Spreading benefits evenly across Rajasthan’s tribes: On differences within a state having an above-average tribal population – Rajasthan

Rights for forgotten tribes

Predictably, public discourse on the Gujjar-state-Mina  (as the census spells them) standoff in Rajasthan has centred on two, or, at best, three issues […]

It is easy to forget, in the midst of all this noise, that the Minas are not the only Scheduled Tribes (STs) in Rajasthan. But everyone, ranging from TV commentators to some Minas themselves, seem to think so […]

No TV reporter, to my knowledge, has asked a Bhil leader what she or he feels about the stands taken by the Gujjars and the Minas, and no political commentator has yet asked why groups like the Bhils or Saharias are unable to take advantage 0f the reservations they are entitled to, and which they so desperately need.

At 12.6% of the state, Rajasthan’s tribal population is somewhat higher than the national average: the Minas constitute 53.5% of the total ST population, the Bhils 39.5%, smaller groups like the Garasia, Damor, Dhanka & Saharia are 6.6%, while the Bhil Mina, Naikda, Kathodi, Patelia, Kokna and Koli Dhor with populations ranging from below 100 to about 3000 make up the remaining 0.3%. The Minas almost exclusively dominate the eastern portion of the state’s Sawai Madhopur, Dholpur, Bharatpur, Karauli, Dausa, while the Bhils live in south-western Rajasthan. Banswara district is 72% adivasi, with Dungarpur and Udaipur following next in terms of adivasi populations, and it is not co-incidental that issues like the right to food, employment guarantee and common property resources have been so critical here.

The differences between the Bhils and Minas are pronounced. While the Minas have an overall literacy rate of 52.2%, which is higher than the national ST average of 47.1%, the Bhils and Saharias have an overall literacy rate of 35.2% and 34.2% respectively. 3.5% of Minas are graduates compared to 0.9% of Bhils, 0.6% of Garasias and 0.1% of Saharias. No wonder then that all the government posts reserved for STs are occupied by Minas, making them not just the dominant tribe in Rajasthan, but one of the groups which has most benefited through reservations nationally, although their literacy rate is still lower than the state average of 61%. Even a cursory look at the civil services or even universities reveals a number of Minas, but scarcely any Bhils from Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh, Gonds from Chhattisgarh, or Hos from Jharkhand, all numerically significant communities.

Explaining why certain groups have been able to take advantage of reservations and others have been left out is a complex issue. It involves tracking histories of education, migration, and social networks. For instance, the Uraons in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, another group with access to government jobs, have had a long history of missionary education, though within Jharkhand, they are not as politically powerful as the Santhal and the Mundas. However, the Minas are better off not just in terms of education and employment but also land holdings, annual incomes and assets. A study by MK Bhasin and Shampa Nag found that among STs in Rajasthan, a greater percentage was engaged in agricultural or casual labour (50%) as against cultivation (40%). Among Minas, however, 85% were engaged in cultivation, and only 1.5% in agricultural labour. […]

While it is true that state categorisations placed one group in the st category and flung another into the OBC [Other Backward Classes] list, the solution lies not in inflating the ST list or scrapping reservations, at least for scheduled tribes, but renewing the principles on which the Constitution envisaged special provisions for adivasis. The criteria used initially were vague, so deserving communities like the Kols of Sonbhadra got left out and many, who were scheduled, still need this protection. The kind of sheer discrimination STs face is not comparable to OBCs or even SCs, who perform better on education and employment criteria.

Apart from being the major victims of displacement, the absence of a significant middle-class and successful political formations like the BSP mean the adivasis are the most voiceless group in Indian society today. Without reservations, we would not even have the few adivasi MPs that we have now. If, with a quota of 7.5% there are only 2.2% ST teachers in Delhi University, without reservations, even they could get edged out. Few adivasi communities can aspire to the kind of front page coverage of their mobilisation in the way that both Gujjars and Minas have achieved with their narrow caste demands — even when they come out in lakhs to demand the forest rights bill or protest against atrocities.

Since the other tribes of Rajasthan do not exist for the government, the media or political commentators — neither in a political nor a metaphorical sense — this makes them the groups, which are most deserving of ST status. The objectives of the National Tribal Policy of 2006 include: “Arresting the increasing demand from new communities for inclusion in the list of STs by rationalising the process of scheduling; examine the need for de-scheduling of certain STs and sub-categorisation of existing STs to ensure that benefits are evenly spread across the tribes by 2020.” Will the UPA and the NDA have the courage to live up to this?

Nandini Sundar is professor of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics.

Source: “Rights for forgotten tribes” by Nandini Sundar,  Hindustan Times, 4 June 2007
Address: http://www.hindustantimes.com/bigidea/rights-for-forgotten-tribes/article1-227740.aspx
Date Visited: Sun May 24 2015 12:59:06 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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[*] Some clarifications on caste-related issues by reputed scholars

Understanding “caste” in the context of Indian democracy: The “Poona Pact of 1932”
“Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar differed over how to address caste inequities through the electoral system. Their exchanges led to the Poona Pact of 1932, which shaped the reservation system in India’s electoral politics. […]
Two prominent figures who have significantly contributed to this discourse are Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Father of the Constitution. The two stalwarts of Indian politics, while revered equally by the public, had contrasting views on the caste system. Their subsequent debates have shaped the course of Indian society and politics. While Gandhi denounced untouchability, he did not condemn the varna system, a social hierarchy based on occupation, for most of his life. He believed in reforming the caste system through the abolition of untouchability and by giving equal status to each occupation. On the other hand, BR Ambedkar, a Dalit himself, argued that the caste system disorganised and ‘demoralised Hindu society, reducing it to a collection of castes’. […] 
And yet, despite their differences, they developed an understanding to work for the betterment of the marginalised.” – Rishabh Sharma in “How Ambedkar and Gandhi’s contrasting views paved way for caste reservation” (India Today, 6 October 2023)
URL: https://www.indiatoday.in/history-of-it/story/ambedkar-gandhi-caste-system-poona-pact-1932-reservation-2445208-2023-10-06

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“That upper caste groups should declare themselves to be OBCs [Other Backward Castes] and want to avail of the reservation policy is a pandering to caste politics of course, as also are caste vote-banks. It is partially a reflection of the insecurity that the neo-liberal market economy has created among the middle-class. Opportunities are limited, jobs are scarce and so far ‘development’ remains a slogan. There’s a lot that is being done to keep caste going in spite of saying that we are trying to erode caste. We are, of course, dodging the real issue. It’s true that there has been a great deal of exploitation of Dalit groups and OBC’s in past history; making amends or even just claiming that we are a democracy based on social justice demands far more than just reservations. The solution lies in changing the quality of life of half the Indian population by giving them their right to food, water, education, health care, employment, and social justice. This, no government so far has been willing to do, because it means a radical change in governance and its priorities.” – Romila Thapar  (Emeritus Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University) interviewed by Nikhil Pandhi (Caravan Magazine, 7 October 2015)
URL: https://caravanmagazine.in/vantage/discipline-notion-particular-government-interview-romila-thapar 

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Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you …. For this reason, many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group.” – Book review by Dilip Mandal for Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (The Print, 23 August 2020)
URL: https://theprint.in/opinion/oprah-winfrey-wilkerson-caste-100-us-ceos-indians-wont-talk-about-it/487143/

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“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [However] caste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption. There is a tendency to assume that caste is as old as Indian civilization itself, but this assumption does not fit our historical knowledge. To be precise, however, we must distinguish between social stratification in general and caste as a specific form. […]
From the early modern period till today, then, caste has been an intrinsic feature of Indian society. It has been common to refer to this as the ‘caste system’. But it is debatable whether the term ‘system’ is appropriate here, unless we simply take for granted that any society is a ‘social system’. First, and this is quite clear when we look at the history of distinct castes, the ‘system’ and the place various groups occupy within it have been constantly changing. Second, no hierarchical order of castes has ever been universally accepted […] but what is certain is that there is no consensus on a single hierarchical order.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters, Article 1311, 2021), pp. 1-2
URL: https://www.academia.edu/49963457

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“There is a need for intercultural education. We all need to work together to bridge these divides not only between religions and castes but also regions. It is not correct to think that one part is better than the other. Some of the limitations of India as a whole are due to our common heritage, say the one that has restricted women from having a flourishing life for themselves.” – Prof. V. Santhakumar (Azim Premji University) in “On the so called North-South Divide in India” (personal blog post in Economics in Action, 13 April 2024)
URL: https://vsanthakumar.wordpress.com/2024/04/13/on-the-so-called-north-south-divide-in-india/

A Nomad Called Thief:
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