Jats Are Demanding Quota For A Simple Reason. And It’s Not ‘Backwardness’

Posted on February 26, 2016 in Society

By Suvarna Bhattacharya:

Demonstrators from the Jat community listen to a speaker as they block the Delhi-Haryana national highway during a protest at Sampla village in Haryana, India, February 22, 2016. Rural Indian protesters blockaded highways and paralysed a northern state on Monday despite a deal giving them more government jobs, but there was relief for New Delhi's 20 million residents as the army retook control of their main water source. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi - RTX27ZZB
Image Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi.

“Jat aarakshan do, desh bachao”
“Jat aarakshan lekar rahenge”
“Jai jawan jai kisan, jat balwan”

This is not the first time that the Jat community has come together to demand what it thinks it rightfully deserves. However, what makes the current agitation a matter of debate and discussion is the way the entire turbulence has taken a dangerous route.

Social media abounds with posts, from criticising the Jat community for demanding reservations, that too viciously, to trolls like, “kabhi kisi ko aankho pe Rayban, paer mein Nike aur sharir par Puma pehan kar reservation ki demand karte hue dekha hai?”

The history of our reservation policy dates back to post-Independence India. India back then had to deal with the abhorrent caste prejudices and practices (these practices thrive even today but to a lesser degree). So, as a result, our Constitution makers decided to opt for ‘positive discrimination’ in the hope that it would give birth to a brighter future for India, obliterating caste based discrimination from the face of this country. It is sad that the intentions with which these policies were brought into effect have lost their purpose in the present scenario.

Whether introducing the policy of reservation was good or not is debatable but what needs to be addressed right now is whether the practice of reserving a certain percentage of seats in higher education programmes and government jobs will solve the problem or not.

Jats are not only prosperous and socially powerful in Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, but also call the shots in politics and governance in these states. Moreover, in Haryana, the centre of the Jat agitation stir, the state politics revolves around the Jat community and Jat Chief Ministers have ruled the state for the longest time. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled in the year 2014 that ‘caste’ and ‘historical’ injustice cannot blind a state in according minority status to a community and that other groups such as transgenders must be identified for quota benefits.

Also, if one can go by the famous anthropologist M.N. Srinivas’s definition of a dominant caste, then Jats, it turns out, would be one as they are demographically important and also own a lot of land. Apart from this, the Haryana government might actually find it hard to provide reservation to Jats since the state has already granted 49 percent reservation to various backward castes and communities and cannot add to this figure since the Supreme Court has capped reservations at 50 percent.

So, due to some of the facts mentioned above, the Jats should not be able to demand reservation on the basis of their caste. So why do Jats still want what they want? A simple answer to this would be unemployment. Jats are unfortunately not able to get what they aspire for. They need reservations not because they feel their caste is a backward caste but because our economy has not been able to provide sufficient employment opportunities to the youth. Hence, their caste has become an appropriate reason for them to wreak havoc for reservations. A similar situation can be witnessed in the case of Patels, Kapus, and Marathas.

According to various reports, young Jats have not been able to gain access to the kind of education that would equip them adequately to enter the field of services. Since most of them fail to get admissions in government educational institutions they find no other option but to opt for an exorbitant ‘substandard’ private education thus leading them to run into heavy debts. Subsequently, their education fails to provide them the desired returns they hope for. So, they fall back upon unskilled jobs to rid themselves of the weight of their dues.

This is true not just for Jats but many such youngsters who are technically engineers and MBA graduates but end up applying for posts such as clerks and peons at government institutions. This makes us realise that the inherent problem is not just the reservation policy but also our economy’s failure to produce the required number of employment opportunities.

According to a 2011-12 report by the Labour Bureau, the average daily earnings of a worker in the private sector was considerably lower than in the public sector. To add to this, the Seventh Pay Commission recommended an increase in the minimum monthly wage to Rs. 18,000. In light of this, it is understandable that since the private sector is poorly paid, the exasperated and unemployed individuals have no other option but to turn to the public sector for jobs.

However, things are not as simple as they seem to be. According to an article by The Indian Express, during the year 1992-93 India’s population was 839 million and there were 19.5 million public sector jobs. Now, Indians are 1.2 billion in number but the number of public sector jobs has shrunk to 17.6 million. The Indian Express further adds, “in states that have aggressively implemented the liberalisation policy, government jobs have almost disappeared. For instance, the government’s share in employment in Gujarat is only 1.18 per cent whereas it is 16 per cent in Kerala.”

To sum up, the government cannot afford to give in to the pressure tactics of the protesting Jats and should work out a model at the earliest to address the core issue. Even if the Jats are granted what they want, which, as a result, might lead to a chain reaction with Patels, Kapus and Marathas resorting to the same tactics, then it would not lead to long-term benefits and again everybody would find themselves back to square one with burning SUVs, cut water supply, deaths, curfew and so on.