This is a guest post by SATENDRA KUMAR
There is an uncanny academic public silence over the Jat quota stir and the unjustified violence enacted during the stir in Haryana. The scale of violence and destruction is such that it competes for the worst instance of caste violence in Haryana’s post-Independence history. So far 30 people have lost their lives while over 200 people were injured in the nine-day violent Jat agitation demanding job quotas in Haryana. There is anger, fear and helplessness among those who lost their kin, homes, businesses and properties.At least 10 Haryana districts were severely affected by the violence. After such a huge loss, as if it was a routine, matter the Union Home Minister announced that a committee led by M Venkaiah Naidu will examine the demand by Jats for reservation in central government jobs.
In Haryana, the BJP’s government in the state has promised to bring a Bill granting OBC status to Jats in the upcoming assembly session. The Jats’ demand for reservations in the central OBC list is not new. Since 1995, Jats in Haryana have been demanding an OBC (Other Backward Class) status, which will help them secure the 27 per cent reservation in government jobs. Earlier in 1997, the Jats in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh had demanded themselves to be included in the central OBC list. It was rejected by the National Commission for Backward Classes. Subsequently UPA government’s decision to include Jats from 9 states in the OBC list was also rejected by the Supreme Court in March 2015. Despite all this, political parties such as Congress and BJP continue promising quota to Jats during election campaigns. These promises have encouraged the Jats to organize and agitate for quotas. However, their agitations for reservations have not been so violent. That is why the most pressing and important question that needs analyses is why has the current agitation by Jats been so violent? Perhaps three factors will help us to understand this severe violence and loss of property worth crores of rupees.
First, in Haryana Jats are a landowning dominant caste with considerable political clout and they constitute nearly 29 per cent of the population. They not only own large parts of agricultural land but also control networks of power. So far 7 out of 10 Haryana chief ministers have been Jats. However, Jats have been restless since the BJP came to power in the state for the first time with strong support from non-Jat communities. Khattar, a first-time MLA from the Punjabi community, was appointed as chief minister, the first non-Jat CM in almost two decades. Wilding power unchecked for decades, Jats , especially those in Rohtak district, the epicentre of the ongoing protests, saw power and material benefits such as powerful positions and government-funded projects slipping out of their hands. Though the government made swift payment of compensation for crop failure last year, there is widespread feeling that under the present government, the community does not have the power it once commanded. Since 2014, there is a widespread perception among the Jats of their political decline. This perception has been strengthening further by the ongoing agricultural crises particularly due to shrinking land holdings and constant failure of crops by climate precarity. Moreover, rising lower caste groups or Most Backward Castes such as Sainis and their successful political alliance with trader communities have threatened Jat’s position further. Thus, it is clear that Jats are fighting to retain their domination, particularly to maintain control over public resources, jobs and spaces.
Second, Sainis, a caste-community of gardeners include small and marginal farmers. A section of the Sainis is also middle farmers and some also got into government jobs due to reservation. The Sainis are an upward mobile caste and gaining prosperity through producing and trading flowers and vegetables. They have been investing agriculture income into non-farm businesses, and a small middle class has been gradually emerging within the Sainis over the last two decades. The Sainis have been trying to make their space in electoral politics and asserting upward mobility through their newly acquired wealth. Sanis’ assertion challenges the status quo and poses a threat to the Jats who already perceiving their political decline due the emergence of the new political alliance of non-Jat communities particularly, Sainis, Brahmins and Punjabis who have captured the state power. This makes Jats desperate to regain their power, and they are responding so violently to the emerging low caste Sainis and their non-Jat political alliances. Jats wanted to teach a strong lesson particularly to the Sainis and their leaders who have been very vocal against the inclusion of Jats in the OBC list. The Sainis know fully that Jats’s inclusion into the OBC list will harm the interests of the Sainis and other poor OBC who really deserve reservation. Contrary to this Jats’s agitation is not for levelling the field through equal opportunity but to control and regain the resources and power they seem to be losing. Probably, this is not the first instance of violent reaction of the Jats. Earlier, in 2013 too, in Muzaffarnagar and nearby districts the Jats had responded similarly very violently to the assertion of the Muslim low caste artisan and service caste groups. In the present case too, the Sainis’s assertion and opposition had not gone down well with the Jat community which holds important positions in the police force and local state.
Third, when the Jat protestors went on looting and destroying private and public properties, the police and local administration instead of protecting the victims chose to remain mute spectators. The Jat leaders of various Khaps including Hooda and Dalal Khap had been mobilizing and addressing their gatherings since the 12th February. These Khap leaders have been instrumental for a quick mobilization, particularly after the Sainis’ meeting on the 18th February. After the meeting the Sainis organised a march against the Jat’s demand for reservation. But the police’s role has been circumspect because of their inability to bring worsening situation into control. Khap organizations along with social media have played crucial role in this agitation and in further mobilizing people for violence and identifying their targets.The protestors were also joined by criminals, goons and history- sheeters. They not only burnt and destroyed public buses, schools, railway stations, police stations, water system, canals and offices but also personal properties such as hospitals, shops, houses and malls. They systematically targeted Sainis, Punjabis Brahmins and other caste groups who have been with the non-Jat alliance. They killed people, young and old indiscriminately. The reports are also coming out that dozens of women were raped in Murthal. The police and civil administration brazenly avoided even hearing complaints of the victims. Now, the National Commission for Women and the state police including the chief minister are asking victims to come forward and resister cases. It is a joke because the victim has to finally go to and face the same police and local administration which shamelessly connived with the perpetrators. How can people trust such a government and its machinery which is totally biased and failed to protect its citizen’s lives and property in the first place? Further, it is so tragic and scary to see that how the state has acted differently in other cases. For instance, in the JNU case the police and state was so prompt to act and arrest innocent students alleging them “anti-national” without any substantial proof, while in Haryana they completely abdicated their constitutional duties and let innocent people be killed. This is not the first time when the role of the state and police has been questioned. Increasingly, in recent times the idea of an impartial state is becoming a chimera in India. Indeed, it is a dangerous development for Indian democracy.
Satendra Kumar is Visiting Fellow, Centre for Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi