Gujjars: OBC, ST, SC or DNT?

I’ve been trying to make some sense of the recent violence which have left at least 36 people dead in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It is indirectly related to my research in the neighboring state of Gujarat since the Gujjar protesters are one of India’s estimated sixty million Denotified Tribes (DNTs), although that fact is left out of most news stories.

I have not been able to figure out the reason for the silence on this topic. One possibility is that it is simply too complicated for newspapers to explain the category of DNTs – a category which is not well known by most Indians. Another is that the Gujjars are themselves resistant to being thought of as DNTs. The “Gurjar’s Community Online” website refers to the Gujjars as upper caste Kshatriyas, which they may have been in Rajasthan, although many Gujjars are Muslims and Sikhs as well. In fact, it seems they specifically rejected a move by the Rajasthan government to have them listed as DNTs.

The question of categorization lies at the heart of the current conflict. The Gujjars are agitating to have their official status changed from “Other Backward Classes” (OBC) to “Scheduled Tribe” (ST). These are two broad categories in India’s complex system of “reservations.” As the BBC explains:

The communities listed as the Scheduled Castes (SCs) are essentially the lowest in the Hindu caste hierarchy locally referred to as Dalits.

The Scheduled Tribes (STs) are the people living in the forests or on the hills, physically isolated from modern life, but are not necessarily socially backward.

The Other Backward Classes (OBCs) comprise the castes – in the middle of the Hindu caste hierarchy – who do not face so much exclusion or isolation in society but are educationally and economically backward.

The identification of communities in the three categories is based on a data prepared in 1935 by the British when they ruled India.

The current situation was provoked by the electoral politics of the right-wing BJP party, who won the support of the prosperous Jat community in the 1999 elections by promising to have them listed as OBCs. The Jats make up nearly 15% of Rajasthan’s population.

“Once Jats were identified as OBCs , the Gujjars who were already placed in the OBC category felt threatened. They felt the better-off Jats would corner the benefits of reservation,” said Professor Sheth.

Their move has also brought the Gujjars into conflict with the Meenas, another DNT community who are listed as a Scheduled Tribe in Rajasthan. Last year fighting broke out between the two communities as the Meenas fought to prevent any expansion of the ST category.

This situation is typical of a problem faced by the DNT activists we’ve been working with in India. In each state DNTs are listed under different categories: OBC, ST, SC, DNT, or nothing at all. And, as we see with the Meenas and the Gujjars, sometimes different DNT communities are listed differently within the same state. The result is that it is very difficult for DNT communities to come together over their commonalities in order to forge a nation-wide DNT movement.

One thought on “Gujjars: OBC, ST, SC or DNT?


    The British classified some tribes as “criminal tribes” because of their participation in the revolt of 1857 and because such tribes were totally against the British Raj. This is why these so called ‘criminal tribes’ were supressed and discriminated. Didn’t the Britishers hang Bhagat Singh and other such freedom fighters? Also termed them as terrorists.

    In the eighteenth century, several Gujjar chieftains and small kings were in power. During the reign of Rohilla Nawab Najib-ul-Daula, Dargahi Singh, the Gurjar chieftain of Dadri possessed 133 villages at a fixed revenue of Rs. 29,000.A fort at Parlchhatgarh in Meerut District, also known as Qila Parikishatgarh, is ascribed to a Gujjar Raja Nain Singh.According to a legend, the fort was built by Parikshit and restored by Nain Singh in the eighteenth century. The fort was dismantled in 1857, to be used as a police station.

    The Imperial Gazetteer of India states that throughout the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Gujars and Musalman (Muslim) Rajputs proved the “most irreconcilable enemies” of the British in the Bulandshahr area. A band of rebellious Gurjars ransacked Bulandshahr after a revolt by the 9th Native Infantry on May 21, 1857. The British officers initially left for Meerut but later sent a small force to retake the town. The British forces were able to retake the town with the help of Dehra Gurkhas, but the Gujars rose again after the Gurkhas marched off to assist General Wilson’s column in another area. Under the leadership of Walidad Khan of Malagarh, the British garrison was driven out the district. Walidad Khan held Bulandshahr from July to September, until he was expelled after an engagement with Colonel Greathed’s flying column. On October 4, the Bulandshahr District was regularly occupied by the British Colonel Farquhar and measures of repression were adopted against the armed Gujars.

    During the revolt of 1857, the Muslim Gujars in the villages of the Ludhiana District showed dissent to the British authorities.The British interests in Gangoh city of Saharanpur District were threatened by the rebel Gujars under the self-styled Raja Fathua. These Gujars rebels were defeated by the British forces under H. D. Robertson and Lieutenant Boisragon, in June 1857. The Gujars of Chundrowli rose against the British, under the leadership of Damar Ram. The Gujars of Shunkuri village, numbering around three thousand, joined the rebel sepoys. According to British records, the Gurjars plundered gunpowder and ammunition from the British and their allies. In Delhi, the Metcalfe House was sacked by the Gurjar villagers from whom the land was taken to erect the building.

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