Tuesday morning some French friends set out from our home to board a train to Rajasthan. They were on a three week holiday and were hoping to be able to visit as many places as possible. As they were leaving, I told them rather casually to get in touch in case there was any problem. It was almost a redundant statement as so many friends had boarded trains to Rajastan and come back safely their eyes and mind filled with lifelong memories.
Imagine my astonishment when a few hours a later I got a panicked call informing me that their train had been stuck for hours and asking me what was happening and above all what were they to do. having been at work all day, I had not seen the news and did not know what had hit them. I just told them to hold on and that i would get back to them shortly.
I quickly turned the TV and was assailed by images of buses burning amidst a sea of people and tried to figure out what had happened. Slowly reality sunk in as I realised that once again the hydra headed monster of reservation has struck in a new way.
The friends have altered their holiday plans and set out for the hills but for the last few days I have been watching in stunned silence the horrific drama that is unfolding in front of our eyes. This is the reservation nightmare revisited but in another avatar altogether. Here it is not a question of the upper caste resisting an increase in reservation. What we are witnessing is far more insidious and dangerous as it defeats the very essence of what reservation is meant to stand for.
What was meant to be an affirmative action to help those who had been let down by society for generations, what was meant to be a help for the underprivileged sections has now turned out to be a battle to save one's spoils. The Gujjar community is seeking scheduled tribe status, something that can be defended as this is a backward community of herdsmen. What is scaring is that over and above the political issue, resistance to this is not from upper castes but from another ST section, namely the Meena who are apparently the only recognised Tribals in Rajasthan. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to see that all this is a far cry from affirmative action for the underprivileged. A new entrant entails having to share the spoils which include government jobs, political assignments, etc..
One would have thought that brethren were to be supported and helped but that is not the case as reservation is no more viewed as a time bound support to the have nots to ensure their mainstreaming, but as an easy way of getting favours and once again the monster of reservation has proved to be stronger than the administrative machinery as it is replete with causes to espouse for many hungry politicos.
How this will end I do not know. The confrontation has turned into a caste struggle that is turning ugly and a vindication of the fear that of the polarisation and fragmentation of our already fragile social fabric and a proof of the failure of the reservation policy as it has been imagined by its authors.