Nothing in recent times has been more degrading and demeaning than the Gujjar demand in Rajasthan, to be classified as Scheduled Tribes. The terror that the Gujjars indulged in, the destruction of public property which followed, compelled even the Supreme Court to describe it as a ?national shame,? which is exactly what it is. Now Gujjar leaders are threatening to indulge in more violence if their demand is not acceded to.
The Governments of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana, to start with, should prepare themselves to handle more violence. So must the Government of India. This is not a party matter. It has become a national issue. It is time we dealt with casteism the way it should be: Severely and mercilessly. ?Social Justice? cannot be demanded at the cost of human lives and violation of law and at the point of sword. Casteism has penetrated the heart of social life to such a deep extent that New Delhi'sfamous college, once the dream of the elite, has now decided that 40 per cent of the seats will be reserved for Christians, especially ?dalit Christians?. St Stephen'sCollege is free to do what it likes. It is a ?minority? institution. But it would be setting a bad example for all private colleges, not to say all state governments.
The usual criticism charged by the so-called lower castes is that for centuries upper castes led by Brahmins have enjoyed the monopoly of higher education. This lie has long been exploded and shown to be a myth. We have the testimony of Brigadier General Alexander Walker who served in India between 1780 and 1810. He praised Indians by saying that ?no people probably appreciate more justly the importance of instruction than the Hindus? but he also found?no doubt to his surprise?that the love of learning was no exclusive characterestic of the Brahmins ?but this desire is strongly impressed on the minds of all the Hindus…?
An ex-communicated British missionary, W.Adam, in a report prepared in 1835 showed that in Bengal and Bihar, there were 100,000 indigenous elementary schools or one school for every 31 or 32 boys of school-going age. A Madras Report showed that in certain regions like Malabar, ?the Shudras did better in the matter of female education than the upper classes, including the Brahmins?.
According to the Collector of Bellary district, three books which were common in all the schools and which were used ?indiscriminately? by all the several castes are the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagvata? and that ?contrary to the current notion, the highest ethical and spiritual literature of the Hindus was open to all, irrespective of their caste???in sharp contrast to the West where the Bible remained unread and even a prohibited reading for many, many centuries.?
According to Dialogue (Vol.8, No. 4 which has provided most of the details quoted in this article) out of the total number of 175, 502 students, both male and female, elementary and advanced, only 42,502 were Brahmins (24.25 per cent ), 19,669 were Vaishyas (about 11 per cent ), but 85,400 were Shudras (about 48.8 per cent ) and still 27,516 more were ?all other castes?, meaning castes even lower than the Shudras, including the Pariahs (15.7 per cent ). Dialogue quotes figures in Madras Presidency districts in the 19th century (1820-1830) that the share of the Brahmin students in certain areas was very low. In Srirangapatna it was only 7.83 per cent, in Madurai 9.67 per cent, in North Arcot 9.57 per cent while the shares of the Shudras and ?other castes? were 84.46 per cent. Even in higher learning, non-Brahmins were not unrepresented. In Malabar, out of 1,588 scholars of theology, law, astronomy, metaphysics, ethics and medical science, only 639 were Brahmins, 23 Vaishyas, 254 Shudras and 172 ?other castes?. According to the Survey of Indigenous Education in the Province of Bombay (1820-1830) Brahmins constituted only 30 per cent of the total scholars in that province. How were these schools supported? By revenue of free land.
There were 16 schools of higher learning in Ahmednagar alone and in Poona 164 schools. In the old Madras Presidency, in early 19th century, there were 1,101 schools with 5,431 students. Brahmins mostly specialised in the Vedas and theology in which they had a near monopoly, but in other branches of advanced learning like law, astronomy and medical science, Brahmins numbered 78, Vaishyas 23, Shudras 195 and other lower castes 510. Figures for the same period (1820-1830) show that as teachers, too, the Brahmins were even less represented.
In Bombay Presidency districts, out of a total of 2,261 teachers, Brahmins were only 208 or about 11 per cent. With the coming into power of the British, the indigenous system of Indian education was given and unwept burial. Brahmins were among the first to pick up English and understandably they went on to get majority jobs in administration, law, medicine, engineering, technology and other spheres. Muslims, by and large, stayed away from English education, but for that, are Hindus to be blamed? For that matter, if Brahmins took to English in a substantial way, are they to be blamed by non-Brahmins? The anti-Brahmin sentiment was first stirred in the then Madras Presidency out of sheer jealously by the Justice Party. Admission to colleges of higher learning came to be restricted which was the reason why private colleges sprang up in course of time. The Brahmin did not complain or go out into the streets burning buses and private vehicles. They didn'task to be treated as a special category as the Gujjars and Meenas have been doing. They have maintained their self-respect and worked out ways to educate their children. Many have left India. The population of the Brahmins is ridiculous: It is one per cent in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, two to three per cent in Chattisgarh, Jharakhand and Tripura, four to six per cent in Arunachal, Assam, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka. It is only in Uttar Pradesh (10 per cent), Jammu and Kashmir (11 per cent), Delhi (12 per cent), Himachal Pradesh (14 per cent ) and Uttarakhand (20 per cent ) that they have a strong presence. They have not misbehaved or taken to violence. Other castes might take a lesson from them. They have not demanded preferential treatment. If, in Uttar Pradesh, they have realised that in order to politically survive, they have to team up with dalits, they have done so, quietly and calmly. It is unlikely that they will benefit in any way, but by their dignity and self-respect they are role models for castes like the Gujjars to follow.
We don'tneed violence to prosper. Gujjars must know that the job market has been growing steadily in India. An OECD report shows that between 2000 and 2005, as many as 11.3 million new jobs had been generated in India?and not just in government services. They are open to all qualified people irrespective of their castes. Gujjars like any other castes must prepare themselves educationally to get into the job market with success. This calls for hard-work, self-help, self-confidence and above all, credibility. In the private world reservations don?t?and shouldn?t?apply, a point that all castes would do well to understand and live with.
Violence is the language of the undeserving. Gujjars; or anyone else, who threaten violence will only isolate themselves from the multi-caste, multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic people who constitute this great land called India. They are damaging the essential unity of the country which should not only be tolerated but should be condemned.