First line of defence at border, Jats seek to be heard as J&K boundaries redrawn

The Commission — which has been assigned the task to redraw boundaries of Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies in J&K — has proposed reservation of seven seats for SCs in Jammu, of which at least five have a considerable Jat population in border areas of Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts.

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From Kathua to Nowshera in the Jammu division, nearly five lakh Jats reside along the International Border and the Line of Control with Pakistan. Apart from a few settlements in Jammu that existed during the reign of the erstwhile Dogra rulers, most Jats have migrated to the region from Pakistan occupied Kashmir during Partition. A majority of the population is Hindu, speaks Punjabi, and is culturally closer to the Jat Sikhs of Punjab.

While many members of the community are into agriculture, a considerable number of young Jats have also joined the Army and other security forces. The community has Muslim members as well, many whom have settled in the Mendhar area of Poonch and Baramulla in Kashmir.

Nearly 100 Jat families also reside in Chenani area of Udhampur district, whose ancestors are believed to have come to the region from Rajasthan to accompany the bride of then Raja of Ramnagar. The families living in Nowshera migrated from PoK’s Bhimber Gali in 1947.

Following the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan, many Jat families were also settled along the International Border, from Akhnoor to Kathua, by the then governments.

As per the draft report of the Delimitation Commission, all constituencies where the Jats have a significant population along the International Border have been reserved for Scheduled castes. One constituency (Mendhar) along the LoC, which has a sizeable population of Jat Muslims, has been reserved for Scheduled Tribes.

During the 2014 polls in the erstwhile state, two Jat leaders – Sukhnandan Choudhary and Sham Choudhary had got elected to the Assembly from Marh and Suchetgarh constituencies respectively. However, as per the Commission’s draft proposal, both these seats have been reserved for Scheduled Castes.

The community’s anger was evident Monday when the Commission — headed by retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai — interacted with stakeholders from Jammu region for feedback on its draft proposal. A delegation of Jats led by Manmohan Choudhary of the All India Jat Maha Sabha (AIJMS) questioned the Commission about the “parameters adopted by it” to redraw the boundaries. Citing the example of Ramgarh, Choudhary pointed out to the Commission that the Jat majority area had been clubbed with the “far-off SC- dominated Katli and Deoni panchayats of Samba” and reserved for Scheduled Castes.

Another Jat leader, who did not wish to be identified, said that the “Jats in J&K were being made to pay for the protests against the farm laws through the delimitation exercise”. “The Commission’s report has divided not only tehsils, but blocks in the region as well,” he added.

Meanwhile, even as Jats across Jammu division continue to remain upset with the BJP-led government at the Centre over the delimitation exercise, on Tuesday Jat leader and PDP general secretary Surinder Choudhary joined the saffron party.

Apart from being a prominent face from the community in the Nowshera Assembly constituency, Choudhary is also a refugee from PoK and has a considerable influence over the group. During the District Development Council (DDC) elections in 2020, his support helped the PDP win in Nowshera, the native place of J&K BJP president Ravinder Raina.

“I have not betrayed the PDP, the PDP has betrayed me… We will work to ensure that the BJP forms the next government in J&K,” Choudhary said in a brief address at the BJP headquarters after joining the party.

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