By Vishakha Mathur
With the agitation at its peak and violence rising every day, one begets the question on what all this is about and if in fact, it is worth the trouble. The same community, which stood against the government of Solanki in 1985, protesting the then quota-system, is now asking for an OBC status for itself, so that it gets more benefits in a country where millions of people are not able to acquire even two square meals a day.
The Patels today have become a cause of major agitation creating ripples for the government in Gujarat and the one at the Centre. This whimsical move by the Patels is leading us to a debate on the validity of the quota-system and its relevance in today’s time.
Decoding the reservations
Reservations, in India, are considered to be an affirmative action by the government, towards classes, castes or communities that have suffered discrimination in the past and do not have access to adequate opportunities for development. Since these communities have experienced a history of disadvantages, the developmental progress couldn’t have reached them without making special provisions.
With this view, the Mandal Commission was formed in 1979 to set the benchmark for a community to qualify as a “Backward” and be included in the OBC list to receive the benefits given by the government. The commission came up with a total of 3,743 communities to be included in this list based on three parameters: economic, social and educational.
Recognizing a class as backward on the basis of the work they did, constituted the social parameter.
The castes/classes with 25% of the population living in kuccha houses, 50% having access to drinking water within 12kms of their house and average family assets below 25% were considered based on the economic parameters.
The educational parameter consisted of measuring the dropout rates. The communities/castes having 25% of dropouts for age group 5-15 years and same percentage of matriculates and same percent of people within the age group never having attended school are considered through this parameter.
Are the Patels really “Backward”?
Now with these parameters in hand, it is very easy to judge whether the Patels deserve the quota or not.
The Patels are one of the leading communities who have firmly established their presence abroad in nations like the UK where Patel is the 24th most common surname and US where “Patel” is ranked 124th among the top 500 surnames according to the 2000 census.
With this information in mind, one can understand that the Patels aren’t as poor as other communities such as Kulhaiya which is a community in northern part of Bihar with an illiteracy rate as high as 73% in some districts like Kishangarh.
Being historically landowners, they were one of the very few communities that benefitted from the British rule. As a result of this, their wealth has increased manifolds and the community hasn’t sunken into depravity- as the revolting Patidars are trying to portray. Keeping this in mind, it is time for the Patels to revaluate themselves against the standing conditions of the communities that are a part of the OBC list.
Patels have forgotten the reason behind affirmative action. It is not to give advantages to the average one, rather it is to give advantages to the disadvantaged ones. Patels have never suffered through the tedious times that other backward castes have been through. Therefore, their need for inclusion into OBC category is far-fetched.
Smoke without fire?
Nothing builds out of air, and I believe, so does this protest. The reasons as to why this community is completely acting up might be unclear, but it is sufficient to say that at least something is going wrong in the state; for a community like Patels, who have time and again supported Modi and his government, is now protesting against them for their rights despite having a good share in the state government.
It is being argued that the Patels might not be getting their fair share of advantages, which is why they are now standing up against the government. Going deep into this argument, it might appeal to some that this has been a phenomenon since quite some years, but the Patels couldn’t find appropriate grounds to rise and demand their rights earlier when Mr. Modi was in power. But now, seeing that the government relies heavily on their support, they believe that it is now rather easy to get whatever they want.
This entire reason would indicate that the so called “Gujarat model” has not been as successful as it is being projected as. This community may not have benefited from the model due to their reduced share of the business opportunities, as they have been subjected to ill-effects of fragmented land-holdings.
Despite all this, the Patel agitation demanding an OBC status for themselves does not seem appropriate, because if the Patels get this status then almost all communities and castes can demand the same, defeating the entire purpose of affirmative action. Instead of this violent protest, a peaceful dialogue with the government might help them in getting what they really want.