Caste card

Posted on December 8, 2008. Filed under: Reservations/Caste |

 Back RESERVATION Caste card JAGDEEP S. CHHOKAR Caste-based reservation is here to stay thanks to opportunistic politics. Frontline, Volume:25, Issue:16

THE reservation issue is in the news from time to time, when events of more political and general import allow space for it. Resident doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, students at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Gujjars in Rajasthan are some players who occasionally bring the issue to the front pages of newspapers. Politicians sometimes want to wish it away, sometimes court it with gusto. There seem to be clear divisions on this. While some vehemently and clearly oppose it, going to the extent of filing court cases and organising public demonstrations and bandhs, even losing their own lives, some others equally staunchly support it. More lives have been lost in support of reservation than against it. But the issue remains with us, as active and more volatile now than it was almost 60 years ago when it was written into the Constitution. Over the years, most of what the Constitution provided for has been almost lost sight of. Participants from neither side take the trouble of going back to the basics or reading the fine print of innumerable Supreme Court and High Court judgments that discuss the validity of the constitutional provisions threadbare, albeit from a purely legal perspective. It therefore seems worthwhile to revisit the original constitutional provisions. Constitutional Provisions The first mention of the issue is under the Right to Equality. The original Constitution charged “The State” that it “shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth”. The First Amendment, in 1951, added Article 15(4) which said that “Nothing in this article or in Clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.” Then comes Article 16 referring to “Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment”, which originally made a similar but subtly different provision under 16(4), as follows: “Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State” (emphasis added throughout). A full 45 years after the adoption of the Constitution, Article 16(4A) was added in 1995: “Nothing in this article shall prevent the state from making any provision for reservation in matters of promotion, with consequential seniority, to any class or classes of posts in the services under the state in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes which, in the opinion of the state, are not adequately represented in the services under the state.” Article 46 in the Directive Principles of State Policy says that “The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.” Parts IX and IXA of the Constitution, added in 1992 under the 73rd Amendment, introduced panchayats and municipalities in the Constitution, and also made specific provisions for reservation of seats for the S.Cs and the S.Ts in panchayats and municipalities through Articles 243 (D) and (T). Possibly the most important ones in this context are Articles 330 and 332, which provide for reservation of certain proportions of seats for the S.Cs and S.Ts in the “House of the People” (the Lok Sabha) and in the Legislative Assemblies of the States respectively. Significantly, Article 334 made a specific provision for abolition of this reservation “on the expiration of a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution”. This period was first extended to 20 years under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution in 1960, and has since been extended periodically, the last extension being to “sixty years” by the 79th Amendment in 2000. Then there is Article 335, which provides that “the claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State” and adds that “nothing in this article shall prevent in making of any provision in favour of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes for relaxation in qualifying marks in any examination or lowering the standards of evaluation, for reservation in matters or promotion to any class or classes of services or posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State.” The provision for reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the Central services started on a national basis in 1993, with the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report, though it had been in existence in some States for quite some time, for example, in the four Southern States where it had existed in one form or the other even before Independence. While its actual implementation got a boost in 1993, the enabling provision existed in the original Constitution since 1950 in the form of Article 15(4) mentioned above, which referred to “any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens”. Reviews by the Government A rally in Bangalore in 2006 against the Central government’s move to reserve seats for backward castes in professional colleges. It is time the relatively advanced communities are descheduled, as recommended by the Lokur Committee in 1965. The government, in the early years, seemed quite open-minded. Even after having made generous enabling provisions, it kept looking to assess the impact of the provisions. Among the earliest attempts was the constitution of the first Backward Classes Commission in January 1953, under the chairmanship of Kaka Kalelkar. This commission submitted its report on March 3, 1955, with five members recording notes of dissent, and three opposing linking caste with reservation. Even Kalelkar did not agree with caste being a basis for reservation, and said so in his letter while forwarding the report to the President: “National solidarity demands that in a democratic set-up the Government recognise only two ends – the individual at one end and the nation as a whole at the other – and that nothing should be encouraged to organise itself in between these two ends to the detriment of the freedom of the individual and solidarity of the nation. All communal and denominational organisations and groupings of lesser and narrower units have to be watched carefully so that they do not jeopardise the national solidarity and do not weaken the efforts of the nation to serve all the various elements in the body politic with equity” (page iv, para 14). He admitted of a “painful realisation” that came to him while finalising the report: “The remedies we suggested were worse than the evil we were out to combat.” He found that “…The special concessions and privileges accorded to the Hindu castes acted as a bait and a bribe inciting Muslim and Christian society to revert to caste and caste prejudices and the healthy social reforms effected by Islam and Christianity were being thus rendered null and void. Muslims came forward to prove that except for the four upper castes, namely, Sheikh, Syed, Moghul and Pathan, all the other Muslim castes were inferior and backward. The Indian Christians also were prepared to fall in the trap…” (page vi, para 20). In exceptional candour, he admitted that it was only when the report was being finalised that he started thinking anew and found that backwardness could be tackled on a number of bases other than that of caste. This, according to him, only succeeded in raising the suspicion of the majority of the members of the commission that he was trying to torpedo the recommendations of the commission. His own view was: “We must be able to help both Indian Christians and Muslims without their being driven to accept the fissiparous principle of caste.” He then went on to make the incisive remark: “Once we eschew the principle of caste, it will be possible to help the extremely poor and deserving from all communities…” (para 23). The concluding remarks of Kalelkar are very instructive: “Two years of experience have convinced us of the dangers of the spread of casteism and… have also led us… to the conclusion that it would have been better if we could determine the criteria of backwardness on principles other than caste” (page xiv, para 60) . The Commission did not present a unanimous report, and the report was neither tabled in Parliament nor implemented. But in a Memorandum of Action Taken on the report, laid in Parliament, the government said: “It cannot be denied that the caste system is the greatest hindrance in the way of our progress towards an egalitarian society, and the recognition of the specified castes as backward may serve to maintain and even perpetuate the existing distinctions on the basis of caste…. If the entire community, barring a few exceptions, has thus to be regarded as backward, the really needy would be swamped by the multitude and hardly receive any special attention or adequate assistance, nor would such dispensation fulfil the conditions laid down in Article 340 of the Constitution.” The Home Ministry, in a letter to all State governments on August 14, 1961, said: “While the State governments have the discretion to choose their own criteria for defining backwardness, in the view of the Government of India it would be better to apply economic tests than to go by caste.” The next important observations were made by the Estimates Committee in its 48th report (for the financial year 1958-59): “While the Committee consider that it is desirable that preference be given to the less advanced among the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in provision of all facilities, they would like to observe that the tendency on the part of some castes and tribes to get themselves listed as backward merely to get concessions is undesirable and must be discouraged. In this connection, the Committee would like to reproduce below an extract from the Report of the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for 1956-57: ‘Backwardness has a tendency to perpetuate itself and those who are listed as backward try to remain as such, due to various concessions and benefits they derive, and thus backwardness becomes a vested interest.’ “The Commissioner (for Scheduled Castes) has suggested in his Report for 1957-58 that if the ultimate goal of classless and casteless society is to be attained, the list of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and even of Other Backward Classes will have to be reduced from year to year and replaced in due course by a list based on the criteria of Income-cum-Merit…(T)he Committee recommend that the weaker sections of society should be defined and criteria for special assistance laid down on the basis of economic status and educational and social backwardness.” Next was the Advisory Committee on the revision of lists of the S.Cs and the S.Ts, set up on June 1, 1965, under the chairmanship of B.N. Lokur, then Secretary, Ministry of Law. The Lokur Committee made some very insightful observations, some of which have been echoed in several Supreme Court judgments in recent years. One such is in para 13 of its report: “…The pace of social change has quickened since Independence and educational and economic standards have improved; traditional social barriers have visibly crumbled, particularly in urban and industrialised areas…. In spite of this obvious position, we have witnessed the extraordinary phenomenon, which had (also) been noticed earlier by other commissions, of castes and communities solemnly setting forth their desire to be considered backward and included in the Schedules for special treatment. In several States, we have come across a multitude of organisations of castes and tribes, a few even at the all-India level, whose main object is to secure or retain a place in the lists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes…. One Scheduled Caste political leader from a northern State said candidly that he would be prepared to forgo economic and other development benefits if special political rights are guaranteed, because once political rights are acquired, anything they desired would follow. The really backward communities, however, look forward to the reservations and other facilities for recruitment to the services, educational concessions and benefits of economic development schemes, and are not concerned with political privileges.” The above observation, made in 1965, seems to be even more valid today in 2008 than it might have been in 1965. Prophetically, and possibly anticipating events such as the one that happened in Rajasthan with three communities – Gujjars, Jats and Meenas (in alphabetical order) – asking for inclusion in the lists of STs and OBCs, the Lokur Committee observed: “It has been in evidence for some time now that a lion’s share of the various benefits and concessions earmarked for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is appropriated by the numerically larger and politically well organised communities. The smaller and more backward communities have tended to get lost in the democratic process, though more deserving of special aid… “While we appreciate the necessity of providing special assistance for the uplift of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes until they rise to the average stratum of society, we regret to note that the listing of these castes and tribes has more or less created vested interests and has tended to damp to some extent personal effort and enterprise to improve one’s position and fortune. Inclusion in the lists is regarded more as a coveted prize than as a reflection of backwardness….(A large number of prominent people) whom we met in the course of our inquiry asserted that, in the interests of national integration and in view of the changes which have taken place during the last 15 years, the time has come to do away gradually with these privileged classes, particularly in view of the increasing demand for inclusion therein, and to organise development schemes without reference to castes and tribes. “The least that should be done, we are told, is to fix a time limit for the currency of the lists . In any case, the consensus of opinion expressed before us has been that the emphasis should be on the gradual elimination of the larger and more advanced communities from these lists, and on focussing greater attention on the really backward sections, preferably by applying an economic yardstick” (paras 14, 15, pages 8-9). Referring to a concept not usually heard these days, the Lokur Committee suggested: “In view of the weighty views expressed above and in the interests of national integration, we feel that the time has come when the question of descheduling of relatively advanced communities should receive serious and urgent consideration…” (para 16, page 10). The Judicial View The issue of reservation, particularly caste-based reservation, has come before the judiciary often and many High Court and Supreme Court judgments on various aspects are available. Starting with M.R. Balaji and others vs the State of Mysore (AIR 1963, SC 649), and ending with Ashoka Kumar Thakur vs Union of India & Others, the judgment for which was announced on April 10 this year, the Supreme Court consistently held that: – Categorisation of any class as backward solely on the basis of caste is not permitted by Article 15(4) of the Constitution although it is a relevant factor to be considered; – The authority concerned may take caste into consideration in ascertaining the backwardness of a group of persons but if it does not, its order will not be bad on that account. The judgment concluded that caste is only a relevant and not a compelling circumstance in ascertaining the backwardness of a class; – While it may not be irrelevant to consider the caste of a group of citizens in determining their backwardness, caste cannot further be made a sole and dominant test of backwardness; – The object of reservation would be defeated if, on the inclusion of a class in a list of backward classes, that class is treated as backward for all times to come, and therefore the state should subject the list of Backward Classes and the quantum of the reservation of seats to constant, periodical review. In Ashoka Kumar Thakur vs. Union of India & Others, in the Supreme Court in writ petition (civil) 265 of 2006, Justice Dalveer Bhandari observed as follows: “…4. On careful analysis of the Constituent Assembly and the Parliamentary Debates, one thing is crystal clear: our leaders have always and unanimously proclaimed with one voice that our constitutional goal is to establish a casteless and classless society. Mahatma Gandhi said: ‘The caste system as we know is an anachronism. It must go if both Hinduism and India are to live and grow from day to day.’ The first Prime Minister, Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru, said that ‘no one should be left in any doubt that the future Indian society was to be casteless and classless’. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar called caste ‘anti-national’.” The scene today Despite what the various review committees and commissions set up by the government itself and the judiciary have said repeatedly over the years, caste-based reservation continues to increase. State after State, whether it is Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Jharkhand, or now Rajasthan, is now clamouring to increase the percentage of reserved seats freely above the 50 per cent limit laid down by the Supreme Court. And despite the Tamil Nadu law being under review in the Supreme Court, attempts are still being made, defying the Supreme Court, to put such laws in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution in order to put them beyond the reach of the Supreme Court. Why? It is not that the current crop of politicians do not know that “our constitutional goal is to establish a casteless and classless society” but they do need votes. And one of the most effective ways of getting votes is mobilisation of the electorate on the basis of caste. Instead of being an occupation-defining classification, caste has re-incarnated as a classification for political mobilisation. So long as caste helps politicians get votes, we can rest assured that caste is here to stay. As a matter of fact, if its vote-delivering capacity increases, it may well be in the politicians’ interest to make it stronger. And if reservation based on caste makes caste stronger, so be it. Is there a way out of this impasse? Sadly, it does not seem like it. One way could be for our politicians to become so principled as to stop seeking votes on the basis of caste and seek votes based on ideologies, beliefs, principles, policies, and programmes. This seems unlikely, given what various political parties announced as the basis for their decisions to vote on the nuclear deal. The other is for us, the voters, to stop voting on the basis of caste, money, liquor, and so on, and vote on the basis of ideologies, beliefs, principles, policies, programmes, and the track records of political parties. Is that likely to happen, and when, is anyone’s guess. In the meanwhile, innocent and naive people will keep dying in the vain hope of serving their communities, and politicians will keep making completely impractical promises and winning elections. Jagdeep S. Chhokar is a retired professor of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and one of the founding members of the Association for Democratic Reforms.

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The Gurjjar unrest tells us about India

Posted on December 8, 2008. Filed under: Reservations/Caste |

The Gurjjar unrest tells us about India

Jagdeep S. Chhokar

The Indian Express, Monday, June 04, 2007

When the prime minister made ten suggestions to corporate India, just one of which was to “resist excessive remuneration to promoters and senior executives” (‘Vulgar wealth display insults the poor’, IE, May 25), almost the entire media and of course the corporate sector raised their voices in consternation. Perhaps they should take another look at the PM’s remarks after the ‘Gurjjar trouble’ in Rajasthan.

A community demanding a particular status is not a new phenomenon, but when one finds deaths occurring because of protests in a community into which one is born, one tends to sit up and take note. Let me clarify at the outset that I have never either sought or got any benefit for merely being a Gurjjar and being one has never been a handicap in my professional career, starting with the Indian Railways and ending with a stint of almost 22 years with the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Therefore the comments I choose to make now should not be linked to the fact that I happen to be a Gurjjar myself.

Notwithstanding all that has been written about social justice, empowerment of the dispossessed, and the like, the path the country has traversed in trying to ensure equality of opportunity to all citizens has been far from smooth. The objective, and hope, of the framers of the Constitution that equality of opportunity will be achieved in ten years, has obviously not been met. Some of us might wonder if they were naïve or over-optimistic. They were neither. But they were certainly idealistic and I assume that those who lead us would also have similar ideals.

The Indian genius has evolved over the last 60 years and the socio-political milieu of the country has changed beyond recognition. But the assumptions and expectations of the members of the Constituent Assembly have been belied. The pious hope of the framers of the Constitution about the reduction of the impact of caste in day-to-day social interaction has obviously been defeated. Caste has staged a comeback, as a means of political and electoral mobilisation. That is partly why every now and then one or the other caste or community group wants to gain from reservations as a means of advancement.
It is time we realised that tinkering with the lists of SCs/STs will not take us any closer to the objective of ensuring equality for all citizens. Every time a group decides to use this principle of reservation or a political party decides to use a community to gain visibility, the situation will only deteriorate. The fact that there has not been equal opportunity for all citizens needs to be recognised by all, including the urban elite. We need to create a national consensus on this. One way to do this is to have a non-partisan group of people to apply itself to the issue of equality of opportunity and prepare a document for national debate. Of course, getting such a group together in the current climate of political divides appears almost impossible. Therein lies the dilemma of our times!

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The Buffalo jinx

Posted on December 8, 2008. Filed under: Reservations/Caste |

The Buffalo jinx

Jagdeep S. Chhokar

The Pioneer, June 25, 2007

The recent events in Rajasthan starting with the Gujjars and later involving the Meenas have attracted a lot of comment on the Gujjars and on the OBCs in general. Some of these are at best peculiar perceptions mixed with personal prejudices disguised as intellectual discourse without any factual basis, an example of which is Chandrabhan Prasad’s piece ‘Akal badi ki bhains’ (The Pioneer, June 03, 2007) falls. Before going into the merit of Prasad’s thesis, first a brief perspective on the “violence in Rajasthan”.

