Minorities vs Shudras or ultra Hindus
The British civil servant R Nathan, in his report The Progress of Education in India (1897-1898), narrates an interesting incident. In 1896, huts and crops belonging to untouchables were set on fire and six schools closed down in Gujarat. The reason? After the Woods Dispatch of 1854, the British began opening schools/colleges/universities in India. Untouchables began looking for admission in these, which was opposed by the non-Dalits. Unable to cope with this non-Dalit attitude, by the end of the 19th century, the British began setting up separate schools for Dalits. And so, Gujarati society reacted.
While in most parts of India, resistance to Dalits entering classrooms stayed consistent and non-violent, it took organised and violent forms in Gujarat. Dalit parents were targeted, their houses burnt down and crops looted. Immediately after Independence, the abolition of zamindari turned into the Central Government's agenda. A strong lobby within the Congress, however, opposed the policy and most states were reluctant to implement it - but Pt Nehru was firm. Zamindari abolition began in1948 and was completed by the mid 50s.
Zamindars all over India manipulated records, indulged in litigation, cheated tenants and did everything possible to save their lands. Zamindars in Gujarat, meanwhile, adopted horrible methods. They launched a rebellion against the Saurashtra Land Reform Act, 1951, organised large scale and violent resistance, which soon engulfed rural Gujarati society and resulted in 85 deaths. In fact, several erstwhile zamindars turned into organised bandits, looting property from possible beneficiaries. Bhailal Bhai Patel formed a political outfit called Khedut Sangh in 1951, with the single point programme of opposing zamindari abolition. The party won two Assembly seats in the 1952 elections.
The first set of Land Ceiling Acts was introduced in Gujarat in 1960 but the Khedut Party, renamed the Swatantra Party in 1959, launched a statewide agitation, at times taking violent form. The Party won 66 seats in the 1967 Assembly elections. In 1973, the Government imposed a levy on paddy all over India, where landowners were asked to sell a fixed amount of foodgrain to the state in order to bring some discipline to the grain market. Landlords all over India stood opposed but in Gujarat, they organised violent protests, which resulted in riots in the Bardoli, Narsari and Buhari areas. This kind of violent resistance occurred in Gujarat alone.
The Dalits' right of reservation has never been approved by non-Dalits and there have been occasional protests, ever since 1950, in all parts of India, usually non-violent. But the first organised and violent anti-reservation movement occurred in 1981 in Gujarat. Anti-Dalit riots broke out in Ahmedabad, Nadiad and Varodara and soon engulfed all Gujarati society. Several Dalit hamlets were torched and property looted. Rioters killed 12 Dalits and injured hundreds. This was repeated in 1985, continuing for four months and causing over 200 deaths. The communal riots of 1967, 1982 and the present one, too, spread to the villages, resulting in several hundred deaths and the destruction of property.
What we learn from the above experiences is this: whenever Gujarati society reacts, it tends to take on a violent form and also enters the countryside. This peculiar characteristic of Gujarati society differentiates it from the rest of India and warrants serious inquiry.
According to noted academician Ghanshyam Shah, of the total population in Gujarat, the Kolis, Shudras or middle caste, constitute 24.22 per cent of the population while another Shudra caste, the Patidars, constitute 12.16. The Patidars, in social terms, are comparable to the Yadavs and the Jats. To my knowledge, there is no single individual caste in any part of India with a population proportion as high as 24.22 per cent. Incidentally, these two castes put together control most rural assets and institutions, with a decisive influence on Gujarati society and culture.
To understand the magnitude of their influence, a comparison with the Jats and Yadavs of UP might be of some help. Jats constitute a meagre 1.6 and the Yadavs 8.7 per cent of UP's population. Consider a situation where the Jats made up 12.16 or the Yadavs 24.22 per cent, with a Koli and Patidar-like hold over assets - and then imagine their influence on UP society! The upper castes make up only 13 per cent of Gujarat. They're politically marginalised, with very little influence on society.
The minorities must ponder over the social characteristics of various castes. The non-artisan Shudras were originally Kshatriyas. After having established their hold over assets and institutions, and after having marginalised the Brahmans, they insist on heightened religiosity and tend to practice ultra-Hindutva. The number of temples in the Shudra-dominated southern states may be many times higher than in the rest of India. Narendra Modi, Kalyan Singh, Vinai Katiyar, Uma Bharati are all Shudras. In another 50 years, the minorities must be prepared to face ultra-Hinduism from the Yadavs as well. Those who support Shudras, in fact, promote casteism against the Dalits and communalism against the minorities. Dalits have learnt it, minorities must unlearn their MY (Muslim-Yadav) arithmetic and rely on Dalits.