Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Certifying the lowest status: whither quota raj?

Certifying the lowest status: whither quota raj?

Gujjar agitation is a demand for ST status that is a status lower than that of OBC.

Will grant of the status solve Gujjars' perceived problems? Or, will it generate a process of schedulisation with every jaati demanding the lowest status possible for the crumbs of the quota raj?

Schedulisation is the inclusion of a jaati in the special schedules of the Constitution (as Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe or now also as Backward Class or Other Backward Class). This schedulisation is the exact reverse of what MN Srinivas called sanskritisation.

Politicos are competing with themselves in achieving the lowest schedulisation possible for every jaati on the assumption that jaati identity is a critical vote-bank criterion.

Ain’t there no other way of ensuring affirmative action to undo the status of deprivation? Is quota raj the only method known to a civil society?

Jaati is a proud identity of an extende family. Let not this noble identity become a pawn in the hands of politico-s. Scrap the schedules of the Constitution and declare every Hindu a scheduled citizen of the nation entitled to equal treatment and justice. Aam admi is being misled that the downtrodden people are being cared for by this quota raj; what in fact is happening is that the politico-s are ensuring special privileges for their own clans.

The Youth for Equality are fighting a rear-guard battle for enshrining excellence in the process of admissions or special privileges instead of merely fooling around with terms like ‘creamy layer’. Courts are also playing the political game, little concerned with the shattering impact on the larger national identity which should inform every jaati. Yearning for a day when there will be one Hindu jaati, one Hindu identity.

We are burdened with a polity where a foreign-born person is ruling as the empress who claims offices of profit. Where do we go to get the sense of pride of being a citizen of a swarajya rashtram?


Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Gujjar stir: A fallout of quota raj
The raging Gujjar agitation for Scheduled Tribe(ST) status is the creation of a lopsided reservation policy followed by the Government. In fact, Gujjars are now agitating for a lower status from that of OBC to ST which will fetch them more benefits of reservation.

The government is now caught in a dilemma of its own making. If it rejects the Gujjar demand, the agitation will intensify and take a more violent turn. Already 36 people have died in police firing. Last year, over a dozen Gujjars lost their lives fighting for the same cause.

If, on the other hand, the government yields to their organised might, it could lead to similar demands from other castes and sub-castes. For instance, the Kurubas of Karnataka and the Dhangars and the Ramoshi-Berads of West India have been demanding ST status for long.

After the government decided to implement the Supreme Court verdict on OBC quota, there is a clamour from various communities in different states for inclusion in the OBC category. There will be endless demands for special status so long as the quota raj continues.

It is high time to have a relook at the communal reservation reservation policy. As the founding farthers of the Constitution envisaged, there has to be a periodic review of the status of the communities enjoying reservation benefits and a timeframe should be fixed for continuing reservation. Reservation based on economic backwardness is another option worth pursuing.

Source: India Syndicate

Too many reservations
Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Posted online: Tuesday, May 27, 2008 at 2245 hrs IST (Indian Express)

When the Gurjjar agitation started, knowledgeable observers had widely feared that its denouement would be something resembling war. More than 50 deaths, several districts under blockade, some virtually under a state of siege, mobile services suspended, transport interrupted, leaders unable to move freely, and a deep sense of foreboding, all suggest that the worst fears about this agitation have come true. Like so many tragedies, this one was long in the making. But no one, not the state government, not the opposition, not society at large, was willing to face up to the fact that Rajasthan was digging itself deeper and deeper into a hole. And positions are now so entrenched that a just and honourable resolution of the underlying issues seems all but impossible.

The state government’s attitude to this agitation, ever since it started, has been a mixture of condescension and brutality. When the agitation first started, it did not take it seriously. When violence broke out, it bought time for itself by creating a facade of a procedure whose outcome everyone knew would not resolve the issue. Simply put, the state government was not going to recommend ST status for Gurjjars. But it did not use this window of opportunity to politically engage the Gurjjars. Rather, it thought, with condescension typical of this government, that it could buy out Gurjjars by giving them a ministerial berth or two. It says something about the state of the country that when the Gurjjars peacefully courted arrest in the thousands last year, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Peace was associated with declining momentum for the movement, and we all went to sleep. The only lesson the Gurjjars learnt as a result was that violence is necessary to get attention.

The state, for the most part was stuck. Having reduced classifications for affirmative action to a power play, buttressed by a facade of a procedure, it could not move in any direction. If it gave Gurjjars what they wanted, it risked a backlash from powerful communities like the Meenas. On the other hand, it could not acknowledge that the net result of the state’s caving in to Jat assertion of power and granting them OBC status, was to send a signal to communities like the Gurjjars that the whole system was unfair. And even now the government (and the Congress) are stuck: damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Within the current paradigm of classifications, the Gurjjar concerns had some justification. But the political terrain has already shifted from reasoned argument to violence.

But it would be a mistake to think that this agitation is about legal classification. The social equilibrium of Rajasthan has been under considerable stress for a number of years. Three underlying trends are particularly worrying. First, many of those killed were in the age group of 16 to 25. Access to bad-quality education has created an odd social disequilibrium: youths too educated to be satisfied with their traditional status, too untrained to participate in the new economy. Government jobs matter to them precisely for this reason. That is why they feel so much is still at stake in changing their legal classification to ST. All across North India, this disquieting possibility exists. Sub-groups within the broad classifications like OBC and SC feel that benefits under those classifications are going only to a few sub-castes. This issue is going to come to the political forefront in the coming years. When these groups get minimally educated and feel cheated that their education has not equipped them for much, a social catastrophe will be in the making. It is no accident that this agitation comes at the end of the decimation of quality higher education in Rajasthan, abetted by all parties.

Second, a slow and incipient culture of violence has been spreading through Rajasthan’s villages. Arms have become more ubiquitous, paradoxically because the few who have benefited from the increasing land values need guns to protect their new riches. But in several districts like Sawai Madhopur the state has been suffering attrition at the local level. It was perhaps symbolic that one of the first people to console the victims was a prominent local “anti-social element” to use the government’s bizarre euphemism. There are several districts in Rajasthan where the potential of recurring violence is increasing by the day: an odd combination of social discontent which can easily be hijacked by elements that are looking for a pretext to be violent.

Finally, there is an utter breakdown of the political process. Communities like the Gurjjars do not have a leadership that can take a long-term view. They feel for their community, but have no long-term vision for expanding opportunity for them. One indication of this is their harping on one theme, that the state government send a letter to the Centre recommending ST status for Gurjjars. This is not likely to end the legal issue, nor is it likely to seriously impact the spectre of alienation that hovers over the youth of the community.

The chief minister’s instinctive response to political problems is to respond with excessive force, as if the expression of any social discontent is simply a form of impunity. It is the state’s responsibility to quell violence. But it cannot do this if it does not back its might up with an intelligent political process. But the tragedy of Rajasthan is that there are very few social mediators left. It is not an accident that the chief minister has found it very difficult to reach out. The Gurjjars, on the other hand, are wary of letting Bainsala negotiate alone in Jaipur. Their last experience of negotiating was, many in the community feel, an exercise in bad faith. It is absolutely amazing that police firings are so rapidly on the rise. Even after so much experience dealing with crowds, the state has not found ways to manage them without large number of casualties. The Congress is, as always, timid at best, trapped in vague gestures of protest. In short, there is no political force that is capable of changing the paradigm within which questions of social inclusion are posed.

It would be comfortable to dismiss all of this as Rajasthan’s exceptionalism. But the truth is that our politics is driving us into an explosive cul de sac. The recent, terrible violence is a reminder of what happens to societies when they can neither endure their current social condition, nor the means to overcome it. It will take extraordinary political imagination to overcome this condition.

