Court condemns police brutality in the wake of violent caste protests in India this week


The Supreme Court in the Indian state of Gujarat has called for an investigation into police brutality after 10 protestors died during demonstrations this week across the state. One protestor, 22-year-old Shwetang Patel, died in custody after being beaten by police on Tuesday night, The Hindu reports.

An observer recorded police chasing down protesters in the city of Surat:

The government also suspended access to WhatsApp during the protests, which organizers had been using to communicate, and deployed army troops and paramilitary forces to Gujarat’s major cities.

The Patidar (also known as Patel) community staged massive protests this week demanding Other Backwards Class (OBC) status, a form of affirmative action, for their community. In India, the caste system has historically disadvantaged people born into lower classes, or castes. As a means of addressing that disadvantage, the Indian government has used classifications like OBC.  Patidars are traditionally well-placed in the caste system, and are certainly in a better position than the more than 100 castes already on the OBC list in Gujarat. Patidars want to be classified as OBC because they say they’re missing out on benefits afforded lower castes, including acceptance quotas in universities and government jobs.

Hardik Patel, a 22-year-old leader in the Patidar community, has been at the forefront of the protests. He was briefly arrested by police Tuesday night, and despite calls for calm from India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he has vowed to continue the campaign.

“We want reservation [OBC status] to preserve our dignity and our heritage. We have the right to reservation, and so do our children,” he said.

The Patidars have, for several decades, been businessmen and land owners in Gujarat, wielding a significant amount of political power. So why are they now looking for classification as a backwards class? It’s a complicated picture that partly has to do with a new emphasis on wanting higher education, NDTV writes:

One reason the Patels want to be OBCs, believes social scientist Achyut Yagnik, who is based in Ahmedabad, is to get their children into medical and engineering colleges or institutions providing technical education which could make it easier for them to migrate abroad, as well as find jobs locally. The fact that they are poorly represented in these sectors is because the Patels have traditionally chosen to go into business at a young age, instead of pursuing higher studies. Now they are looking for a change. Because somewhere the Vibrant Gujarat story has disappointed even the most ardent BJP fans in the community, particularly amongst the youth.

Over the last couple of decades, the state of Gujarat has also invested more heavily in big business and large scale developments, with some small and medium businesses falling behind. The diamond business in Gujarat, which is dominated by the Patidars, has also seen a recent slump.

Classes with OBC status have a 27% quota reserved in higher education institutions and government employment. If the Patidars gain the status, the OBC quota of other communities already included will be diluted because the maximum number of places reserved for OBC students and government employees, set by India’s Supreme Court, has already been reached in Gujarat.

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