Nikhil Kuruganti: Who are these Gujjars and Meenas, what is their problem and who created it?

Who are these Gujjars and Meenas, what is their problem and who created it?

Till a few weeks back, probably most of the people living in this country, especially in the south and the east, had no knowledge that there is a community called gujjars (or gurjjars). And now in the last week or so, probably no one who follows the media would be unaware of their existence.

It has been a traumatic week for this country to witness what started as an issue of reservation turning into a bloody caste conflict, between the gujjars and the meenas, over the former's demand for inclusion into the scheduled tribe list. For a long long time this country has not witnessed the kind of open caste clashes as we are seeing in the last few days.

Who are these gujjars? Some historians trace their roots to the Huns dynasty from central Asia, while some others link them to the Georgians and Chechens, but all agree that their origin is from Central Asia. Once they landed here with the Huns ( Hunas) they established small kingdoms in the areas around modern Rajasthan and Gujarat. They are also found in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, where they already "enjoy" the status of the scheduled tribe.

Famous scholar, K.M.Munshi, a gujjar himself says that the Pratiharas, Paramaras and Solankis in Gujarat were imperial gujjars. During the British rule, they had spread to areas around Meerut, Bulandshar, and present Noida and Greater Noida as well as East Delhi, and it is recorded by the Britishers that during the first war of independence in 1857, the gujjars along with the Muslims proved to be their "most irreconcilable enemies".

Incidentally gujjars are both Hindus and Muslim, and the Muslim gujjars had shown dissent against the British in Ludhiana in Punjab. In the process of rebelling against the British, they were known to have committed several dacoities and robberies of the British garrisons, which might have been the reason for the imperial authorities to classify them under the criminal tribes.

One wonders whether it is this sense of historical injustice to them, which has also contributed to their present violent mood.

Meanwhile the meenas or minas, the community that is now arraigned against the Gujjars getting the ST status, also have an interesting history. Though unlike the gujjars who are spread out in north-western India, Meenas are a tribe whom you would find only in Rajasthan. A land-owning class, historians say they were the ruling class in the ancient Matsya (modern Rajasthan) and were even seen as kshatriyas, like the gujjars in the earlier times. However their origin is still not clear as historians differ about whether they had a Central Asian origin like the gujjars or are an indigenous community.

The similarity between the gujjars and the meenas appear over the way in which the British treated them. Like the Gujjars, British found this community also as a thorn in their flesh, and one British chronicler even called them "revengeful and blood thirsty". And like they did with the gujjars, this community was also denominated as a criminal tribe. It may be seen that both gujjars and the meenas who had belonged to a much higher caste order were relegated into criminal tribes during the British times.

However, post-independence meenas, who are economically better off being landowners however managed to be classified in the 1960s as a scheduled tribe, while the economically inferior gujjars atleast in Rajasthan, however got the OBC status.

The gujjars were quite reconciled to this status, after their demand in the seventies to be included in the ST category had been rejected. However, their problem began in the late nineties when the NDA government led by the BJP with an eye on the Jat votes in Rajasthan, before the 1998 elections to the Assembly promised them an OBC status. When this promise was fulfilled in 1999, the gujjars suddenly found themselves at a disadvantage as the more economically and socially as well educationally powerful Jats started cornering the OBC share.

Again the BJP came into the picture and in the run-up to the 2003 assembly polls, its present Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia promised the gujjars that if she came to power, she would recommend their inclusion in the ST list to the Centre. It is this unfulfilled demand, which has erupted into violence, unrest and caste clashes, in Rajasthan and is spreading to Delhi, UP and Haryana also.

Politicians always play games and a similar game was played in Karnataka in the late 1980s when former Prime Minister H.D.Deve Gowda had championed the cause of the Nayakas to be included in the ST list. Despite opposition from many quarters, Gowda had used his clout with the short-lived Chandra Shekhar Government at the Centre in 1990 and included the Nayakas in the ST list. Result: Population of the STs multiplied and when the fresh delimitation of Assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies are finished soon, seats reserved for ST in the Karnataka Assembly will zoom up to 15 from 2 and for the Lok Sabha from none to two.

In Rajasthan also, the seats reserved for STs are expected to go up, and one of the major casualties will be the Dausa Lok Sabha seat, considered as the only gujjar stronghold. A seat represented by late Rajesh Pilot for long and now held by his son Sachin, it is likely to be reserved for STs. Similarly a few Assembly seats held by the gujjars are also likely to face extinction, as far as the gujjars are concerned.

It is this lurking fear which has also ignited the kind of rage among the gujjars. The resistance of the meenas for the inclusion in the ST list is directly related to their apprehension that their almost unchallenged dominance of this category will be a thing of the past, if the gujjars, like the Nayakas in Karnataka, enter the list.

One suggestion to overcome this dangerous deadlock, suggested by an expert is to categorise the OBCs like in Karnataka and Kerala, and create a quota within the quota. This may solve the problem when it comes to sharing seats in education and jobs; however, this is unlikely to allay the apprehensions of the gujjars about the political loss they would suffer, following the fresh delimitation process.

It is therefore imperative in such a complicated situation that all political parties put their heads together and find an amicable solution to this crisis, which has the potential of creating unprecedented caste wars across northwestern India. The unscrupulous politicians have opened a Pandora's box and only they must find a solution.

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