Gujjar row- identity politics జూన్ 22, 2008Posted by M Bharath Bhushan in Economy, Identity, politics.
A Case For Inclusion
5 Jun 2008, Times of India
The resurfacing of the Gujjar agitation for inclusion in the ST category should be understood within the framework of modern democratic politics. Even though the language of inclusion employed is of caste/tribe-based identity claims, the concepts of justice and fairness underlying such claims are inherently modern. In fact, they militate against hierarchy-based rights enshrined in the caste system. Thus, the agitation is anti-caste and for modern democratic ideals.
Concepts of justice and fairness no longer enjoy the safety of mere politically correct ideological expressions. On the ground, real communities are involved and real lives are at stake, as attested to by a nearly hundred deaths that have taken place since the agitation first came out into the open.
Last summer, the Meenas were the visible ‘other’, seen as benefiting disproportionately from the ST pie, while Jats who have entered the OBC category in Rajasthan and are actually responsible for reducing the Gujjars’ opportunities for benefits remained in the background.
This year, there is an ominous silence on the Meena front. Even the Gujjar leadership has not been vocal about the community’s rancour against the Meenas, nor have there been any Meena/Gujjar clashes.
We should see this as progress. The Gujjars’ fight is not and should not be against the Meenas but a demand addressed to the state. The state government has also realised that the problem is pretty much in its own court.
As its response to a self-created problem – it was the BJP that promised the Gujjars a berth in the ST category – it continues to play political football by kicking the ball into the Centre’s court. The Centre, however, is not biting. It has enough of its own quota headaches. In its view, it is the state government that should deal with the “problem”.
However, the Centre will closely monitor what happens since it is obvious that this is a problem whose solution might be needed elsewhere, as more and more communities vie for their fair share of quota benefits.
Having launched their agitation once again, the Gujjars are in no mood to accept palliatives, in the form of economic packages or benefits confined to specific areas where the community has been identified as extremely backward. There is another shift in the Gujjar stance. Last year, they were keen to prove their ST credentials. This year, interestingly, they are not harping on that theme.
Perhaps the study conducted by the commission to ascertain ST status for them did not yield enough ammunition. The presence of the Meenas in the ST category is often considered fortuitous.
The perhaps not so apocryphal story is that they owe their inclusion in the ST category to an inadvertent comma between the name of another group – the ‘Bhil Meena’, who were to be classified as a ST and not Meenas as an entire category.
The current strategy of the Gujjars seems to be to stick to their demand for ST status.
In doing so, they are adopting a strategy, which has not been unknown through the history of upward mobility of other OBC castes, such as Yadavs and Ahirs.
Being pastoral castes, they have fought for a Kshatriya identity, constructing valiant pasts for themselves through ballads of caste histories transmitted as part of the oral tradition.
Colonel Bainsla is reiterating such a glorious past when he says:”Before the battle of Khanwah in 1527, Gujjars had defeated the army of Babur at Basadi in Dholpur. They also gave stiff resistance to Alauddin Khilji here.
We are not the ones to accept defeat”. At the same time, the so-called ‘dacoit’ Gujjars – with a proud claimed past of resistance to the colonial government – are invoking the Rani-Praja discourse, cajoling as well as threatening the current royal ruler to cede to their demand.
But what the do-or-die attitude indicates is that the Gujjars are digging in their heels and will not relent. They also appear to be making efforts to rally support from Gujjars in other states – J&K, Haryana, UP, Uttaranchal – and thus building a pan-Gujjar identity.
An additional advantage they have in bringing attention to their agitation is the ability to disrupt life in the NCR area. As it is, the BJP’s own national meeting had to be moved from Jaipur to Delhi.
This could be perceived as a signal that the movement has more power than earlier believed. Rajasthan politicians and bureaucrats, however, seem convinced that the Gujjar agitation cannot last long and that all they have to do is indulge in time-buying tactics until the Gujjars retreat once again.
This may eventually be the case but does not seem likely. The Rajasthan government’s suggestion that a separate category be created for nomadic tribes in which the Gujjars can be given a quota is untenable on several grounds and will also be unacceptable to the central government.
There is one way out – the Andhra way – which is to split the OBC category – to which Gujjars currently belong – into several sections, giving proportional representation to the various castes or groups of castes. This ensures some equity for all groups without a ‘creamy layer group’ within the category appropriating the lion’s share of benefits and leaving all others disaffected.
(*The writer teaches sociology at IIT, Delhi)
Source: Times of India, 5 June 2008