Gujjar movement is not new. Every year during summer, a handful of Gujjars start sitting on the busy railway track, with charpoys, hookahs and tents, disrupting trains on schedule and harassing innumerable harmless passengers.
This year alone, Indian Railway’s, Western Division had a loss of around Rs. 200 Crores, during the 8 day agitation, cancelled, diverted and rescheduled hundreds of trains. Everyday around 2, 00,000 tickets were cancelled by harassed passengers due to cancellation or diversion of trains.
In response to the RTI applications filed by Delhi-based advocate Ravinder Raj, the West Central Railway said the loss suffered by it during the past five years due to these agitations was Rs.14,77,32,592. And this is just the loss on cancellation of reserved tickets, and doesn’t take into account the loss in revenue of goods, trains’ running and maintenance costs, staffing and the prospective general category passengers.
As for year-wise loss, the Railway said it didn’t have the records or figures for 2006-07 and 2007-08. However, it said, in 2008-09, Rs. 1.67 crore was lost due to the Gujjar agitation.
And this was not the first time.
It has become an annual affair now.
On May 20,Gujjars under the leadership of Kirori Singh Bainsla, Convener of Gujjar Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti, after holding a Mahapanchayat in Bayana, decided on the rail blockade. Following the decision, hundreds protested at the railway track in Piloo Ka Pura forcing the railways to divert and cancel of its trains.
“We after considering the situation have stopped train movement in the area due to security reasons,” the railway officials said.
The worst affected were the services on the Delhi-Mumbai route with most of the trains were affected. Allmajor trains had been cancelled.
“The protesters have been sitting on the railway track at Piloo ka Pura near Bharatpur and trains had to be diverted. The passengers were stranded in Mathura, Agra and Bharatpur,” a railway statement said.
Kirori Singh Bainsla, born somewhere in Karauli district of Rajasthan, was married at the age of 14and joined Indian Army at an early age, as an unranked Sepoy and retired as a Colonel. is the leader of Gujjar agitation. Known as a political opportunist and a party hopper, he is now with the Congress.
During the British rule, the Gujjars were classified as ‘criminal tribal groups’ by the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, which was later repealed by the Government of India. After independence, in 1952. Social historians believe that the British classified the nomadic tribes as ‘criminal tribes’ because they considered these tribes to be prone to criminality in the absence of legitimate means of livelihood.
Gujjars are today one of India’s estimated sixty million Denotified Tribes (DNTs).
What Gujjars Want – It’s Complicated
What Gujjars want is also not always clear.
In the “Gurjar Community Online” website refers to the Gujjars as upper caste Kshatriyas, and obviously it seems they specifically rejected a move by the Rajasthan Government to have them listed as DNTs.
The current situation was the ultimate result of years of electoral politics. Whereas the Congress leaders like Rajesh Pilot and later Sachin Pilot fuelled the Gujjar aspiration, BJP won the support of the influential Jat community in the 1999 elections by promising to have them listed as OBCs. The Jats make up nearly 15% of Rajasthan’s population.
Once Jats were categorised as OBCs, the Gujjars who were already placed in the OBC category felt threatened. They felt the better-off Jats would corner the benefits of reservation,
Their move has also brought the Gujjars into conflict with the Meenas, another DNT community who are listed as a Scheduled Tribe in Rajasthan
In each state DNTs are listed under different categories: OBC, ST, SC, DNT, or nothing at all. Also Meenas and the Gujjars, part of DNT communities are listed differently within the same State.
In Rajasthan, Gujjars are officially part of many communities that come under Other backward castes(OBC) category. However, Gujjars have failed to make much progress as they compete with many other communities in the OBC category. Bainsla wanted to rectify this apparent disadvantage by registering Gujjars as ST (Scheduled Tribe) – a technically lower status, but one that entitles a community to more government assistance.
During the initial days, Bainsla’s demand was marked as irrelevant by his own community. In 2007, he withdrew the demand for ST status for Gujjars after talks with the Rajasthan Government. Some sections of the community felt betrayed and accused him of being an agent of the Government. In 2008, he renewed the call for ST status, and a new wave of Gujjar protests have since captured the attention and put Rajasthan on standstill. Some even have accused Bainsla other Gurjar leaders of hypocrisy for their wealth alleged lavish lifestyles!
When Bainsla left BJP and joined Congess for political gain, powerful Gujjar leaders like Himmat Singh and Attar Singh Bhadana had questioned Bainsla’s decision without consulting them. Mr. Bhadana said that Bainsla was apparently looking for some “personal benefit” even though the Congress had betrayed the community on the quota issue.
Govt Remained Soft On Gujjar Agitators!
As the so called second round of talks between the agitating Gujjars and Rajasthan Ministers failed to yield any result, the Rajasthan High Court directed the State authorities on May 27, to “immediately clear” railway tracks and highways blocked by the community members demanding five per cent quota in government jobs.
