Gujjars who are already voicing their concerns and questioning the government on what they have received as a community for standing with the nation against the outsiders. Giving the ST status to the Paharis also portends the dangers of opening a Pandora’s box of similar demands from all and sundry across J&K. For example, if a Khan or Sharma from Poonch is declared ST, how will the government prevent a similar demand from other sections of Khan and Sharma living in Jammu or Kathua.”

The author further proves Gujjar alienation despite achieving the ST status and states, “While only 10 per cent reservation is available under the ST status which the Gujjars share with 11 other tribes, the RBA quota is 20 per cent and ALC quota is three percent. An alienation factor is already palpable amongst the Gujjars and any arbitrary decision on including others in the ST list will further alienate these last of the patriotic Muslim identities in J&K. to solve these problems the central and state governments should act in a pragmatic way instead of succumbing to a policy of appeasement.”

It is not only Gujjars but the mainstream society as well that feels frustrated about such demands.

Amir Suhail, 22, (Baderwah), a student of History at Jamia Millia Islamia argues that,“Since the Pahadi’s constitute a substantial chunk of the population of the State, the granting of ST status to the Paharis will be a nightmare not only for the Gujjars but for all the inhabitants of the state. Government should definitely look into the upliftment of backward sections of the society seriously however granting a privilege forever is not an apt solution .Yes, a onetime package for education, livelihood, or holistic welfare of such communities can be a step forward but why is the granting of SC or ST to any community so important. We should seriously look into the fallouts before granting any such status to any community in India.”

Granting of the special status to one community or the other has not been liked by the mainstream society as well. People fear that such privileges and their granting later gets routinised and new communities do evolve over the period of time with such demands after some status is granted to any community. Further the mainstream society also feels irked for the permanent nature of some privileges like RBA, SC & ST, for they feel it is always at the cost of mainstream masses.

Last Word

The community is lost in the confusion of identity. They are still taken as Gujjars and this false labeling without actually enjoying the status that Gujjar’s enjoy, has impoverished their sense of a distinct identity. Besides, the community is devoid of adequate socio-economic, educational and political empowerment in the holistic State. Therefore, a strong socio-anthropological insight is badly needed to look into the culture and life pattern, identity crisis and over all pressing issues of the Pahadi’s. Also there is a greater need to properly study and look into the issues and problems of the Gujjars/Bakerwals and Pakhtoon communities that also feel ignored and disempowered. Pahari’s crave for real recognition but politics and the politicization of their issues and bias against their rights or reservation demand, must be stopped for it is a question of an ignored, demoralized and a poverty ridden community. They just do not need preservation of their language or merely an advisory board or a few student hostels but want to sustain their distinct identity and crave for the real empowerment. They want a special status so as to move forward and be at par with other communities in the state. They don’t seek this privilege just on linguist basis but are striving hard for they want to find a way to coexist with dignity.

The politics of reservations and reservation debates apart, amidst these long pending demands for reservations, the haunting question remains that, are reservations alone enough to mainstream the marginalized and disadvantaged groups to achieve the levels of the other sections of the society? The government though has been carefully listening to their long pending demand and seems a little interested as well to do the needful. Besides J&K High Court in 2007 and three members panel of Interlocutors (Dilip Padgonkar and his team) on Kashmir also recommended the special status (ST) for Pahari’s. Now when the State government has set up a committee of experts to give a report on the socio-economic aspects of Pahari’s within a time span of three months in this regard, as per the statement given in the State assembly by Ms. Sakina Yatoo, the Minister for Social Welfare. Let us wait and watch, what the expert panel suggests? Do Pahari’s really deserve this status? The interesting question is that if the Pahadi’s are given the demanded status, shall their language or their distinct culture or geographical location or socio-economic backwardness be the criteria or simply that since Gujjars/Bakerwals are enjoying the ST status, Pahari’s too should have it or some other significant sociological parameter is considered, remains to be seen.

If this long pending Pahari demand is met, what can be its fallouts on the holistic mainstream and already reserved sections of the J&K society and finally how it will be absorbed by Gujjars/Bakewals, remains a bigger curiosity. Shall Pahari’s only feel emancipated or empowered once ST status is granted to them or do we really need a change in the discourse of reservations and welfare programmes run for the marginalized in the entire country. Is the current Pahari demand really a genuine story or merely the manifestation of the Gujjar-Pahari tussle and competition between the two communities, is also a curious question for the expert panel to find out. Also if the Pahari demand for ST is a Gujjar nightmare, is enjoying of ST by Gujjar’s itself a Pahari nightmare? Do we need to do away with permanent reservations to different communities and instead launch special development and welfare programmes aimed at inclusive growth of the marginalized groups of the state? Can we really afford granting further reservations to different groups at such a critical juncture when the state is facing acute unemployment crisis and youth bulge? The questions are so many however with no satisfying answers till date. Election season has come; let us see which way the Pahari waves blow in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Will Paharis’ ever get their due, only the time will tell?

(Adfar Shah is a Delhi Based Sociologist and Senior Fellow at SAISA. He is a columnist at Analyst World, Pointblank7, Eurasia Review,,,Kashmir Monitor. Mail at

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