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Fire spreads as Gujjars block the delhi- jaipur highway (Fire Spreads as Gujjars block the Dlehi0 Jaipur Highway)

The struggle of the Gujjars in Rajasthan to be included in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) category is nothing but their quest for being ‘backward’ in the law. Chinappa Reddy J in Vasanth Kumar v. State of Karnataka stated that never has he seen castes fighting for backwardness (in the case of ligayats and vookaligas) and this marked the state of our nation. Similar circumstances have arisen now.

The Gujjars are traditional shepherds found across many states in north and western India. They are both Hindus and Muslims. In places like Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, they have been given the ST identity. Haryana and Rajasthan have sought to keep them in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category. From what I understand, the tension began when the Jats, a powerful community in Rajasthan were classified as OBCs. The Jats constitute 15% of the population in Rajasthan; their classification by the BJP Government was seen as nothing but a political move by which the BJP gained a lot of support.

 

The procedure for the classification of a scheduled tribe is given in Article 342 of the Constitution. It states

 

342. Scheduled Tribes.—(1) The President may with respect to any State or Union territory, and where it is a State, after consultation with the Governor thereof, by public notification, specify the tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within tribes or tribal communities which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Tribes in relation to that State or Union territory, as the case may be.

(2) Parliament may by law include in or exclude from the list of Scheduled Tribes specified in a notification issued under clause (1) any tribe or tribal community or part of or group within any tribe or tribal community, but save as aforesaid a notification issued under the said clause shall not be varied by any subsequent notification.

 

Pursuant to this the Constitution Scheduled Tribes Order, 1950 was formed which contains the list of tribes. The Gujjars wanted to be included in that list.

 

But why then would someone want to be included in that list? Are reservations in educational institutions and government offices so tempting that one would sacrifice their identity and status for them? Ironic though, it’s a true state of affairs in this Country of ours. In fact, this situation is perfect for the advocates of anti- reservation to stand up and again raise hue and cry about it. While on one side some amongst us say that there must be reservation in the country to uplift the classes, on the other side we have groups fighting for recognition and that upliftment.

I went through wikipedia and the sources mentioned on Gujjars; and here’s what I could infer:-

a) that the Gujjars are not that economically backward as compared to other tribes in the ST list.

b) There is a lot of vote bank politics involved in their classification as a ST.

c) they were a ‘criminal tribe’ during the british period. (though not an issue now)

 

Development for certain classes of people in the country then has largely become a political issue. Not that it never was. Its just that now constitutional fundamentals and ideals are being mixed with politics. Nani Palkhivala wrote in the Times of India, (26 Jan 1992) after Indira Sawhney v. Union of India,

‘I am sure Mr. VP Singh was sincere when he said that after the Supreme Court judgment in the Mandal case he could die in peace. But his policy has ensured that the nation will not live in peace. The poisonous weed of casteism has been replanted “where it will trouble us a thousand years, each age will have to reconsider it”.

 Its then time for reconsideration of the way reservation is implemented in this country. We are tired of strikes, road blocks and the deaths of people. Violence is being used as a tool for getting demands met. We do not need immediate actions but lasting solutions to such problems.

 

 

 

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP), formulated consequential to the NREG Act, 2005, has no doubt, been of benefit to a vast number of families from rural India. This social-welfare legislation has proved instrumental in creating employment, albeit temporary, to those lacking adequate means of livelihood. The present context upon which I wish to comment, is one that exemplifies the connection, or rather the absence thereof, in the spheres of law and society. The exclusion of single women and widows from the ambit and benefit of the NREGP is no small matter.

The background to this comment is based on P. Sainath’s article in the Hindu dated May 22, 2007 and can be read here:  http://www.hindu.com/2007/05/22/stories/2007052200840900.htm 

The article, in essence, deals with case-studies of single and widowed women in Andhra Pradesh who have been refused employment under this Programme on the ground that they lacked a male partner joining for work. Many of the widows’ farmer-husbands committed suicide in light of the extremely miserable conditions for agrarian production which have been long prevalent in A.P (and many other parts of the country) now. Such reports have even received confirmation from officials in the Government. Digressing slightly, it can be stated there is a complete lack of awareness as to the fact that the widowed women of farmers are all the more in need of employment as a result of the deficient means of livelihood.

If one observes the reasons for refusal to provide employment to these women, it can be noted that such employment is contingent on the presence/ absence of a male partner at work. The fundamental assumption, therefore, is that productivity and work will be compromised if single/widowed women are employed without male workers to “compensate” such depletion in productivity. In short, only male workers can be trusted, so to say, to maintain standards of efficiency at work. Inherently discriminatory in nature, such tendencies do well to perpetuate the myth of the “able-bodied worker”. It would be truistic to say that the very purpose of the NREG Act is destroyed if such notions are encouraged. If employment were to be provided on such fallacious grounds based on efficiency, rooted in gender bias, we would only be promoting discrimination; not to mention the fact that livelihood of families run by women (no meagre number, that) would be thrown into (further?) economic backwardness.

The law in its implementation has to be conscious of ground realities in society. A social welfare legislation is absolutely redundant if in practice, it encourages such myths and discriminates on the basis of norms clearly unconstitutional. An understanding of social and gender equality is critical to the benefit of its subjects in society.

Perhaps this post comes at a time when the Vadodara art attack controversy seems to be in the letting-off-steam stages. However, it is imperative that we address the larger, more significant question that has been churned out from the incident.

The uninitiated may read about the issue in question at “NDTV.com: Art Held Hostage in Vadodara , http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/ndtv/story.aspx?id=NEWEN20070011802”

Incidents of such nature are not too uncommon in present day Indian society; be it the ruckus created over the Richard Gere-Shilpa Shetty incident or the commotion made over M.F Hussain’s works depicting Hindu Goddesses in the nude, or for that matter the attack made on the Tamil Daily Dinakaran‘s office in Madras over a controversial opinion poll. At the onset, it is stated that I do not wish to delve into the premise of merits/demerits of moral policing and media-gagging; nor am I speaking from the standpoint of the urban, educated and liberal citizen. There are always two sides to a moral/ethical debate (irrespective of which weighs more) and to enter it would be futile.

What then am I broaching on? To reiterate, the larger perspective simply must focus on the question of human rights. We are, vis-a-vis the context of discussion, talking about the freedom of speech and expression; one that has been recognized, respected and documented since time immemorial. To quote a learned man;

I may not agree with what you say, but I shall defend to death your right to say it” – Voltaire

Society has been stirred, revolutions have occurred and autocracies have been thrown in the fight for this mighty and noble right. Fundamental in today’s society, in both layperson and legalese terms, the Indian Constitution recognizes it under Article 19 (1) (a). However, many would surely be aware of the fact that a right in paper cannot be equated to a right in actuality. Hence, what we are all concerned with here, is the way/attitude that has been adopted towards the exercise and restraints pertaining to rights fundamental in nature. Whether the ‘saffron brigade’ decided to vandalize the art exhibition at Vadodara is of no concern to me at this juncture. What is disappointing however, is the towing of a similar line by the police, very much a State appendage. A lower Court in Rajasthan decides that a display of antics by Gere and Shetty amount to gross obscenity; are we witnessing a gradual recession in freedom within the freedom given to us? perhaps, a signal to society from State machinery and guardian institutions like the Judiciary that our rights, far from being absolute, are subject to the whims and fancies of morality of those vested with power?

Questions such as these need to be raised, answered and sensitized to the populace. Only then are we realizing our ideal of political participation in the world’s largest democracy.

I write this at a very crucial time. I, a student of law have to decide which line should I go into; the corporate side and firms where there is easy money, litigation or higher studies. This also comes at a time when the student community is debating about reservations and those who recently finished 12th would soon be on the look out for the appropriate college.  Over the past few days I’ve been encountering human rights to a very great extent. Interning with various NGO’s and the Poverty course at the University have been heavily responsible for it. A question that I often ponder about during these time, “Why Human Rights?” is what I’d like to write about in the next few paragraphs.

 

I observe that no rich man will ever talk about a violation of his human rights, plainly because he has the means to fend for it. The very fact that one of you is reading this article is proof that you know about your rights and have the resources at hand to fight for them. But the problem is that apart from us, there are 250 million in this country and another billion or so in this world who cannot. Neither do they have a preacher nor a protector. Rights exist not for the rich but the poor who are faced with their violations every minute. They are placed at the mercy of state systems that can do as they please with them. While there are 100,000 dying in Darfur, millions displaced in New Delhi as a result of demolitions, and god knows how many languishing in Indian jails without due process; we seem to be divided into three main groups. The first, that has no clue about them and doesn’t want to associate with them. They just want to go on with their so called ‘personal lives’ without even looking at them. The second, reads about them, would like to do something, but then decide that their individual careers are more important and carry on. These two constitute the majority of the population that can fend for themselves incase they are subjected to any injustice.  The third group, consists of those who make a difference in this world of inequalities. The members of this group go on the presumption that they exist in this world to fight for those who are affected by human rights violations. And why so? Because the man above did not give them the means to fight for it on their own. Because they cannot stand living in this world with so much injustice going around and lastly because they love their country.

 

The last line in more of a rhetorical argument. Albert Camu wrote, “There are means that cannot be excused. And I should be able to like my country and still love justice. I don’t want just any greatness for it, particularly a greatness born out of blood and falsehood. I want to keep it alive by keeping justice alive.” Camu’s quote above was written in response to the French injustices in Africa but bears lot of relevance here. The future of my country today is bleak. In the garb of globalization, millions are suffering. At one place the majority poor are being killed for the expense of a few million dollars in building a Special Economic Zone. On the other hand people languish in jails without no idea what the future has in store for them. I find it hard to believe that most of us are silent on issues like Nandigram where states get away by ordering the killing of poor farmers. To add to it, most of us seem to be more interested in the profits that an Indonesian company will make than taking the lives of people.

In my studies at law school and successive internships I understood that the most important word is ‘rights’. Once my rights are secure, only then can I look at others. In as much as some activists might argue that rights are founded on concentration camps, displaced people or the poverty stricken, I stick to the belief that it is not a gift given by the state or a decree passed by the Court, but a possession that has to be won everyday. But does one be have to be an egotist and draw the line at his rights only or does he have to look beyond? History has witnessed enough of egotists and knows too much of its consequences. I could go on passionately as most activists do as to how we need to protet human rights and all that stuff but I’d like to stop here to delve upon a greater issue, “rational legal thinking”.

Within the human rights circle I observe that there are just a few who fight not for the people but for the law. They believe in the black letter of the law and abhor the twisting of the laws for some and not for others. If I were to emulate anyone in the future it would be these kind of people. They are way above the HR activists and fight for the forsaken because they believe in the strength and application of the law. Not bundled with emotions or any passion, they rationally argue for the poverty stricken and the violated and gain ground through the legal system.

So while I intern with a person who believes in the black letter above I see a sense in their struggle with returns. But I then ask myself if this is the path I want to take as financial considerations seem to take the upper hand.

I have three more years to go at law school. Enough time to decide what to do. But the issues mentioned above will always be kept in mind before I choose my career.

Why Skeptical Dogmatist?! As a wise man once said, We know too much to be dogmatists, and too little to be skeptics.

I follow confucsioinsim.

I assure you, it has nothing to do with Confucious. Probably, it has everything to do with Confusion. Am I a right-conservative or a left-liberal? Am I centrist? Or libertanian? Authoritarian? Or is it Liberal-Marxism, the Presi school of thought! My contributions to this blog are merely an attempt to find an answer to this question, which has often plagued my mind, since Presidency. I, for instance am dead against Reservations on basis of Castes. Does that make me a rightist?! But then, I feel Godhra was nothing less than a genocide. Oh! so am I a leftist now?!

May be my definitions of rightist/leftist are screwed. [I’m sorry, but I couldn’t find a better adjective] I’ll learn. Soon. Through this blog. Hopefully.

Or may be you think I’m a bored nerd who is trying to be cool. 😉