So why are the Gujjars hungry for the ST pie?

Source :SIFY
Author :K Sreedevi
Last Updated: Tue, Jun 3rd, 2008, 10:35:50hrs
he Gujjar community in Rajasthan is fighting tooth and nail to downgrade its caste status in the government records. They want to be moved down to Scheduled Tribe (ST) status from their present categorisation under Other Backward Classes (OBC).

But why such a downgrading? All in the hope of getting preferential access to jobs and education for its youth. By being considered under the ST category, the Gujjars stand to benefit by way of more quotas in educational institutions and job quotas in government offices.

Full coverage: Gujjars on the warpath | Images

Government of India has classified various communities into a host of categories based on their social and economic status. Those under ‘Scheduled Tribes’ are people living in the forests or on the hills but are not necessarily socially backward, while OBC comprise castes that are not isolated from the society but still are educationally and economically backward.

In Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, Gujjars already enjoy ST status, but in states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, they fall under OBC category. This is so because in these states, the members of the community are a more settled lot, engaged in agricultural activities.

However, the Gujjar fight in Rajasthan is to get things even with other communities such as Jats and Meenas. The Jat community in Rajasthan was accorded an OBC status in 1989 following a ‘caste’ struggle akin to the present Gujjar one. Jats, being a powerful community in terms of the vote bank, were able to manipulate the Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government to give in to their demand for OBC status.

Ever since then, the Gujjars were peeved at sharing their OBC pie with Jats. Gujjar youth have been complaining their Jat counterparts were garnering a greater share of the 27-per cent reservation quota in public sector for OBCs, thus grabbing their opportunities.

Hence, Gujjars insist on being downgraded to ST category that will enable them to enjoy the 7.5 per cent quota reservation as the Meenas, another nomadic community that has prospered through ST quotas.

Interestingly, this is not the first instance of a downgrade of the Gujjar community. Originally, the Gujjars had been branded as a criminal tribe and were brought under the infamous Criminal Tribes Act by the British in 1924, which was subsequently repealed by Sardar Vallabbhai Patel in 1951. Around the time of Mandal Commission, in 1981, Gujjars were enlisted as Backward Castes. But subsequently, in 1993, the community managed to downgrade itself to the OBC category.

Gujjars, who comprise more than 5 per cent of Rajasthan’s over 56 million population, had come up with this demand as early as 2003. The only Gujjar leader in the limelight was Rajesh Pilot. But after his passing, the community felt isolated with none to take up its cause.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, had included the Gujjar demand in its 2003 election manifesto and even Vasundhara Raje, during her election campaign, reportedly promised to promised to look into their long-standing demand for ST category inclusion. The Gujjars even sent six legislators from their community under the aegis of BJP to the state assembly to press for their demand but in vain.

The reticence of Chief Minster Raje to accede to the Gujjar demand seems to stem from the fact that if Gujjars are granted ST status, they are bound to take jobs set aside for other ST groups like the Meenas, and Meenas, another major votebank, are threatening a backlash.

Meanwhile, the Gujjars in Kashmir, who enjoy the ST status, are up in arms against the same being conferred on the Paharis of the state, claiming that there is no provision to classify a community as ‘Schedule Tribe’ on the basis of language or location.

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