Thursday, December 20, 2007

Highlights of the Report on Gujjars' demand for inclusion in ST List

Justice Chopra Committee has submitted its report to the Rajasthan Government, and the summary of the report, (Chapter Nine) is available here.. Six months ago, the Gujjars' agitation almost paralysed life in North India. Their demand for inclusion in ST list, however, was never accepted, as it did not meet the criteria followed by the Centre. I have had the occasion to observe here that if only Rajasthan followed the example of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and created a special category within the OBC list for Gujjars, their grievances could have been addressed effectively and the ground for voicing the demand for inclusion in the ST list might not have been there.

The highlights of the report are as follows:

1.Gujars in Rajasthan are a heterogeneous group. They are widely dispersed , and have varyingly adjusted themselves in the subcultures of the different regions of the State.
2. Barring a small group that lives in Bikaner, almost all Gujars claim to be the Hindus.The community is divided into several castes, with different degrees of assimilation into the Hindu fold.
3. Not all of the Gujars match the traditional stereotype of cattle grazers and shepherds.
4. Areas and villages that have good road-connectivity exhibit considerable dilution of primeval traits. They lead a harmonious co-existence with other castes and communities. Employment of the five criteria (see my earlier post)laid out by the Centre for such a heterogeneous group can only lead to a dead end. The five criteria are qualitative, and their quantification is difficult. Even the logicality of these five criteria is questionable.
5. It is the geography of the habitat that defines the sociology of deprivation. Replacement of caste by an area-based strategy seems to be the only way out.
6. The case of the rural Gujars particularly those inhabiting the most difficult and relatively unaccessible terrains,deserves not only verbal sympathy but positive affirmative action. They should not be further neglected by definitional cobwebs, and unimaginative legalities. The State should accord priority attention to them, by instituting special Development Fund to meet their genuine demands raising their quality of life and standard of living. Unless the children of these remote and isolated areas educate themselves reservation in government jobs or in political institutions, would have only symbolic value, and these benefits will naturally accrue to the most advanced sections of this umbrella group.
7. The criteria for inclusion in the ST list, evolved in late 1960s, are completely outdated. Thanks to the enormous social and cultural change that has occurred in the Indian society in the following years make these criteria inapplicable even for those groups who are part of the Schedule.
8. People living in Sawai Madhopur, Karauli, Dholpur, and Alwar living in the Dang area - that is, plateaus - undulating hilly slopes, and rocky plains, forests and ravines - amply represent primitive traits (isolation, traditional economy and away from modernity). These are the sites where most of the Gujars reside, sharing the poverty of the area, and thus obvious targets for the proposed affirmative action.
9. The area approach will not exclude those families that are poor and deprived, but do not belong to the Gujar community.
10. Solution to the problems faced by these people does not lie in meeting definitional requirements, and certainly not in the blind following of the criteria fashioned after the 19th century formulation of relatively ill-trained outside observers of rural and tribal India.

By suggesting a solution beyond the caste calculus, has not the Chopra Committee initiated a refreshing debate on how to address backwardness?
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