Stir and standoff

Published : Jul 04, 2008 00:00 IST

Government representatives and Gujjar leaders before the start of the talks in Jaipur on June 13.-PTI

Government representatives and Gujjar leaders before the start of the talks in Jaipur on June 13.-PTI

The Gujjar agitation is a challenge to the BJP government in an election year.

THE agitation by the Gujjar community in Rajasthan, into its fourth week by mid-June, has exposed the State governments inability to create an atmosphere for amicable talks with the aggrieved community and also its sheer obduracy.

A four-member delegation of the government, comprising two Ministers and two senior bureaucrats, was unable to make any headway in the first round of talks with Gujjar organisations at Bayana in Bharatpur on June 9. Then, within days of the post-mortem examination of those killed during the agitation and the cremation of the bodies that had been lying at Sikandara in Dausa and Bayana in Bharatpur, the government slapped sedition charges on Kirori Singh Bainsla, the most prominent face of the Gujjar agitation, in addition to the murder and criminal conspiracy charges brought against him a few days earlier.

The sedition charge against Bainsla came as a shock for the community, especially as this happened at a time when the terms of the talks had not been fully laid out; only a consensus on the venue had been reached. The situation turned uglier when 25 Gujjar women were put in jail on charges of uprooting rail tracks at Bandikui, Dausa, and a lower court refused them bail. They were, however, granted bail on June 12 and the second round of talks got under way on June 13, this time in Jaipur. But with Bainsla staying out of the talks, there was little hope of any headway being made.

Some 40 people have been killed in the agitation. The bodies of 16 Gujjars were cremated on June 3, twelve days after they were killed in police firing. The bodies of the 20 people killed at Sikandara were cremated a few days later. The responsibility for the deadlock rests more with the government than with us. Why doesnt the government request the Scheduled Tribes Commission to examine our claims? said Roop Singh, a close aide of Bainsla, in a telephonic conversation with Frontline from Jaipur.

He said that if the government ensured 4-6 per cent reservation in education and employment in any category for Gujjars, there might be some scope for discussion, though he also insisted that the original demand for S.T. status was very much on the agenda. This, he said, was within the State governments jurisdiction and sending a letter to the Centre regarding a constitutional amendment to create a separate category similar to that of nomadic and denotified tribes for the community was an attempt at fooling the community.

On May 26, the Vasundhara Raje government sent a letter requesting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to initiate steps for a constitutional amendment to make a separate provision for reservation for communities such as the Gujjars, Gadias, Lohars (ironsmiths) and Banjaras. These communities are notified as Other Backward Classes in the State.

The Union Law Ministry, in its reply to the government, explained that like the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes or the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs), characterised by some common features that justified their treatment as a homogenous entity, the denotified or nomadic tribes did not have any special or unique characteristic identified by any study or report of any expert body that would call for special treatment under the Constitution.

The Centre pointed out that in view of certain Supreme Court rulings, provisions for reservation for a category other than S.C./S.T. and OBCs could be made under Clause (1) of Article 16 of the Constitution if the situation so demanded and if it was in the public interest. Therefore, the note prepared by the Law Ministry on behalf of the government said, such provisions could be made by the State government itself. As an example, the note pointed out how special provisions had been made for nomadic and denotified tribes within the Maharashtra State Public Services (Reservations for S.C., S.T.s, Denotified Tribes, Nomadic Tribes, Special Backward Category and Other Backward Classes) Act, 2001. The Centre suggested that the State government might enact legislation to make special provisions for communities such as Gujjars, Gadias, Lohars and Banjaras provided it could establish, if called upon to do so, that this was necessary in the public interest and to redress a specific situation, as required by the Supreme Court.

The Raje governments missive to the Centre and the latters reply made the agitating Gujjars feel that both governments were only trying to frustrate their aims.

While all the Gujjar organisations the Gujjar Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti, the All India Gujjar Mahasabha and the Akhil Bhartiya Gujjar Sangharsh Samiti have more or less stuck to their demand for Scheduled Tribe status for the community in Rajasthan, the State government has not been transparent about its intentions. The Gujjar organisations insist that the State government should make the first move to recommend listing Gujjars as an S.T. Only after such a move is made, they say, will the process get into motion examination of the recommendation by the anthropological wing of the Registrar General of India, consultation with the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, and approval from the Union Tribal Ministry before the proposal is sent to the Union Cabinet.

B.S. Bainsla, national secretary of the Akhil Bhartiya Gujjar Mahasabha, reiterated the demand for recommendation of S.T. status from the State government and added that the Raje government should announce compensation for the next of kin of those killed in police firing, guarantee government jobs to at least one member of each bereaved family, release all those arrested during the agitation and withdraw cases against Gujjars pending since last years agitation.

