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Patidars’ agitation and the downfall of “Gujarat model”

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By Amulya Ganguli 

Nothing shows the distortions that have vitiated the policy of reservations more starkly than the agitation by the financially and politically influential Patel community in Gujarat for inclusion in the backward-caste category to avail of the quota system in the allocation of government jobs and educational opportunities.

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Behind their quest for safety in the reserved categories is the evident failure of the much-vaunted ‘Gujarat model’ of development which was touted by Narendra Modi as the panacea for the entire country.

Yet, since the preference for reservations is a throwback to the days of scarcity during the licence-permit-control raj, the latest upsurge shows that little has changed in the economy. The scourge of joblessness remains as potent under the pro-market dispensation as it was under the controlled economy.

Even then, there is something odd about an enterprising community like the Patels wanting the government to act as their nanny, as it were.

The OBC (Other Backward Class) of the Hindi belt, too, comprised dominant groups in the countryside when they secured 27 percent reservations for themselves in 1990.

But unlike the Patels, they occupied a lowly position socially. As B.P. Mandal, a former chief minister of Bihar and author of the Mandal commission report recommending 27 percent reservation, said, he was not allowed as a school student to eat with his upper caste companions by the Brahmin principal. Mandal was discriminated against although he belonged to a wealthy landowning family.

But the Patels or Patidars – the word means the same as zamindars – never experienced such social disadvantages. Not surprisingly, they were part of the anti-reservation movements in Gujarat in the late 1970s and early 1980s directed against the Congress-led state government’s KHAM vote bank comprising Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims.

It is strange, therefore, that the Patels of the Patel-motel fame (they run a large number of roadside hotels across the US) should now want to take a step back into the backward caste category.

Such a regressive outlook is all the more curious because the Patels, like most Gujaratis, are known for their entrepreneurship. For them to seek reservations in government establishments cannot be easily explained when the country has opted for a pro-market economy with its emphasis on the private sector.

The role of the government and the public sector is therefore expected to shrink in the coming years. As such, it makes little point to seek employment in these sectors.

Similarly, seeking admission via reservations in government schools and colleges doesn’t make any sense because of the preference of parents now to admit their children in English-medium private schools as these are believed to be better at preparing the students to face the challenges of a globalized environment.

In a way, the agitation by the Patels for OBC status is similar to the one by the Gujjars of Rajasthan who wanted a relegation from their existing backward caste category to a Scheduled Tribe (ST) classification since the recognition of Jats as OBCs in the state eroded the availability of reserved jobs.

This kind of a backward march is the result of dwindling employment opportunities at a time when the private sector is not expanding fast enough to make up for the reduction of government jobs. Besides, the Gujarat model may be more hype than reality.

Till now, the failures of this model have been noted by Amartya Sen and other Leftists in social sectors such as infant mortality, whose rate is as high as 60.9 per 1,000 children in Gujarat against 16.2 in Kerala. Moreover, the percentage of people below the poverty line in Gujarat is 31.6 against 19.6 in Kerala.

But the latest disturbances point to failures in the commercial segment as well with the small and medium enterprises not faring well and the capital-intensive industries not creating enough jobs.

While the phenomenon of jobless growth where robots replace humans on the shop floor is one aspect of the scene in Gujarat, another is how reservations have come to be viewed as the panacea for such situations, especially when those searching for jobs or educational opportunities find their prospects blocked not by deserving individuals but by beneficiaries of allotted quotas where castes are the passwords.

In a system where the accident of birth trumps merit, the demand by the leader of the Gujarat agitators, 22-year-old Hardik Patel, that either the provision of all facilities be determined by caste or that the system should be thrown open to all will appear justifiable.

Arguably, the gross misuse of reservations by myopic politicians intent on catering for particular support groups has led to this volatile situation. The worst example of such misuse is how the Supreme Court’s directive on excluding the creamy layer or the successful beneficiaries from the quota system has been negated by a constant upward revision of the criteria for such exclusion by the ruling politicians.

For Modi, the fire in his backyard is the most worrisome of the problems which he faces. And there are many – an economy which refuses to look up, the imbroglio over pension for ex-servicemen and an agitation in the Film and Television Institute of India which underlines the government’s insensitivity to matters of popular culture.

(IANS)

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The Plight of India’s Homeless Women Increases As Cities Expand

More than half the shelters are porta-cabins, which are refashioned steel containers with few facilities.

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Homeless women sit amidst their belongings on a pavement in New Delhi, which has among the most homeless people in India
Homeless women sit amidst their belongings on a pavement in New Delhi, which has among the most homeless people in India. VOA

Manjeet Kaur cannot say exactly how old she is or how long she has lived on the pavement of a busy street in New Delhi, her belongings in plastic bags, her washing hanging on the railing.

Kaur was kicked out years ago by her husband’s family in the northern Indian city of Ludhiana after a quarrel over property.

She boarded a bus to New Delhi with her two young sons, going first to a Sikh gurudwara, a place of worship, for free food.

