The constitutional provision for ST reservation is clearly meant for socially, economically and politically backward tribes. It aims to bring them within the mainstream and allow them to live with dignity. However, the credentials of Meenas to avail these benefits is under severe fire.
Senior journalist and sociologist Ramsharan Joshi says, “The Patel community’s demand for reservation is absolutely irrational. They are the business class of Gujarat and own industries. They possess a good amount of agricultural land and own two-thirds of the world’s diamond business. More than half of the mlas in the Gujarat Assembly are Patels and even the chief minister is a Patel. Why should they need reservation?” Joshi does not agree with reservation given to many communities across India and calls it a political strategy to bag votes. He says, “The Meenas of Rajasthan have immensely misused reservation despite being a prosperous community.”
Senior social worker Raja Ram Bhadu who is doing research on Rajasthan’s marginalised communities says that apart from the Bhil and Meena, there are chiefly three or four Scheduled Tribes in the state but only the Meena community, especially in western Rajasthan, has benefited from reservation.
Explaining the reason behind it, Bhadu tells Tehelka, “The Meena community has been affiliated with state and kingdom affairs since the 16th century. Jaipur has been a Meena principality. After independence, only Meenas who had been marginalised in tribal areas of Bhilwada, Banswada and Udaypur tribes were to be brought under the reservation umbrella. But mistakenly, Meenas of the entire region were included. As an agricultural community, the Meenas have quite a strong socioeconomic presence in Jaipur, Dausa, Sawai and Madhopur. With reservation, they took hold over government jobs as well. Every year, 30-35 Meenas clear the IAS exam, whereas there have only been a handful of IAS and IRS officers from the Bhil community so far. Meenas are present in large numbers across railways, banking, SSC and teaching services in schools and colleges blocking the way for members of other communities, just like the upper castes.”
According to data, railway jobs have seven percent st quota. However, 90 percent of the posts are occupied by Meenas.
Even in the University of Delhi, Meenas occupy all the ST-reserved seats, claim the PhD scholars from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh belonging to Gond, Uraon and Munda tribes who cleared NET and JRF a decade ago. “We are sick of the feudal attitude of the Meenas,” some of them claim on condition of anonymity. “They push us aside everywhere. Whichever college you visit, you’ll find Meenas on seats reserved for sts while members of other deprived tribes continue to struggle for jobs despite being more capable.”
It is true that all over the country Meenas tend to bully other tribes. They practise untouchability towards Dalits and backward classes on the lines of Brahmins and Rajputs in caste system. Recently, a gang of Meena musclemen stopped the mass wedding of 13 Dalit couples organised under the Chief Minister Kanyadan Scheme on the occasion of Akshay Tritiyay in Bagwada village of Madhya Pradesh. Even senior officers looking after the ceremony did not take action. The ceremony was later performed for five of the Dalit couples at a cattle shed away from the venue. The Dalits had registered for marriage alongside 52 Meena couples for the mass wedding. However, on the day of the wedding Meenas raised objection to being married alongside the Dalits. It must be noted here that the Meena community is categorised as OBC in Madhya Pradesh which raises further questions. Just like Santhal, Bheel, Gond and Munda, a tribe must remain a tribe irrespective of the state.
Meenas are also in conflict with Dalits. Hailing from a Dalit family, Archana was the sarpanch of a chiefly Meena-dominated Santha Panchayat in Mahwa Samiti of Dausa district in 2010-15. There are around 700 Meena households in the village and 300 of other communites. The preceding Meena sarpanch was a goon harassing the Dalits, especially women. When Archana took charge as sarpanch, she not only braved the rivalry of the majority community, but also her family as she was pressured to resign. But Archana dealt with each hurdle calmly, wroking to bring about change.
In contrast, tribals are primarily a female- dominated society where women play a significant role in decision making. On this basis, Joshi questions the tribal identity of Meenas. “Tribals do not have a dowry system. But dowry is pretty common among Meenas ranging between Rs 10 lakh to Rs 1 crore,” he says. “Also, tribals worship nature. However, Meenas worship all the Hindu deities along with Shiva. They follow all the Hindu rituals. In fact, one of their prominent leaders, Kirori Mal Meena, was also an RSS cadre.”
Dismissing all such doubts, a Delhi University associate professor belonging to the Meena community, says “All defects in the Meena community are a result of the Hindu caste system. No matter what, they are a tribe.”
Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman