What the wisest Delhi socialists couldn’t do—give Jats OBC status—UPA-II has done. Jats are now on the brink of OBC-hood. Within some 250 km of Delhi, the so-called Jat belt, a collective sigh of relief has gone up. After a big, old-fashioned fight, victory at last. But will the Jats be grateful? They certainly are expected to be. The RLD, led by Ajit Singh, is claiming credit. The Congress and Rahul Gandhi may follow suit. But if I—a Jat from Muzaffarnagar—know anything about my cousins, I know they don’t listen anymore to tauji tales or hagiographic illustrations of their history like Jats once did. Jats have moved on, and nothing can illustrate this better than their demand for OBC status.
The glory days of Jats ruling from Delhi are long gone. What’s taken its place is this: 60 per cent of Jats are “young”, and this includes youthful-looking Jats who haven’t done an iota of useful work. There are just no blue-collar jobs, and they’re unprepared for the big, competitive world where qualifications, “soft skills” and performance matter. Let’s just say that, as a community, they haven’t been strategic about their prospects. For generations, Jats wore themselves out on the grindstone of agriculture. Now, tractors have taken over; land holdings have shrunk so much, they’re barely productive. On top of it all, the Jat farmer has taken to “nuclear” living. Courtyards that brothers once shared are now separate. The brothers share a hookah, sure, but often they can’t afford vegetables with meals. Yes, not all Jats own land. Maybe 40 per cent, anecdotally, till plots that others own—maybe another Jat, but more likely a Bania or Brahmin. Public employment, through reservation, now comes to the rescue. A chance to flee the declining village for the bustling city.
This much is certain: Jats, not a backward “class” by any stretch of the imagination, have taken on characteristics of backwardness in recent years. Khap panchayat rulings are just one illustration of the decline. These “cultural organisations” recently banned women from using cellphones. Perhaps, this is what being “backward” is all about. Bans on inter-caste marriages in an urbanising country, parents tricking, then killing their children in the name of family honour, and—the latest—their communalism and charges of “love jehad” against Muslims. If these aren’t signs of Jats’ social backwardness, what is? Large swathes of the Jat peasantry have regressed, financially, socially, perhaps in desperation, and perhaps despite the windfall profits made by the few who sold their land to builders.
For a community that once permitted widow remarriage—and never sent widows to Banaras—Jats have come a long way indeed. And their failure to deploy themselves in new trades and crafts makes them ideally backward in an election year.
Pragya Singh is a senior special correspondent with Outlook; E-mail your columnist: mailpragya AT gmail.com