Rajasthan’s Gujjar community on Wednesday came out in support of the Patels from Gujarat who have been demanding an OBC quota in government jobs and colleges.
The Gujjars, who are in the other backward classes (OBC) list, kicked off a campaign eight years ago for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status seeking added benefits of reservations.
More than 70 people have been killed since 2007 when members of the traditionally pastoralist community who comprise 6% of Rajasthan’s population clashed with police and members of the Meena community who were opposed to the Gujjars’ demand.
The protesters later settled for a 5% special backward class (SBC) quota, but the state high court stayed the government decision and the community was back blocking trains and road traffic this year in Pilu Ka Pura, a tiny village next to the Delhi-Mumbai rail route in Bharatpur district.
Quotas are the rule in government jobs and schools in India with politics often holding sway over who gets benefits, while critics urge for a transition to need-based programmes that provide advantages based on economic or geographic conditions.
The Gujjar demonstrators say they are backing the campaign in Gujarat led by 22-year-old Hardik Patel as it has brought focus back on the contentious issue of reservations.
“We are supporting their movement because the man (Hardik) is talking about having a relook at castes which have had reservation for many years. There’s a need to review it now, said Himmat Singh Gujjar, a community leader and close lieutenant of Col Kirori Singh Bainsla, the man who has spearheaded the Gujjar quota stir. “There are castes, which are no longer backward, neither socially nor economically, because of quota benefits over the years but they continue to claim entitlement.”
While demanding a quota for their community, the Gujjars also want the Jats to be pushed out from the ambit of reservations.
On August 10, the Rajasthan high court struck down quota for Jats in the Dholpur and Bharatpur districts but allowed them the benefit of reservations in other parts of the state.
“The court has asked the government to form a permanent OBC commission and let it review castes which are getting OBC quota benefits, but it didn’t stay reservations to Jats. In our case, the court stayed the benefit,” Singh said.
The Gujjars now have a 1% quota as the promised 5% allocation expanded the total reservation umbrella to more than 50%, which is not allowed by the Constitution.