The Central government has nothing to do with the Chopra Committee. The State government constituted it for its own satisfaction and the committee submitted its report without any recommendation [for S.T. status], he told Frontline from Ajmer. He said that Gujjars might be willing to consider the creation of a category of most backward classes within the category of Backward Classes but added that this was not on the agenda of discussion at this stage.

Ram Saran Bhati, executive president of the Gujjar Mahasabha, told Frontline in Delhi that the State government could not be trusted anymore. It did not submit the Kataria Committee report. We gave detailed representations to the committee in November 2005. Till date, the government has not revealed to us what came out in that committees investigations, he said, referring to the five-member committee headed by State Home Minister G.C. Kataria, set up in 2005 to examine the condition of Gujjars in the districts.

The Gujjar Mahasabha, which has been supporting the agitation in Rajasthan, had given detailed representations to the Justice Jas Raj Chopra Committee (Frontline; June 20, 2008) and was upset when the committee recommended only an economic package and not S.T. status for the community.

Saran Bhati said that the creamy layer cut-off of a family income of Rs.250,000 for those listed in the Other Backward Classes category automatically debarred several livestock-owning Gujjars from availing themselves of reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. This limit should be raised, he said emphatically.

Gujjar landholdings, according to the Chopra Committees report, are smaller than the State average. Only 3.07 per cent of the vehicles in the State are owned by Gujjars. The average school enrolment of Gujjars in 16 selected districts was found to be only 5.66 per cent of the total enrolment. In some 18 districts, Gujjars accounted for only 2.2 per cent in government jobs.

The Chopra Committee said that the complaint of the community for not having any Gujjar in the Indian Administrative Service is valid, our search could locate only a single case from this community, who is in the IAS and posted in Punjab. But the committee rebutted the claim of Gujjars that there were as many as 237 IAS officers from the Meena community; it put the number at 54.

The Chopra Committees survey collected information from 29,747 Gujjar families spread across 20 districts. In the village survey analysis, more than 33 per cent of the villages did not have approach roads. Only one district, Nagaur, was found to enjoy cent per cent connectivity. Only in six of the 20 districts were villages found to be electrified. In Sawai Madhopur district, where two people were killed in police firing this year, about 83 per cent of the sample villages did not have electricity. Only 22 per cent of Gujjar families had electricity connection in their homes and the percentage fell to eight in the case of Bundi and Sikar districts. As 121 villages, constituting about 27 per cent of the total samples, did not have electricity, no household in these villages owned a television.

Nearly 73.3 per cent of the people covered in the survey did not have postal facilities in their areas. While 11.5 per cent of the villages surveyed did not have primary schools, more than 71 per cent did not have middle schools. The literacy rate among Gujjars was also lower than the State average. About 77 per cent of Gujjar families surveyed were found engaged in their traditional occupations of cattle herding and farming. In 10 districts, around 80 per cent of the Gujjars were engaged in such activities.

The Chopra Committee claimed that it made a serious attempt to examine Gujjars claim to S.T. status by using the five criteria laid down by the Chanda Committee in 1967: primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact, and backwardness. It observed: Even if these criteria were to be used for these communities that are classified as tribes and are enjoying the attendant benefits, their present lifestyle would not fit the bill. In such circumstances, the Committee is not in a position to determine the claim but has arrived at the conclusion that certain sections of this population covered by the umbrella term of Gujjar do deserve a special treatment on account of their general backwardness and their primitive type existence in the areas identified.

It is now clear that the State government must, at some stage, look into the demands of this community seriously. To ignore the community because it does not matter electorally would be a mistake.

The issue has been hanging fire for a long time: according to the Gujjar Mahasabha, it was in a 1965 convention at Dholpur that the twin demands for a Gujjar regiment and S.T. status were first made. Too many lives, many of them young, have already been lost in the current conflagration.

In 1986, the Gujjar Mahasabha, which is a 100-year-old organisation, filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court demanding S.T. status for the community. Justice R.N. Verma, in his order delivered on February 8, 1988, stated while disposing of the petition: The relief sought in this petition is that Gujjar community be treated as S.T. This is in the jurisdiction of the President of India to consider this aspect of the matter. Nothing can be done except hoping that the President will consider the case.

The Gujjars gave a call for the boycott of the Congress party during Ashok Gehlots regime. Though there were other reasons for the unseating of the Congress government in the State, at the end of the elections in 2003, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had six Gujjar legislators while the Congress had only two. Now the community is up in arms against the BJP government and it claims that it can affect the partys prospects in at least 40 constituencies.

The Gujjar leadership is convinced that the community deserves meaningful, affirmative action at least in two States, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, though it admits that the Gujjars of western Uttar Pradesh and Delhi are better off. At present, we have confined our demand to Rajasthan only but the demand is coming from other States as well, said Bhati. He said that support from all political parties was pouring in, including from sections within the BJP. But that may not be enough to sway the party if Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje chooses to ignore her partys electoral promises during her Parivartan Yatras in 2003.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment