I had gone to Bangalore for the weekend when the Gujjar agitation made national headlines. Before I could wrap my head around it, they were everywhere, not restricted to Rajasthan at all -- from my TV to the Noida toll bridge! Normal life was being disturbed and violence ensued.
Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje called the Gujjar leader and discussed their demands -- reservations for the community on the basis that are too, ST -- and they called off the protests.
So this morning, when on my way to work, my boss called me to say 'Idea Exchange -- Colonel Bainsala -- I was interested to hear what he had to say for himself. I mean, I know they want ST status and all that, but I had been paying close attention to the mainstream media's long debates on whether it was ethical for the Gujjars to have blocked roads and railway tracks for their own interests.
At Idea Exchange, Colonel Bainsala and co were asked by various reporters to explain why they thought they fit into the ST category. They had this notebook which spelt out all the customs etc of ST communities and they said that theirs were just the same. I don't know how it works really, but till they attain this status will they have to ensure that their community (in Rajasthan) remains in the dark ages? The good news is that a committee will take a call on this issue in 3 months. But at the same time, it really does sound like a race to the bottom.
Is reservations good? Many asked him why he thought that reservations would make them any better -- and I really appreciated the answer. He said that it might not, but now that the mechanism exists, they want to be part of it. To my mind, it all boils down to the fact that simple governance is lacking and the only way to ensure any help from the government is to be deemed 'special'. And our middle class mindset sometimes makes us doubt reservations, or view it suspiciously, as a political tool or even an easy out for hard work, but the other side of the coin -- this one -- it is perceived as a lifeline.
And what if they are not found to be worth of ST reservations? They said they would continue their struggle because they wanted to bring their community out of the dark ages. They gave us many facts and figures of how there were no women MBBS or persons in the IAS from their community.
Colonel Bainsala and his two colleagues are obviously intelligent men. They argued their case with passion, speaking in both Hindi and English. I found their story very interesting because they told us that they had been protesting peacefully for seven years now, but only after violent incidents (which they did not plan) did the state take them seriously. Shouldn't there be a mechanism for these things?
Its the largest questions that bugged me the entire time -- how does a small community get any attention in this country without resorting to violence? Bainsala and co. were ready with facts, passages from the Constitution, the findings of earlier committees on the state of scheduled tribes -- in fact, it was endearing to see how hard they tried to work within the system. But it was very disturbing to see that the system doesn't reward them for playing by the rules at all.
We have just dealt with Muslim reservations, and for that matter, even SC questions have such an emotional tinge that the debate is naturally on the frontpages of newspapers. After all, do you really want to keep a religious community behind? Or do you think, as upper castes, the lower castes should stay in 'their place?' No? Then debate it dammit. But this debate stirred no such emotions, in fact, they were even asked why they used priests during weddings if they consider themselves tribals and I silently thought 'this is NOT the point and we are getting distracted by stupid nitpicking. They are here because they want progress, education, medication, roads, electricity, a good life. It has nothing to do with who uses and doesn't use priests for wedding ceremonies.'
For a democracy, we certainly thrive on chaos. And inaction. They have been asking for a leg up for seven years. And no one paid heed till somebody died. Is that democracy? For heaven's sake... why do we have a consitution and constitutional mechanisms if we don't seem to want to use them??? The real test is not when they work for the have's -- its when they work for the have-not's. We need to function by the book, not by emotion.