Amid protests across the country seeking reservation, by groups spanning caste and social strata, the Sainis of Jammu and Kashmir stand apart. The community, which numbers around 70,000, has been on the road since the Union territory administration extended reservations in government jobs and admissions to state educational institutions, following inclusion in the list of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs), which enjoy a 4% quota.
Pritam Singh Saini, president of the All J&K Saini Sabha, who recently held a demonstration at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar against the reservation status for the Sainis, explains why the community does not want the quota. Excerpts:
Question: Why are you protesting against the reservation status? Won’t it give the Saini community a leg-up, given the stiff competition for government jobs and seats in colleges?
Saini: There is no advantage in this. Instead, the government decision clubbing us with SEBCs, who total 42 in J&K, has lowered the morale of our community, especially youth, who are competent enough to compete with other upper castes on every platform, including jobs and education.
Q: Do you see yourself as unique in a way, since there are few communities which would reject quota benefits?
Saini: By granting us reservation, the government is bringing our community into the list of ‘other social castes’. However, we are not socially and educationally backward. Our youths work hard and burn the midnight oil to prepare so as to compete with the better educated among the upper castes. If we accept this reservation, which is a mere 4% for nearly 42 SEBCs in J&K, our youth will lose the spirit of competitiveness, thinking they will get through on the basis of reservation. This, instead of uplifting the community, will push it down.
Q: Who are the Sainis?
Saini: The members of our community living in J&K are Chandravanshi Rajputs. We are the descendents of Maharaja Shoor Sain of Mathura, the grandfather of Lord Krishna. We marry our daughters and sons within the Rajput clan. Our population is concentrated mainly along the international border in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts.
Q: What should be the parameters for considering a community fit for reservation status?
Saini: In J&K, we do not fulfill any of the criteria laid down for identification of SEBCs. As per the criteria, at least 25% of a community’s members should be house-less, a sizeable number of women should be getting married off below 17 years, drinking water must be fetched from at least 1 km away, and it should have a high rate of school dropouts in the 5-14 year age group, etc.
… Most of our people in J&K are landlords, owning agricultural land. Almost every household has one or two hand pumps and we have a good literacy rate. One of our people retired from the Army as Brigadier and another from the police as IGP, J&K. Others are serving at the level of Colonel, Lt Colonel, inspector, sub-inspector. The number of those recruited in the Army, paramilitary forces in the lower ranks is countless. At least four-five people of the community are JKAS (Jammu Kashmir Administrative Service) officers, many more are professors in colleges, nearly two dozen are government doctors.
We have many entrepreneurs too, running business establishments, apart from engineers and advocates. Still you call us socially and educationally backward?
Q: Why do you think the commission set up on the matter recommend that the Sainis be included in the SEBC list in J&K?
Saini: Some self-styled leaders who had earlier served in senior positions made a representation to the commission, for vested political interests. The commission did not conduct any survey or contact any leader of the community before making the recommendation.
Q: What does the community want instead?
Saini: We do not want the benefit of reservation extended to us as a social caste. You give it to some other community who is really backward socially and educationally. However, if you still want to give us the benefit of reservation, then give it to economically weaker people instead of on the basis of caste.
Q: How has the government decision to extend the benefit of reservation impacted the community?
Saini: To come out of the SEBC stigma, we have had to convince other Rajput communities that we are not ‘lower caste’. A few days after the government issued the list including the Sainis as SEBC, a Rajput family in Ramban district refused to marry their daughter to a boy from the community in Kathua district. Now, we are trying to convince the girl’s family that the Saini community is also upper caste.
Q: What will be your future course of action?
Saini: The commission (looking at the SEBC classification) has called us on December 6. We will put forth our point of view. It is a matter of shame for us to be called SEBC. If the commission does not recall its recommendations, we will go to New Delhi to met Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We will also hold a sit-in at Jantar Mantar, besides demonstrations in J&K.