The genesis of the current situation possibly was in 1999 when the state government of Rajasthan and the Union government gave the OBC status to Jats which resulted in a strong agitation by the Brahmins and the Rajputs, of all the groups. It was surprising for a lot of observers to find these two seemingly major and dominant communities—Brahmins being the highest in the four-fold classification and Rajputs being the warriors and kings for whom Rajasthan has been famous—protesting and demanding OBC status for themselves—the reverse of the process of Sanskritisation postulated by the famous sociologist M.N. Srinivas. What seemed to be happening was what could be called de-sanskritisation. The agitation continued for a couple of years but then petered out but it did highlight the irrationality of the decision to give OBC status to the Jats. Being a dominant community, Jats came to occupy 25 to 90 percent of all the government jobs under the OBC quota in the following years. Gujjars, who were one among the 80 or so OBC groups, thus got squeezed out by Jats from the OBC quota. On the other side, they saw Meenas, a group who were far more prosperous than them, making remarkable gains by being in the ST category. The fact the Gujjars had been given ST status in Jammu and Kashmir, and in Himachal Pradesh made Gujjars think of getting that status in Rajasthan also. All political parties, without exception, encouraged this feeling among the Gujjars in the hope of getting votes from them. The BJP was no exception. As a matter of fact, there were media reports of Vasundhara Raje highlighting her son’s marriage into a Gujjar family during her election campaigns in Gujjar dominated areas. But of course all such promises get forgotten after the elections. The obvious logical and rational way to deal with the so-called “Rajasthan problem” would be to remove Jats from the OBC list and to remove Meenas from the ST list but this being an obvious impossibility in the current climate of political opportunism in the country, if we as a nation and society can learn the lesson that caste-based reservations have done and will do more harm (in the form of creating further divisions, conflicts, and animosities in the society) than good, something good may eventually come out of the “violence in Rajasthan.”

Whether they are descendants of the Huns or of the valiant Gurji tribe in central Asia between Russia and Turkmenistan or in Georgia, or they separated from the Rajputs over centuries, or ruled major parts of western India as Gurjar Pritaharas around the 5th to the 7th centuries AD, Gujjars today live in at least 10 states of the country (Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Gujarat, and Maharashtra) not counting Delhi. The fact that there are Gujjars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, also support the theory that they originally came from central Asia. They also transcendent religion being Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs; and language speaking the language of the state or region they live in. Though primarily farmers (some subsistence, some more prosperous) and cattle hearders, Hindus Gujjars generally consider themselves to be Kshatriyas, though Gujjars are also known to be Brahmins, particularly in Maharashtra. The community played a significant role in the 1857 uprising and was the object of deliberate and sustained oppression by the British after 1857 as a part of the systematic retribution, including confiscation of their lands and declaring them one of the “criminal tribes”. The fact that the community continues to be generally educationally and economically backward despite being socially and politically dominant in small pockets, is possibly the aftermath of the British oppression.

With this background, let us return to Prasad’s interesting thesis generalized from the Gujjars and the current “violence in Rajasthan” to the entire OBC lot, with a skillful use of a popular saying in some parts of northern India. While I will refrain from commenting on the applicability of his thesis to all the OBCs, I think some response on the thesis as far as the Gujjars are concerned in part because I think I do have some experience and, I hope, knowledge of this community. The reason for my assuming such experience and knowledge is not only the fact that I happened to have been born in this community more than 60 years ago but more importantly that I have been an observer, some times active and some times passive, but all the time, I guess, as a participant-observer to what happens in and to the community. It may be worth mentioning here that the fact of my belonging to this community has never been either a handicap or an advantage in my professional career, starting with the Indian Railways and ending with a stint of almost 22 years with the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.  I therefore hope and believe that whatever I chosen to write is not unduly affected by the fact that I happen to be a Gujjar myself.

Some of the “facts” presented by Prasad are possibly debatable, at best. “A further probe reveals that there can be no Gujjar or Jat without a buffalo or two” says Prasad. While the details of the methodology of the “probe” might well be very revealing and educative, unless Prasad is grossly exaggerating for the effect, this finding of the “probe” can easily be refuted by empirical observation. What Prasad possibly does not realize or notice is that there are a lot of people who do not go around wearing their caste descriptive labels either as a badge of honour or as an apology for belonging to that particular caste. As a personal observation during my somewhat long association with Gujjars, I have actually never seen “a buffalo or two” either in the drawing room or even the courtyard of any of my clansmen. Prasad also refers to Lalu Prasad Yadav as “the brightest OBC role model” and to Mulayam Singh Yadav as “another OBC role model”. Once again, unless he is being facetious or looking at the OBCs through a particular lens, it is not clear which OBCs has he been in touch with and how has he missed the derision associated with both Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh amongst substantial number of OBCs. Prasad seems to be somewhat sad that “the fact (that) OBCs live revolve around buffaloes and cows … (is) not much researched or written about.” This raises two issues. First, if it indeed is a “fact” then what is the need to research it? The second arises in combination with the “role models”. Since Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh made a big show of keeping buffaloes and cows when they were Chief Ministers, Prasad concludes that all OBCs cannot live without cows and buffaloes. Another implicit assumption being that OBCs are a monolithic whole who can and are fully represented by a few politically astute people who have succeeded in getting into the public eye, which perhaps is as true as a some Brahmins who are prominent in public life represent the entire lot of Brahmins including those who work as coolies, scavengers, and rickshaw pullers in some cities! The example of Brahmins is used purposefully as Prasad himself seems to prefer such comparisons since he says that “a buffalo can turn even a Brahmin into an OBC.” What is meant by a Brahmin being “turned into” an OBC is of course not very clear in itself.

Despite some questionable “facts”, some of Prasad’s conclusions are valid. One indisputably: “…the thesis of reservations is becoming disputable…” although when one looks at the complete statement, some doubts do creep in. The complete statement which is Prasad’s last sentence is “Sadly, because of OBCs’ buffalo jinx, the thesis of reservations is becoming disputable at a time when Dalits/Adivasis are seeking a space in the private sector.” Thinking about the difference between “reservations” and “seeking a space”, one wonders if these two seemingly distinct ways of representing what effectively is the same concept, are a manifestation of the different feelings that Prasad may for the OBCs and the Dalits/Adivasis.
The other valid conclusion is that “Like Gujjars, the OBC mass has a choice to make…” This is valid even at the national and societal level. The nation and the society have a choice to make, and that is between political expediency of caste-based reservations and national and societal well-being through provision of equal opportunity for all independent of the happenstance of one’s birth in a particular community.

The pan-Indian, actually pan-Asian, Gujjar community has been and is likely to remain fragmented possibly due to historical and some contemporary reasons but if the “violence in Rajasthan” can lead to a national acceptance of the futility and the potential damage by the caste-based reservations, and lead to search for a logical and rational system of providing equal opportunity to all citizens of the country, the Gujjars of Rajasthan may indeed have done a service to the country and the society at significant cost to them selves, just as they did in 1857!

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Waiting for Rajasthan to explode again

Posted on December 8, 2008. Filed under: Reservations/Caste |

Waiting for Rajasthan to explode again

Jagdeep S. Chhokar

Indian Express, Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Palak Nandi’s ‘Gurjjars, Raje Govt on collision course as report deadline nears’ (IE, August 24) points to a cauldron that is going to boil over very soon in Rajasthan. Yet the entire political establishment seems to be almost deliberately ignoring it. It is impossible to believe that political leaders and the party in power as well those in the opposition don’t realise what is going on. The only explanation for the apathy seems to be that the political establishment is unable to come up with a resolution without risking its short-term well-being. It may even believe that some way out will emerge once the situation explodes.

Once that happens, attempts at building political capital will be made, with each political grouping blaming everyone else, while innocent lives are lost. The political establishment has often proved very good at first creating problems and then taking credit for solving them. But ignoring a potentially explosive situation can be perceived as a crime against the nation.

But you may ask why take an alarmist view, particularly when a high-powered committee is seized of the matter. The committee, incidentally, seems to be taking the view that its job, or at least a major component of it, is to adjudicate between two contending parties. Local media reports have already quoted sources in the committee saying that one party says this and the other party says that. It may be useful to remind the committee what the Lokur Committee said in 1965: “The case of each caste and tribe has to be examined in detail on its own merits…” The same committee had also observed: “It has been in evidence for some time that a lion’s share of the various benefits and concessions earmarked for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is appropriated by the numerically larger and politically well-organised communities. The smaller and more backward communities have tended to get lost in democratic processes though most deserving of special aid.” Given the fragmented nature of the Gurjjar population, the outcome of the committee’s approach should be obvious.

The real issue is not the so-called Gurjjar problem or the Gurjjar-Meena problem or the Rajasthan problem. It is a national issue and clear indications of its pan-Indian character are available. Some tribes in the Northeast observed a 12-hour bandh recently, in support of their demand for Scheduled Tribe status. The Brahmins in Rajasthan are flexing their muscles again for OBC status. And, of course, the Gurjjars live in 11 states, and unless the political establishment chooses to come out its self-imposed slumber, another “national shame” may be imminent.

It is unrealistic to expect the committee to come up with the way out of such a complex impasse. What is needed is an informed national debate rising above partisan interests. But that appears a distant prospect indeed.

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Fallen in line, taken for a ride

Posted on December 8, 2008. Filed under: Reservations/Caste |

Hindustan Times, July 01, 2008

Fallen in line, taken for a ride

Jagdeep S Chhokar

The agreement announced in Jaipur on June 18 between the Rajasthan government and a group representing the Gujjar community in the state seems to have been welcomed by the nation. Once the euphoria of train services resuming wears off, subsequent reflection will indicate that it should have been more a cry of despair than a sigh of relief. Our collective memory is short. Similar sighs of relief were heard about a year ago when another agitation by the same community was called off. What is the agreement arrived at on June 18?

The agreement seems to have three distinct components. One, a special category of backward classes consisting of three communities, Gujjars, Rabaris and Banjaras, which will be given 5 per cent reservation in the state, without “any adverse effect on the present reservation system in the state”, according to Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. This simply means that this 5 per cent will be over and above the existing reservations in the state that already amount to 49 per cent.

Two, the state government promised not to object to the mention of Gujjars in a list of 23 castes/tribes that the Centre sent to the Rajasthan government in December 1999, a compilation of castes and tribes recommended or forwarded by the state from time to time until 1999, for consideration of reservation under SC/ST categories. And three, the state government agreed to pay Rs 5 lakh compensation to the families of the people killed in the agitation, to provide a government job to one family member each of those killed, and to withdraw cases filed against agitators provided the courts allow them to be withdrawn.

The same day as the ‘reservation’ for the Gujjars was announced, Raje announced another special quota of 14 per cent for the poor among the upper castes in the state, which included Brahmins, Rajputs, Vaishyas and Kayasthas. This was apparently based on a report submitted the same day by the Economically Backward Classes Commission. The speed with which the report was accepted by the government was, according to some sections of the media, indicative of an attempt to control any resentment and backlash by the upper castes to the new quota for the Gujjars.
What does all this mean? Despite all the hype surrounding the event, it actually amounts to almost nothing. The Gujjar community has once again fallen prey to the machinations of the political class. The impossibility of implementation of the 68 per cent reservation in the face of repeated judgments of the Supreme Court has been pointed out by several commentators. It would not be surprising that the agreement is questioned in the Supreme Court as soon as it is notified by the Rajasthan government and is first stayed and then, in due time, declared null and void for violating the apex court’s orders. The Gujjars who have already lost 26 lives last year and 42 now, will then be faced with the prospect of having to question the decision of the highest court of the land and will be squarely blamed for being lawless, in effect, justifying the label of a criminal tribe that the British put on them as a retribution for having been in the forefront of the 1857 uprising.

The fact that 14 per cent reservation was announced for the poor among the so-called upper castes the same day, makes it clear that it is not only an issue pertaining to the Gujjars. A decision of the Tamil Nadu government to increase reservations to 69 per cent is already under scrutiny in the Supreme Court even though the relevant act has been put in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution in an attempt to put it beyond the pale of judicial scrutiny. A decision of the Orissa government (to increase reservations up to 65.75 per cent) was turned down by the Supreme Court, and the Jharkhand High Court turned down a decision by the Jharkhand government to increase reservation of seats for election to gram panchayats in scheduled areas to accommodate members of the SC, ST and the other Backward Castes, to 80 per cent.

In 1957-58, the report of the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes said that “If the ultimate goal of classless and casteless society is to be attained, the list of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and even of Other Backward Classes will have to be reduced from year to year and replaced in due course by a list based on the criteria of Income-cum-Merit.”

Justice Dalveer Bhandari of the Supreme Court writing on April 10, 2008, in the judgment of Ashoka Kumar Thakur vs Union of India & Others, quoting Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, B.R. Ambedkar and Rajiv Gandhi said: “On careful analysis of the Constituent Assembly and the Parliamentary Debates, one thing is crystal clear: our leaders have always and unanimously proclaimed with one voice that our constitutional goal is to establish a casteless and classless society.”

But the political class continues to behave like an ostrich and expand the system of reservations based on caste while innocent lives continue to be lost for transitory gains.

Jagdeep S Chhokar is a retired professor of IIM, Ahmedabad, and a founding member of Association for Democratic Reforms

© Copyright 2007 Hindustan Times

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