Asking For More
- Jats want quotas in education and jobs in Haryana, which the high court has put on hold
- They see a ‘Punjabi’ CM in Haryana as a loss of political clout, hence the attacks on Punjabis
- Constitutional amendment to allow reservation beyond the SC-stipulated 49 per cent
Har Bhagwan is over 70 years old, but he is still piecing together his life. As a paint dealer in Kalanaur, a dusty, burgeoning city in Rohtak district of Haryana, he should have raked in profits and started thinking about retirement. He was, eight months ago. However, in February, Kalanaur was caught in the Jat community’s massive protests demanding Other Backward Classes (OBC) status. The protests turned violent and many, including Har Bhagwan, lost their businesses to loot and arson. The experience left Haryana’s Punjabi community vulnerable and angry, for many of their shops and establishments were targeted by the mobs.
“I’m not scared of the Jats,” says Har Bhagwan, who is also a ‘Punjabi’—one whose family immigrated to this region in 1947.
“But I don’t trust them now. After more than 60 years here, they still call us refugees. They almost made us refugees again,” he says.
Before communities fight pitched battles on the streets, there’s often a great lexical battle. The word over which the Jats and Punjabis of Haryana are at loggerheads these days is ‘refugee’.
The word captured a certain reality in 1947, when India was partitioned, but that reality has changed. The Jats, who once comfortably dominated Haryana’s socio-political milieu, remain ‘sons of the soil’ even though their land holdings have shrunk to two-three acres on an average. The Punjabis were once resettled in Haryana post-Partition, but now they represent its urban resurgence, having flourished in trade and private employment.
Since February, the two communities are reaching for each other’s jugular. With few, if any, efforts to bridge this gap, primordial fears are being stoked on either side.
“We came from Pakistan empty-handed, leaving properties worth crores and built our fortunes from scratch,” says Ram Ahuja, president of the Akhil Bhartiya Panchnad Samarak Samiti, a Gurgaon-based NGO that represents Haryana’s Punjabi immigrants. “And yet the Jats attacked us. This is jealousy. Unlike them, we never demanded reservation—we never needed crutches.”
In March, Haryana cleared 10 per cent reservation for the Jats under a new ‘C’ category, alongside a handful of other castes. But the High Court of Punjab and Haryana stayed the order, frustrating the Jats.
One manifestation of their inner rankling is their continued resentment towards a non-Jat—Punjabi—chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar. For them, this symbolises their loss of foothold in Haryana politics. A ‘Punjabi’ chief minister is one of the factors that propelled the Jats to vent their resentment against the community in February.
“The Punjabis were attacked because they exploited us,” says Hawa Singh Sangwan, president, Akhil Bhartiya Jat Sangharsh Samiti, which led the Jats into the February agitations. “They say they worked hard to get here, but they also got land and other assistance when they came here as refugees.”
Speaking to Outlook at his home in Bhiwani, he claims that “Jats toil and produce grain, while Punjabis only consume it or rake in profits from trading in it”.
Jats: Seven CMs so far, 18 per cent of Class I and Class II jobs, and just 10 per cent landless
Sangwan, who recently asked Khattar to “return to Pakistan”, complains that the “refugees” have named their enterprises after places in Pakistan. He cites ‘Mianwali’, ‘Derawali’, ‘Sindhi’, ‘Multani’, ‘Lahori’ and ‘Jhangi’, indicative of where many Punjabis lived before 1947, as alien names.
“The principal contradiction taking shape in Haryana is the urban-rural divide, represented by the ‘Jat farmer’ versus the ‘Punjabi trader’. Each communitiy is playing into perceptions about the other. It’s an unhealthy trend,” says Jagpal Singh, who teaches at the School of Social Sciences at IGNOU, Delhi.
“This is a phase of shifting alignments,” he says. “For instance, chances are the Jats and the Punjabis would be on the same page on issues with communal overtones.”
Few in Haryana fail to notice the expediency behind trying to array a wider section of society against a dominant caste group. The Muslims of Haryana are concentrated in one region and so caste or regional discord is more easily deployed.
“The BJP has no natural votebank in Haryana. They are preparing one by raising the Jat versus non-Jat issue,” says Rajdeep Phogat, an Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) MLA representing Charkhi Dadri.
The INLD is reckoned as a party representing Jat interests though its voters, obviously, include urban Punjabis and other social groups. Phogat disagrees that a Jat versus non-Jat plank is taking shape but is wary of the Jats’ fraying social links.
“The Jats lost a lot in February, their social standing, community ties and trust,” Phogat says. “But education and youth unemployment will dominate the electoral debates.”
That said, by demanding reservation, the Jats have stoked the angst of existing OBC groups in Haryana. This adds to their historically uncomfortable relationship with the Dalits. Now that they have also invoked the ire of the Punjabis, their future doesn’t augur too well.
The K.C. Gupta Committee, set up in 2011 to examine the Jat’s socio-economic conditions, found that nearly 18 per cent of Class 1 and 2 government jobs in Haryana were occupied by Jats and only 10 per cent of the community were landless, a clear marker of their dominant position in the state.
Since February, wealthy and influential Punjabi community leaders are striving to co-opt a larger array of castes within the wider fold of ‘Punjabi’. It is in this context that the term “non-Jat” has started getting popular.
“The Jats are indeed foolish. They actively participated in anti-cow slaughter activities,” says Sangwan. “This harmed farmers, who are mostly Jats, and it isolated them from Muslims too.” Selling cattle helps supplement farm incomes, but cow vigilantes have dampened the cattle market.
Even victims of February’s agitation are keenly contemplating ways to counter the Jats’ numerical strength—they are 27 per cent of the population. Not just Punjabis, who are around seven per cent of the population, but others, such as Gujjars, are also drifting away from the Jats.
Harphool, a Gujjar farmer in rural Hisar, faced the worst of the Jat agitation. His family home, set amid wheat fields, was attacked twice within 24 hours on February 21 and 22. In the first, his car was burned and the family was forced to flee. The next day, several thousand agitators pillaged their home, taking away or destroying furniture, utensils, even bathroom fittings. Now, with goods gifted by friends and family, Harphool, his wife and children are starting afresh.
“I cannot forget the terror during the agitation. We will never recover what they destroyed—a lifetime’s earnings and possessions are gone. Now I want nothing to do with Jats,” says Harpool. His wife Shanti adds, “Jats from nearby Sisai village still drive past our house at night, threatening us to leave.”
Gujjars have OBC status in Haryana and Jats would eat into their pie. Sainis (also OBC) are already spewing their bile at the Jats. Obviously, Jats will have to shop for new allies, split though they are between the INLD and the Congress.
“Unlike Muslims and Dalits, Jats are not so weak that they cannot compete on their own. They are well represented in the administration and have held the levers of power, via Jat CMs, in seven governments,” says Subhash Batra, the former home minister of Haryana and president of Akhil Bhartiya Punjabi Jagriti Manch. “The next election will be completely caste-based. It will be Jats versus others and let’s see who wins.”