WEB DESK: During the recent days the Indian state of Haryana has been the scene of violent protests by the Jaat community demanding a better share in jobs and student admissions. The BJP government in Centre – also rules the troubled state. It deployed as many as 4,000 troops and 5,000 paramilitaries to restore order as protesters attacked ministers’ residences, torched railway stations and, brought rail and road transportation in the area to a stop. Industries were forced to close, and water supply to the country’s capital, New Delhi, cut off.
The government ordered rationing of water supply to residents and closed down schools in the capital. By Sunday evening, the riots had claimed 12 lives, compelling the government to bow down to the protesters saying the Jaats will be included in the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) to benefit from the reservation policy through a law in the next assembly session. On the face of it, the Jaats do not seem to have a fair case to resort to such extreme action. A closer look, however, leads to a different conclusion.
In the caste-ridden Indian society, class and caste are interchangeable terms, and people’s rights and privileges given and taken on the basis of birth rather than merit, with those on the lowest rung suffering from worst forms of discrimination. The reservation system was introduced a while ago to provide a chance for improvement to members of lower classes. As per official policy, job quotas and places in colleges and universities are reserved for the two wider caste-based categories of OBCs and Economically Backward Classes (EBCs).
Notably Jaats, comprising at least a quarter of Haryana’s population, are comparatively well off. They belong somewhere in the middle of the caste hierarchy. Hence unlike the social barriers that keep individuals from lower classes from realising their full potential, they have a better chance at upward mobility. The Union Home Minister and the army chief, for example, are both Jaats; and the latter belongs to Jhajjar district of Haryana. It is rather surprising that in a country where caste determines the social status of individuals this community should want to be placed in the OBC category. The reason though is the problem of economic exclusion. Most of them live in rural areas with fewer opportunities for economic advancement.
It is worthwhile to recall, that back in the 1980s when the then Indian prime minister, V P Singh, had tried to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations for reservation quotas for Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in government jobs and public universities, he faced fierce protests, even attempts at self-immolations, from high caste young men who felt the measure would further limit betterment prospects for them. As the events of the last few days show three decades on, the issue remains as explosive as it was then. Basically the problem is lack of opportunities despite the rapid economic growth the country is achieving. The trickle down model of development has not delivered.
Clearly, the challenge facing the policymakers in India as well as this county is to devise development strategies that devote special attention to the need of expanding educational and employment opportunities.
Source: Business Recorder