Hearing a contempt petition, the Rajasthan High Court ordered District Collectors of Dausa, Sawai Madhopur, Karauli and Bharatpur, besides IGs of Jaipur and Bharatpur, to ensure that traffic on the Jaipur-Agra highway was restored “today itself”.
It also ordered the Rajasthan Chief Secretary and the DGP, besides the Divisional Railway Manager, Kota, to appear before it and apprise the court of the situation.
Calling the agitation “totally undemocratic”, the High Court slammed authorities for allowing the situation to deteriorate.
“We are not going to meet the government in Jaipur. If they want they will have to come to Bayana to meet us and that too with a concrete proposal,” Himmat Singh, spokesperson of the Gujjar Arakshan Sangarsh Samiti earlier told the reporters at Bayana.
But on seeing High Court’s stronger stance ,Kirori Singh Bainsla who was adamant of not moving out of Bayana, quickly left for Jaipur and on the very next day, the Rajasthan Government and the Gujjar leaders “reached an agreement” over the issue of five percent reservation in government jobs as demanded by the community.Rajendra SinghRathore, the member of Cabinet Sub Committee from the Government’s side, said that a consensus has been developed between both parties.
“Both Gujjar delegation and state government have agreed upon eight points…A draft has been formulated regarding five percent reservation for other backward classes and has been approved by the Rajasthan Cabinet. The draft will be introduced in upcoming Rajasthan Assembly session as ordinance and will be passed,” said Rathore.
Just A Ploy?
Rajasthan Government knows quite well, that extra 5% reservation announced by it in 2007, has already been stayed by the High Court.
Also the key to Gujjar reservation rests not in their hands but on the decision of the Union Government, which has the decisive role in resolving the five per cent reservation demand.
Officially the Rajasthan Government has agreed to introduce a fresh Ordinance or Bill in the State Assembly and send the legislation to the Centre for including it in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution.
“The State Government would pass the Bill in the Cabinet and the State Assembly and then send it for inclusion in the Ninth Schedule. Once the Bill is sent to Parliament, the State Government will have no role and everything will depend on the Union Government,” said a senior advocate of Rajasthan High Court.
To include the legislation in the Ninth Schedule, the Union Government have to pass it in the Parliament.
As per Rajasthan Government decision, the Gujjars would be given reservation as ‘Specially Backward Classes’ under a separate Bill, which will take overall reservation to beyond the 50 per cent limit earlier fixed by the Supreme Court.
The Government also agreed to bring a separate bill for 14 per cent reservation to economically backward classes. Once both the bills are passed, the overall reservation in the state will go up to 68 per cent and the number of general category seats will come down to just 32 per cent, which can be easily challenged in court.
To avoid legal challenges, the government has assured Gujjars to get the legislation included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. But, legal experts say that legislations listed on the Ninth Schedule can also be reviewed legally, and presently 30 such legislations are under legal review.
“A Bench of nine Judges of the Supreme Court has already given its decision long back that legislations listed in the Ninth Schedule can be reviewed in a court of law. So far 284 laws have been listed in the Ninth Schedule and 30 are being reviewed in court,” said a legal expert.
In its previous tenure of Raje also, the BJP government had passed two Bills to give five per cent reservation to Gujjars and 14 per cent reservation to economically backward classes. The then BJP Government had announced to send both the Bills to the Centre for listing in the Ninth Schedule, in the same manner. But, when the Congress came to power in Rajasthan, the Bills were not forwarded.
No Easy Solution Yet
The leaders of Jat and Other Backward Classes (OBC) community had opposed thedemands, saying it wiould reduce OBC quota and the matter in pending in Rajasthan High Court.
Gujjar leaders are asking the state government to create a Special Backward Class (SBC) category within OBC quota. It will reduce the OBC quota which accommodates 91 castes in Rajasthan. Their demand is unfair, said Rajaram Meel, President of Rajasthan Jat Mahasabha said.
He said that the community will not tolerate classification in OBC quota and can go to any extent to save the reservation. Gujjars cannot demand special backward class status because there are many other castes in Rajasthan which are more backward than Gujjars.
“Gujjars cannot demand special backward class status because there are 71 castes in Rajasthan which are more backward than Gujjars.” OBC leaders said.
In 2007, there was fierce fighting broke out between the two communities Gujjar and Meenas, as the Meenas fought to prevent any expansion of the ST category. It killed several people. Army and Paramilitary forces were called to maintain peace.
Bainsla laments: Meenas and Jats are powerful communities, therefore the Government is afraid of alienating them.”
So, should we be ready for another Gujjar agitation and disruption of rail service, next year too?
When a journalist asked Bainsla: Every year, why do you choose summer to launch your agitation?
Bainsla promptly answered: Because, farmers are free at this time as the harvest season is over.”
Take the cue from him.
By Deep Basu
Images Supplied By Author
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