Friday, September 4, 2015

The Patidar Agitation


The Patel agitation (based on an article written by Prof Ghanshyam Shah)

The vast and unprecedented mobilisation of young, middle-class Patels, or Patidars, as seen at the Kranti Rally on August 25, is a symptom of the unrest simmering in a globalised Gujarat. Patidars from all parts of the state came together to demand that the government either extend OBC reservations to Patidars or abolish the caste-based reservation system altogether. It should be noted that the Patidars were the first community in India to launch anti-reservation movements against the Dalits and Adivasis, and later against Gujarat’s OBCs, in 1981 and 1985. Later, community leaders, under the guidance of the RSS and VHP, shrewdly diverted the agitation, so it morphed into one against Muslims. Non-resident Gujaratis who live abroad have also extended moral and material support, much as they did to the Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva agenda.

The upsurge comprises the well-off and dominant Leuva and Kadva Patidars. They constitute around 12 per cent of the state’s population and are the single-largest community among rich and middle-class peasants. Since the last quarter of the 19th century, well-off Patidars have been investing their agricultural surpluses in business, industry and also in skill development. High rates of migration in the community, first to Africa and later to the UK and the US, have added to their prosperity. However, in urban areas, except for a few well-established professionals and entrepreneurs, the majority are white- or blue-collar employees, or self-employed or casual, skilled labourers in textile or diamond factories. The diamond industry has been a mainstay of the community. But for the last several months, the industry has been in deep crisis. Several units have closed down, and a large number of diamond workers have been retrenched, which has contributed to the current unrest in the Patidar community.

Similarly, though advances in irrigation have meant that agricultural growth in Gujarat over the last decade has been high at around 8 per cent per annum, this growth has not been inclusive. Small and marginal farmers have been left behind, and the head of every third Patidar household is a small and marginal farmer, and/ or a landless labourer. He grapples with the constant tension of high aspirations and wretched living conditions. Poor farmers don’t have enough resources to invest in farming and incur debt. The poor have desperately tried to get non-farm employment in nearby urban areas and dream of joining the urban middle class. But urban growth, though impressive, has been unable to absorb and accommodate these rising aspirations. It is true that economic growth, largely in the manufacturing sector, is higher than in many other states. But the quality of available employment does not meet the expectations of young people. The growth in employment comes largely from the informal sector, where there is no social security. Wages in Gujarat are lower than in most other states. Even in the formal sector, more often than not, employment is casual or contractual. Insecurity haunts most young employees. In such a situation, government employment is perceived by frustrated young Patidars as the only secure and dignified position available. (emphasis added)

Gujjar Agitation(extracted from Wikipedia)
Gujjars(Gurjar)— a farming and trading community— are classified by the government as an "Other Backward Class". They are part of the caste system that do not face as much exclusion or discrimination in society. The Gujjar community feels it has been economically and educationally left behind and it wants to be reclassified as a Scheduled Tribe. They demand scheduled tribe status so that they can qualify for government jobs and state college seats reserved solely for such groups.
Violence erupted in the state of Rajasthan in India on 23 May 2008 when police fired on protesters belonging to the Gujjar caste who were demanding a lower ST status,instead of their current, higher OBC (Other Backward Class) status. On 24 May, the army was called in to help calm the violence as another 15 people were killed when police shot at a mob protesters trying to torch a police station in Sikandra. Thousands of protesters blocked a rail route between Delhi and Mumbai. Highways had also been blocked, and state authorities cancelled many buses.
Getting almost no from government for their 5% quota demand,Gujjars again went onto agitation in 2010.They jammed trains on Jaipur-Delhi and Mumbai-Delhi route.Unlike 2008 unrest, there was no violence in 2010. In May 2015, a similar protest was organized and over 1000s of Gujjars blocked railway tracks halting train traffic.

Jat Agitation(extracted from Wikipedia)
The All-India Jat Mahasabha held a convention in Delhi on 9 March 2007 under the chairmanship of its president, ChaudharyDara Singh. One of the main issues taken up at the convention, which was attended by several Central and State Ministers and MPs, was reservation for the Jats in State and Central Government jobs. The Jats are a community which has its origins in pastoralism. The Jats are a traditionally agricultural community in North India and Pakistan, primarily of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh faiths,and live mostly in the States of Haryana, Punjab, rajasthan, Delhi and Western Uttar Pradesh and the Pakistani provinces of Punjab and Sindh.
Akhil Bhartiya Jaat Aarakshan Samiti has recently warned of lodging the "biggest ever agitation of the century in North India" if the promise of reservation was not fulfilled towards the community.
Lessons from these agitations
The common demand thrown up by ALL these agitations, is an assured access for their communities to secured employment and wages. The ONLY way possible, it appears to all of them, is through reservations in Education and Government employment.
The idea of 'backwardness'
It is clear from these agitations why these sections of farmers and traders consider themselves as 'backward' relative to the urbanised/educated/salaried/industry-based section of the population.
The agitating communities constitute large sections of Lokavidya Samaj (though they don't yet call themselves that). Those of them who are relatively well off (i.e. shifted their primary economic and livelihood activity to urban and industrialised centres and/or foreign lands) and those who hold important political positions in various parties, are pricisely those who have 'migrated' from Lokavidya Samaj to Paschimkrit (Urbanised) Samaj by virtue of their 'success' in modern education, industry or market activity. The vast majority, however, continue to primarily depend on 'traditional' (Lokavidya-based) livelihoods find that they are not able to meet ordinary life aspirations ( a number of farmers in Gujarat and Haryana have committed suicide due to indebtedness)- and very specifically an assured income to lead a nominally dignified ordinary life.

There has been a debate on the definition of 'backwardness' for quite some time now. Many have suggested that economic and not social criteria(caste) be used to determine backwardness and some have used an intersection of the two (creamy layer concept) to arrive of who exactly are relatively backward and in need of special assistance(reservation) in education and employment. Even after 60 years of independence, growth of modern education and employment and implementation of a policy of reservations, we find a vast section of people seeing themselves as backward and deserving of special assistance(reservations etc). This section now includes a number of communities hitherto considered as the 'rural rich' now also ('unashamedly') demanding a 'backward' tag and seeking special assistance(reservation) through a reclassification/ recategorisation of the backward classes and their inclusion in that list. However, the current criteria for determination of backwardness; will not permit the classification of these communities under backward classes/castes or scheduled castes. Moreover, the cap on percentage of population permissible under all reserved categories viz 50% would lead inevitably into a conflict between various 'backward' caste/class groups.

The reality(and what is easily perceivable without resort to historical facts) is that ALL sections/communities/castes that are involved in 'traditional' productive , trade and/or service activity i.e dependent on Lokavidya-based livelihoods for their ordinary life needs(constituting more than 80% of the poplution) are relatively backward and disadvantaged compared to the urban/industrial/ educated/ salaried class of people(constituting less than 20% of the population).

We also notice that every such section/community has been sustaining itself under equally debilitating and deteriorating conditions over the past century( and severly accentuated during the past two decades); consider themselves to be relatively backward largely because such livelihoods have become unremunerative and leading to indebtedness and loss of 'dignity'.

That is, the perception of these sections/communities from the outside and from the inside is that they are 'backward' and forced to lead undignified lives (or commit suicide). This is because of the dominant hierarchy in the perception of knowledge. All knowledge/skills acquired through modern education(which is capable by definition i.e merit criteria, of sustaining only a small section of the population while destroying the natural environment) is considered prima facie to be 'superior' and therefore, more desirable, to all other knowledge/skills (which exists with the people i.e Lokavidya which has been sustaining them through ages while protecting the natural environment) and is deemed to be 'backward'( members of these sections/communities are all classified as 'uneducated' and by deduction, 'unskilled' and capable only of manual labour as coolies by modern economics and polity).

The resolution of the current conflict in society can happen if there is a change in perception about the hierarchy of knowledge. Any knowledge that is capable of sustaining dignified ordinary life and livelihood is legitimate and should not be considered backward, inferior or outdated. In today's context, this means that the definition of what constitutes legitimate knowledge must be reversed in favour of Lokavidya Samaj using a knowledge perspective. Instead of asking for global reservation the demand should be for global recognition of all knowledge/skill streams as equal and for equal remuneration / wages/pay for all practitioners of these knowledge/skill streams. The vast majority of people are engaged in productive/service activities and strive to lead dignified ordinary lives and the demand for equal pay for all such labour would transcend the need for special assistance in education and /or government employment.

The 'threat' put forth by the Patel agitation i.e. (i) withdrawal of money from banks (ii) stop supply of milk and vegetables to the urban market; seem to indicate that
(i) the accumulation and control of capital(which is generated by these sections/communities) in the hands of Finance Managers(of the urban capitalist economy), which forms the basis of political power of the ruling classes, is being challenged through a new form of 'non-co-operation'.
(ii) the corollary of non-support to the urban market means that they have an idea to strengthen local market activity (as they have NOT stated that production will be regulated or stopped), which means economic control is being wrested back in favour of local areas i.e money generated locally will remain local . In political terms this means "more power to the panchayats".
If the other sections/communities, including those categorised as SCs and STs, of Lokavidya Samaj have to lend support, the 'terms of trade' in the local market have to change and become more locally-favourable leading to the possibility of sustained unity through a recasting of the relationship between different sections of Lokavidya Samaj.
This would be in line with the perspective of Lokavidya Jan Andolan and articulated in the Multai resolution of 2014 that:
(i) it is the fundmental right of every individual to live a life of dignity based on his/her knowledge/skills
(ii) everyone gets a pay at least as much as a Government employee irrespective of what job/work she/he does.

August 2015

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