With no money and no one to turn to, Kaur and her sons settled on the pavement outside the gurudwara, marking their space among other families who lived there.

When it rains, they cover themselves with plastic sheets.

Residents are seen at a shelter for homeless women in New Delhi. VOA
Residents are seen at a shelter for homeless women in New Delhi. VOA

They have little protection from the winter’s cold or the summer’s heat, when temperatures routinely soar above 40°C (104°F).

“I had nowhere to go. The house, the land — nothing was in my name,” said Kaur. “Here, the police harass us, and the locals curse us, and I’m sometimes too afraid to sleep. But we cannot afford to pay rent and the shelters are not good, so what option do we have?”

Kaur is one of at least 10,000 homeless women in India’s capital, where thousands of people arrive every day from villages and small towns, looking for better opportunities.

Many end up in slums and other informal settlements. Others settle under bridges, flyovers, on pavements and road dividers.

Women, who are estimated to make up about 10 percent of India’s homeless population, suffer the brunt of a growing crisis brought on by rapid urbanization, soaring property prices, and a critical lack of shelters and affordable housing.

Compounding the difficulty is a lack of reliable data on homeless people, and homeless women in particular.

Delhi, a city of more than 16 million people, has 46,724 homeless people — among the most of any Indian city — according to the 2011 census.

Rights groups say the estimate is conservative, and that the actual figure is three times higher.

They also question the reported decline in India’s homeless population to 1.77 million nationwide in the 2011 census data, from 1.9 million a decade earlier.

Residents sit at a shelter for homeless women in New Delhi
Residents sit at a shelter for homeless women in New Delhi. VOA

In the same period, the urban homeless rose by a fifth, according to the data.

“Our cities are growing at a remarkable rate, and that puts a strain on the government’s capacity to respond to the needs of the people, including the homeless,” said Ashwin Parulkar at the Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy and Research.

“Not having an accurate understanding of the extent of homelessness — who they are, where they are, what their needs are — hinders policymaking and compromises the ability to plan and provide for them,” he told Reuters.

Different definitions

Globally, at least 150 million people, or about 2 percent of the population, are estimated to be homeless. More than a fifth of the population lacks adequate housing.

But getting an accurate handle on homelessness is difficult because of different definitions in countries, and governments’ inability to adequately measure the phenomenon, said Joseph Chamie, a former director of the U.N. population agency.

Governments also have a tendency to understate the problem, while the homeless are reluctant to be counted, he said.

Drawings by children are displayed on the wall of a shelter for homeless women in
Drawings by children are displayed on the wall of a shelter for homeless women in. VOA

Yet the causes are the same: poverty, lack of affordable housing, mental illness, alcohol and drug addiction, family breakdown, civil conflict and environmental disasters, he said.

“There is no quick solution: even developed countries are encountering considerable difficulties. So ending urban homelessness in less developed countries is unlikely,” he said.

With at least 55 percent of the world’s population living in urban centers, homelessness is ever more apparent, from Los Angeles to Hong Kong.

The problem is especially severe in India, which is forecast to overtake China by 2024 as the world’s most populous country, with tens of millions cramming into already crowded cities.

Alongside, evictions are rising: At least six homes are pulled down and 30 people forcibly removed each hour in India to make way for metro stations and highways.

Homeless women bear the brunt, as they face more abuse and violence on the street, but have few claims over property and limited access to shelters, said Shivani Chaudhry at the advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network in Delhi.

Many of these women have left abusive marriages, suffered sexual violence, or have been abandoned by families for mental illness or after the death of a husband, she said.

“Homeless women suffer the worst kinds of violence and insecurity, and are vulnerable to sexual abuse, exploitation, and trafficking,” said Chaudhry. “Shelters are not a permanent solution.”

Housing for all

India has committed to provide housing for all its citizens by 2022, with an aim to build 20 million urban units.

A portable shelter for homeless people is seen in New Delhi
A portable shelter for homeless people is seen in New Delhi. VOA

But analysts say the program bypasses homeless people who cannot afford the mortgage payments.

The Supreme Court has ordered states to provide at least one 24-hour shelter for every 100,000 residents in major urban centers.

Few states have complied, citing the high cost of land.

“Our top priority is to have enough permanent shelters with facilities and services, including health care, job training and counseling,” said Bipin Rai, a senior official at the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board.

“But the main challenge is lack of land. So we have to make do with temporary shelters,” he said.

Delhi has the most shelters of any Indian city — about 200 to hold more than 16,000 people. There are 20 shelters for women.

More than half the shelters are porta-cabins, which are refashioned steel containers with few facilities.

At some permanent women’s shelters, women get three meals a day, skills training, and help getting identification papers and school admissions for their children.

At one such shelter, colorful drawings by the children are on a wall, including several of a simple house flanked by two trees, the sun smiling from above.

Also Read: Launch of Maternity Scheme Brings Happiness to More Than 11 Lakh Women

“I would like to earn enough so I can live in a house with my family,” said Saima, who had previously lived on the street after coming to Delhi some years ago. “But that may not be possible. This may be our only home.” (VOA)