Jats, Marathas, and Patels Want Quotas, But Do They Need Them?

Affirmative action policies in India have consistently attracted outrage. Communities such as the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) have been given the benefit of reservation policies because of their historical marginalisation in the Indian subcontinent. 

Reservation policies have been unpopular among the middle classes, but of late, dominant groups have begun to demand protection for themselves. What does the state do when groups that have traditionally opposed preferential treatment given to marginalised groups start asking for such treatment themselves? What is the validity of their claim to backwardness?

In Haryana, the agitation by Jats, an agrarian middle caste that has been clamouring for OBC status since the late 1990s, took a particularly fierce and hostile turn in 2016. Their protests included the blockade of the capital city of Delhi which is surrounded by Haryana on three sides.

Gujarat was rocked by violent anti-quota agitations in the mid-1980s, and the Patels, a dominant caste, were at the forefront of this agitation, demanding that the quotas for SCs/STs be scrapped; they labelled quotas as antimerit and unfair. Since 2015, the Patels or Patidars have been on the streets, demanding to be classified as OBC; the movement has occasionally turned violent with damage to public property. 

The Marathas, a predominantly landowning caste and a politically and economically dominant group in the state of Maharashtra, have been demanding to be included in the OBC category since the 1990s.  


In an article in Vol 52, No 19 of the Economic and Political Weekly, Ashwini Deshpande and Rajesh Ramachandran used data from the India Human Development Survey to investigate the basis of these demands of the Jats, Patels, and Marathas to be classified as Other Backward Classes in order to access reservations.


Let us take a look at the socio-economic indicators for these dominant groups, compared to the existing socio economically disadvantaged groups. Do the figures make a case for reservation or do they tell us otherwise?


In the figures below, the vertical line shows the position of Jats, Marathas and Patels and the relative location of other caste groups on different indicators.


1. Per capita consumption expenditure (PCCE)

Jats are similar to Haryana Brahmins in terms of how much they spend on goods and services (giving a rough indication of their income). Compared to all other groups in the state, including forward castes, consumption expenditure by Jats is significantly higher.



Marathas have a lower PCCE than Maharashtra Brahmins, but are at the same level as other forward castes and OBCs and have a significantly higher PCCE than SCs/STs.



The Patels are statistically similar in PCCE to Gujarati Brahmins and forward castes and are significantly better off than OBCs and SCs/STs in the state.



2. Probability of being considered poor

Jats have a similar poverty incidence to Brahmins and one that is significantly lower than that of other groups.



Marathas are similar to Brahmins and other forward castes, and are less similar to OBCs in terms of poverty incidence, but they have a significantly lower poverty incidence as compared to SCs/STs.



Patidars are similar to Gujarati Brahmins and other forward castes, but have a lower incidence of poverty as compared to OBCs and SCs/STs in the state.




3. Probability of owning/cultivating land

Jats are 30 to 77 percentage points more likely to own or cultivate land compared to other social groups in Haryana, including Brahmins.



Similarly, Marathas and Patels are more likely to own or cultivate land than other social groups in their respective states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.


The popular perception that these groups are predominantly involved in agriculture, and are more likely to work on their own land rather than as agricultural labourers, is indeed supported by the evidence.


4. Total years of education

The average number of years of education for Jats (which is 5.90 years) is lower than that of Brahmins and other forward castes, but higher than OBCs and SCs.



Marathas have an average of 6.58 years of education, which is lower than that of Brahmins by 2.18 years and is 1.22 years more than that of SCs/STs, but is similar to other forward castes and OBCs.


Patels have an average of 7.46 years of education, which is 0.97 years less than Brahmins and very similar to other forward castes in the state; they have 2.26 more years of education than OBCs and 2.47 more years than SCs/STs.



Where schooling is concerned, 16% of Jats, 19% of Marathas, and 20% of Patels have completed 12 years or more of schooling.


5. Probability of holding a government job

The crux of the demand for quotas is the presumed lack of access to government jobs; according to anecdotal accounts, the number of jobs available to qualified candidates is lower than the number of jobs available to SCs/STs. Evidence shows otherwise.


In Haryana, Jats’ access to government jobs is similar to that of forward castes and OBCs, despite the fact that Jats have historically been an agrarian caste and have never been inclined towards taking up government jobs. The probability of Brahmins and SCs/STs having government jobs is 12 and 10 percentage points greater than that for Jats. It is noteworthy that Jats already have similar access to government jobs as other OBCs in the state, despite not being classified officially as OBCs.




Marathas’ access to government jobs is similar to that of Brahmins’, higher than that of other forward castes and OBCs, and not different from that of SCs/STs.




Patels’ access to government jobs is similar to that of forward castes and OBCs. However, Brahmins and SCs/STs in Gujarat are 10 and 14 percentage points more likely to hold government jobs compared to Patels.





The three groups demanding OBC status and, in turn, access to reservations (quotas), are already closer to the upper castes than to the more disadvantaged groups in their respective states. Their anxieties seem to be based more on perception than on empirical evidence.


An overwhelming amount of evidence suggests that these communities are not the most marginalised in their respective states; additionally, these jatis have consolidated their advantage over the marginalised groups and have narrowed gaps with the dominant groups in their respective states between 2004–05 and 2011–12.


Read the article by Ashwini Deshpande and Rajesh Ramachandran for more data about the three castes and the reasons for their success in mobilising.


Related Articles on Caste and Reservation:


  1. Reservations within Reservations: Real Dalit-Bahujans | Pradeep Kumar, 2001
  2. Prejudice against Reservation Policies: How and Why? | Sukhadeo Thorat, Nitin Tagade, Ajaya K Naik, 2016
  3. Social Inequality, Labour Market Dynamics and Reservation | Mritiunjoy Mohanty, 2006
  4. Revisiting the Rationale for Reservations: Claims of ‘Middle Castes’ | Alok Prasanna Kumar, 2016
  5. Reservation amidst the Din of 'Development' | Maanvender Singh, 2016
  6. Stooping to Conquer: Jats and Reservations in Haryana | Radhika Kumar, 2016
  7. On the Question of Backwardness | Satish Kumar, 2016
  8. Distress in Marathaland | Anderson et al, 2016
  9. Reservations for Marathas in Maharashtra | Mridul Kumar, 2009


Curated by: Sohnee Harshey [sohnee@epw.in]

Design: Chaitanya Mandugula


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