The writer is president,Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

Justice Chopra Committee rejects Gujjars' demand for ST status

December 18, 2007 | 17:15 IST
A high-level official committee has rejected the demand by Gujjars in Rajasthan for Scheduled Tribe status but suggested a special package to members of the community living in under-developed and remote areas of the state.
Significantly, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state decided to forward the report to the Centre without any comment or recommendation of its own, Digamber Singh, chief spokesman and Health Minister, told media persons in Jaipur on Tuesday after a cabinet meeting presided by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.
The summary of the 294-page report submitted by the committee headed by Justice Jasraj Chopra said it would be desirable to provide the benefits to Gujjars in a special package rather than incorporating them in already existing schemes.
The report suggested scrapping of the criteria used so far to include any class of people in the list of Scheduled Tribe as these have become 'obsolete and outdated.'
It asked the state government to take immediate steps to set up a board to attend to the problems faced by the people living a life of abject poverty in inaccessible and remote areas like ravines, forests and hills where development has not yet reached as these are the places where most of the backward among the Gujjars reside and for whom their community leaders had raised their voice.
The Gujjars had waged a violent campaign across Rajasthan for ST status in May and June this year during which 26 people were killed in police firing and clashes with Meena community members who already enjoy ST status but oppose the same for Gujjars.
The Chopra committee report said development of remote and inaccessible areas where Gujjars live should not wait for the outcome of a classificatory exercise.
For this purpose, the government should benevolently allocate sizeable funds for a reasonable period of time by re-prioritising its developmental activities, according to the report.
Emphasis will have to be paid on building roads to link the communities living in underdeveloped and remote areas with the mainstream, motivating the children of these families to get educated and improving health and hygiene of their members through provisions of drinking water, immunisation against major illness and better care of children and of the aged, it concluded.
The state cabinet announced the setting up of a four-member committee to prepare a special package for Gujjars based on the committee's report. The committee will be headed by BJP Treasurer Ramdas Agarwal and have three ministers G S Tiwari (Education), Digamber Singh (Health) and Madan Dilawar (Social Justice and Empowerment).
The committee is of the view that the existing criteria to classify a particular community as ST should be replaced by quantifiable criteria that are relevant in the present context and could stand judicial scrutiny and enable future commissions or committees appointed by the government to examine the issue with exactitude and reliability.
The Chopra committee said 'it remains a naked truth that the benefit of reservation has not obviously percolated to the needy among SC and ST masses as intended but at the same time it is stolen either by the elites and the developed among SC and ST masses or by others who masquerade as SC and ST.

'Several people -- leaders, scholars and even the judiciary -- have expressed their concern over continuing plight of the people who are included in the SC and ST categories. To quote just one example, in its judgment in the case of Nagraj vs Union of India, delivered on October 19, 2006, the apex court had observed: Periodic extension of reservation itself recapitulates a fact that major chunk of SC and ST brethren are still waiting to be uplifted by way of reservation, the report pointed out.
The fact that the Gujjar community that is already in the category of OBC, and therefore officially recognised as backward and thus enjoying the benefits attended with such recognition, including reservation, has made a demand for reclassification gives the strong message that gaining OBC status has not helped much the members of this community.'
It is this desperation that led the leaders of Gujjar community to compare their lot with others included in the ST category and belonging to the same region, it added.
The demand for the tribal status for the entire community covered by the umbrella term of Gujjar is an example of over accentuation to bring home the point that development has not reached all sections of the society despite several years of positive discrimination as part of the policy of reservations, it said.

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Why the Gujjars are so aggrieved
By Jyotsna Singh
BBC News, Delhi

Recent violent protests by the Gujjar community in India's north-western state of Rajasthan have once again focused attention on the government's affirmative action plan to give lower caste and minority people better access to jobs, healthcare and education.
Trouble began on Tuesday when the Gujjars began blocking major highways in order to press for their demands.
The Gujjars are traditional shepherds found across many states in north and western India. They are both Hindus and Muslims.
"The Gujjars are a very heterogeneous people today. They were originally nomadic shepherds," Professor DL Sheth, Director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, told the BBC.
The Gujjars are currently classified as Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and are entitled to quotas in state-run education centres and in government jobs.
But the community wants to be listed under the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category.
In states such as Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh they have been given ST status.
But in western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Gujarat they are more settled on the land and more involved in agriculture, which is why they have been categorised as OBCs.
The Indian government offers places in jobs, educational institutes and other privileges to people in three categories, as part of its affirmative action policy.
The communities listed as the Scheduled Castes (SCs) are essentially the lowest in the Hindu caste hierarchy locally referred to as Dalits.
The Scheduled Tribes (STs) are the people living in the forests or on the hills, physically isolated from modern life, but are not necessarily socially backward.
The Other Backward Classes (OBCs) comprise the castes - in the middle of the Hindu caste hierarchy - who do not face so much exclusion or isolation in society but are educationally and economically backward.
The identification of communities in the three categories is based on a data prepared in 1935 by the British when they ruled India.
Reservation 'benefits'
In theory, it is possible for a caste or community to have its status reviewed. But it is a very complex issue and the power for such a review vests solely with the central government.
Experts say the criteria for identification of castes and groups in the different categories is not transparent at all. That has resulted in confusion for the various communities clamouring to be added to or taken off the lists.
In 1999, the government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) included the Jat community on its OBC list. The Jats are a relatively prosperous community in Rajasthan who form nearly 15% of the state's population.
Some allege that the real reason why the BJP made such a move was because it wanted to win their support in state elections in Rajasthan. The community had traditionally backed the Congress party.
"Once Jats were identified as OBCs , the Gujjars who were already placed in the OBC category felt threatened. They felt the better-off Jats would corner the benefits of reservation," said Professor Sheth.
The demand by the Gujjars is also fuelled by the success of the Meenas, a large community in the state who were granted ST status in 1954.
"The Meenas were basically a borderline case who used their political influence to be classified as STs.
"The community has benefited immensely in the last 50 years under the reservation policy.
"The Gujjars are now trying to put pressure on political parties to allow them to reap similar benefits," said Dr Sheth.
"There is an explosion of aspirations following many years of affirmative action pursued by the Indian government, and the latest protests are a manifestation of that.
"The reservation policy brought a silent bloodless revolution to the country, but because of electoral policy, politicians are in a way discrediting it," he said.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/05/31 05:50:31 GMT

Scheduled Tribe Status for Paharis in J&K: A Gujjar Nightmare?

Priyashree Andley
Research Intern, IPCS

On 2 August 2006, the J&K Government discussed a 'Scheduled Tribe' (ST) status for the Paharis with the Centre. Ghulam Nabi Azad reiterated the importance of the community for the State's composite culture and plural character. 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. Recently, the Jammu & Kashmir Pahari Cultural and Welfare Forum complained that Pahari areas in Kupwara were without electricity, water, roads and schools. Hospitals in these areas are ill equipped and schools are without infrastructure and teaching staff.
The people of the two Muslim-dominated districts of Jammu, Rajouri and Poonch, mainly belong to the Gujjar, Bakerwal and Rajput communities. The Gujjars are predominantly nomadic pastoralists, with low levels of wealth and literacy. The ST status of the Gujjars, under Article 342 of the Indian Constitution and Section 50, sub-section 6, of the J & K Constitution, are allowed reserved seats in the Lok Sabha, State Assembly and State Legislative Council.
However, even after 15 years of enjoying this status, the community has only progressed marginally. 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. This article addresses these issues and their possible repercussions.
In February 2006, Haji Buland Khan, President of the Gujjar-Bakerwal Conference, asserted the need to address the injustice to Gujjars and Bakerwals. One way to achieve this was by implementing the policy of reservations. For years, development funds meant for Gujjar areas were used elsewhere; while the State Government failed to provide them with basic amenities like safe drinking water, electricity, health and education. Besides, the government notification provided for a 10 percent reservation in employment, which has been limited to 5 percent. The percentage of funds allotted to housing for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities, under the Indira Aawas Yojna, has not been adhered to.
Though the Gujjars have suffered from terrorist attacks in Poonch and Rajouri districts, they have also played a key role in anti-terrorist operations. Village Defense Committees (VDCs) in Jammu division comprise Gujjars, which boosts their morale in isolated villages, despite being poorly equipped. A new trend is the increasing numbers of women in the Pir Panjal ranges enlisting as VDC cadres, who are getting trained in using weapons. Apart from terrorist threats, the Gujjars also suffer due to natural calamities, losing family members and cattle in avalanches. Survivors often flee tosafety when the civil administration warns them of impending calamities.
Gujjars claim that the Pahari movement has the patronage of leaders like Sikandar Hayat Khan in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. In 2004-05, questions were raised about their cross-border linkages when it was found that Sardar Rafiq Khan, a Pahari leader in Poonch, was Sikandar Hayat Khan's relative. However, some Gujjars have also figured in anti-national activities by colluding with terrorists in executing their plans. Is this not a cause for worry since Gujjars are the most patriotic tribe in the State? With the arrest of Indian Muslims in the recent Mumbai blasts case, forming the modules of terrorist organizations, will 'dissatisfied' Gujjars also change their allegiance?
The Gujjar tribe's large population plays a key role in the electoral calculations of the political parties in the State. This could explain why they were not invited to the round table conferences held by the PM. In 2004, the PDP led government used the proposal to grant of ST status to Paharis to create a constituency for itself in Jammu and the Pir Panjal region. In September 2005, Omar Abdullah accused Mufti's government of dividing the people of Rajouri and Poonch between Gujjars and Paharis by creating a wedge between these two communities, resulting in the Jammu-Poonch parliamentary seat being won by a Congress MP. Mian Altaf, a Gujjar NC leader, recently won elections from the Kangan constituency of J&K. He pointed out that the Gujjars are suffering because of this tug-of-war between the different coalition partners. Meanwhile, the Paharis complain of being ignored by earlier governments.
For years, the Gujjars have displayed pro-India sentiments but are now feeling neglected. The Gujjars are not against Paharis but they do not want them to attain ST status, as they fear losing their own minimal share. Moreover, the Paharis will benefit from ST status only if the government addresses the basic problems being faced by the Gujjar tribe.

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