June 4, 2007

No Cast(e)Away This ...

June 04, 2007 Posted by Vijay No comments
Some call them Gurjars, yet others Gujjar. Though the fact remains that both refer to the same caste of people , predominantly from Rajasthan, this minute difference in addressing this caste goes on to show whether even an accurate piece of news will get percolated to the common man. And when caught in a fierce caste imbroglio, as in the current case in Rajasthan, any wrongly reported news item can lead to serious consequences.

Thankfully, the demand of the Gujjars (or Gurjars, I still am searching for the right name of this caste) is so critical, that any piece of media news, is not bigger than the issue itself. After Madhya Pradesh and Bihar were split into 5 states, Rajasthan emerged as the largest Indian state in terms of area. To see the largest Indian state get into such caste problems is definitely disturbing for any Indian Citizen.

The issue here is caste based. A system which has refused to die, and only seems to emerge stronger with every passing election. Gujjars, currently have the OBC status, while the Meenas have the ST status (Scheduled Tribe) status. Owing to the non-recognition of the ST status, Gujjars have missed out on opportunities to be well represented in the higher echelons of Indian Society. The fact that the incumbent Chief Minister of Rajasthan, as a true politician failed to keep her promise of granting ST status to Gujjars didn't help either.

To hold an entire state under siege and then to carry out a fierce agitation for their demand of getting ST status can't be ignored even by the Indian Central Government. That is precisely what has happened, with the agitating Gujjars taking to the streets in Delhi as well. Vasundhara Raje is stuck between the Meenas and the Gujjars. While the Meenas don't prefer the Gujjars being given ST status, and threaten the Raje government, the Gujjars are doing the same too. A caste war which has now broken between the two castes has threatened to snowball all across North India.

Raje really has very few options. The funny part though is, there probably are no options to choose from either. She can't give ST status because of the Meenas, but she has to give ST status because of the Gujjars. Quite a dilemma this. The sadder part of all this though is the larger SC/ST issue in the whole of India. It is not difficult to imagine a similar kind of issue, if society continues to have a huge income gap between the well to do and the poor. This is no different from the caste war itself. Just that in the caste war there probably are protagonists in the form of casteist names and figures.

It is even more funny that this issue had to arise a year after the reservation row. While in the case of the reservation row, there was total agreement for allowing 50% reservation to SC/ST and OBC, in this caste war, there is no unanimity in picture. The fact that the Gujjars would still fall under this 50% reservation is a totally different matter. But with all due credit to the SC/ST and the OBC's while the protests against reservation last year didn't have any major impact, with protests being very minimal, the protests by Gujjars have been far more agitative, fierce and life-endangering. 25 lives lost in a week of protests is scary enough. This sort of violence never happened in the reservation row.

Just think if the General Category were to take to the streets, demanding SC/ST status. The remaining population of India would also come under the SC/ST category. That in a way would be ironic, for no vote bank politics would be even possible. On the other hand though, since all of the Indian population would anyway fall under 100% reservation, there probably won't be any cast based distinction. Of course these are quite unfathomable thoughts. But maybe, there is also a reasoning there to scrap any sort of caste based divide.

As a common citizen, all this makes me wonder, where all the political battles would be fought and lives lost. Caste within religions. Amongst religions. The Social Divide of the rich and the poor. And of course the issue of the minorities. So much to choose from as an election issue. But so much to tackle too. Vasundhara Raje may not have seen this one coming. This probably is also the reason why politicians know the game and know to play it well. That is why they are holding the reigns of power, and not a common man like me.

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