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In midst of Gujarat caste divide, Brahmins seek their pound of flesh

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 23 December 2016, 12:33 IST

With the Assembly polls just a year away and the caste cauldron on the boil in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat, it is now the turn of the Brahmins to turn the heat on the government and seek their pound of flesh.

The state has witnessed a volatile situation over the last two years on the issue of castes. There has been an agitation by the Patidars for reservation in educational institutions and government jobs. The Other Backward Classes (OBCs) have been insisting that their quotas should not be curtailed. The Dalits have started coming forward in a big way to demand farm lands, as they have decided to give up their traditional occupations of skinning dead animals and manual scavenging.

It is in this scenario that the Brahmins have started raising their voices, seeking measures including setting up of a Brahmin Development Commission. The movement is being taken forward by the Shree Samast Gujarat Brahm Samaj, a nodal organisation of 459 Brahmin sub-groups.

A year-long movement

According to this organisation's general secretary, Yagnesh Dave, the Brahmin population in Gujarat is estimated to be around 62 lakh, out of a total of around 6.50 crore.

"We do not want any reservation, but measures for the upliftment of the community. We have never asked the government for anything, but when it is willing to give benefits to other communities like Patidars after their agitation, why should the poor Brahmins be left out?" he said.

The demand for a Brahmin Development Commission was aired for the first time on 17 August last year. This was the time when the Patels were planning their landmark rally demanding reservation, which dealt a severe blow to the politically hyped up image of Gujarat as a 'developed state'.

Having got no response from the Governor's office after submitting a memorandum, the organisation recently handed over a reminder to the Governor's office.

"Now we are in the process of starting our agitation. To begin with, we will be forming a human chain and demonstrating for our rights at the Income Tax cross-roads in Ahmedabad on Thursday evening. We have distributed a copy of our memorandum to all the Brahmin families in the state, and asked them to post it to the office of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani. We expect the Chief Minister's Office to receive around six lakh posts in a month. Thereafter, we will file applications under Right to Information (RTI), and seek details about the progress on the issue," Dave said.

Dave maintained that for now, the movement was not affiliated to any political party. "But if there is no progress one year down the line, when the Assembly polls are held, our slogan would simply be 'Jo Brahmin ke saath, Brahmin uske saath' (Brahmins would go along with those who are with the community). If the state government can talk about offering a special commission to serve the interests of 1.32 crore Patidars and even think in terms of providing them reservations, it can do so for Brahmins also," he told Catch.

Other demands

Besides the Brahmin Development Commission, the other demands of the community include a nominal fee for meritorious Brahmin students in educational institutions, besides other financial assistance, including loans at low interest rates and subsidies for higher education and business.

They also want free coaching for students appearing in various competitive exams.

In addition to this, they have asked the government for setting up Sanskrit Pathshalas and Gurukuls to train Brahmin students in performing various rituals.

The community is seeking a fixed salary for temple priests and pensions for those above the age of 60 years, for those who have lived on performing rituals throughout their life.

The Brahmins also want provision of grants for organising events like mass marriages within the community, along with aid for helping their women gain self-employment. They are also looking for land in rural areas, and affordable housing in urban areas.

"The government has been going around building Ambedkar Bhawans for Dalits and backwards in every district. We also want it to build Brahm Bhawans for the Brahmin community, where the members can organise their programmes," Dave said.

High Court crackdown on reservation

It must be pointed out that following the Patidar agitation, the Gujarat government had taken the ordinance route to provide 10% quota in educational institutions and government jobs to the economically weaker sections among the unreserved category. This was struck down by the Gujarat High Court in August this year.

The court had declared the ordinance 'unconstitutional' and 'illegal', while dismissing the defence of the state government that the ordinance was merely a classification and not reservation.

The judgement had reportedly come on a series of petitions that had been filed challenging the ordinance on grounds that the 10% provision was against the limit of 50% reservation prescribed by the Supreme Court.

When it was promulgated, the Gujarat Unreserved Economically Weaker Sections (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions in the State and of Appointments and Posts in Services under the State) Ordinance, 2016, stated that the provision of 10% quota was a classification of Economically Weaker Sections, and should not be treated as reservation prescribed under the law.

The High Court order had noted how the Patidar community's agitation had compelled the government to bring the ordinance. It had pointed out that from background facts and contents of the high-power committee recommendation, which led to issuance of the ordinance, it was clear that the arrangement of 10% quota was nothing but reservation and not classification.

With the Brahmins too joining the groups adopting pressure tactics to force the state government to adhere to their demands, one thing is clear: Rupani will have his hands full of troubles ahead of his litmus test, which will be the Assembly polls.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 23 December 2016, 12:33 IST
 
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