Backward march: Who are the Jats, what do they want?

Indian Express analyses the background and circumstances of the agitation for reservation that has Haryana on the boil.

Written by Varinder Bhatia | Updated: February 22, 2016 1:28 pm
Members of the Jat community in Rohtak during the agitation demanding reservation in jobs and education. (Express Photo by Gajendra Yadav) Members of the Jat community in Rohtak during the agitation demanding reservation in jobs and education. (Express Photo by Gajendra Yadav)

Who are the Jats, and what are they demanding?

Jats are an agricultural caste group in Haryana, and seven other states in North India, notably Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. In Haryana, they are the predominant caste, and therefore politically influential. In his tome on the “Panjab Castes” following the 1881 census, Sir Denzil Ibbetson noted that “from an economical and administrative point of view [the Jat] is the husbandsman, the peasant, the revenue-payer par excellence… he is usually content to cultivate his fields and pay his revenue in peace and quietness…” The Jats currently out on the streets across Haryana are demanding reservation in government jobs and educational institutions under the OBC category.

When did the demand begin?

Discontent boiled over after the 1991 Gurnam Singh Commission report included Jats in the Backward Classes category along with seven other groups, and after the Bhajan Lal government withdrew the notification that had been issued for inclusion. Two more Backward Classes Commissions set up in the state excluded the group – in 1995 and 2011. Reservation for Jats was one of the poll promises made by Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who came to power in 2004; he subsequently wrote several letters to the Union government seeking their inclusion of Jats. After an agitation, in April 2011, the government set up the K C Gupta Commission to go into the question once again. In 2012, the commission recommended the inclusion of Jats and four other castes, Jat Sikhs, Ror, Tyagi and Bishnoi, in the category Special Backward Classes (SBC). The Hooda government accepted the report and 10% quota was granted, but this was later set aside by the Supreme Court.

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What are the legal issues involved in granting reservation to Jats? What is the policy in neighbouring states?

On March 17, 2015, the Supreme Court quashed the UPA government’s decision to extend the OBC quota in central government jobs to Jats, refusing to accept that Jats were a backward community. Consequently, the reservation introduced for Jats in Haryana and eight other states — Gujarat, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Bharatpur and Dholpur districts of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand — was set aside. In April 2015, the NDA government filed a review petition in the Supreme Court against the March 17 verdict. A decision on it is pending.

Where do the Jats stand in Haryana’s political hierarchy?

Since being carved out of Punjab in 1966, Haryana state has had 10 chief ministers, and seven have been Jats. Jats comprise 27% of the electorate, and are the state’s predominant caste group, who dominate a third of the 90 Assembly constituencies in the state. The leaders of the two main opposition political parties — Bhupinder Singh Hooda of the Congress and Abhay Singh Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal — are Jats. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar represents the Punjabi community, and belongs to the Khattar caste.

The Jat agitation is centred on Rohtak, Jhajjar and Bhiwani — the three districts that, along with Panipat, Sonipat and Hisar, are known as the state’s Jat belt. The three districts are mostly covered under two parliamentary constituencies — Rohtak and Bhiwani — and 18 Assembly constituencies. The BJP won 10 out of these 18 seats, while six went to Congress and two to INLD.
Watch video: Visuals Of The Jat Agitation, Rapid Action Force & Central Reserve Police Force

But if the Jats are so politically influential, should they not already be well represented in higher education and government jobs?

According to the K C Gupta Commission, Jats had 17.82% representation in Class 1 and 2 government jobs. In the lower grades, this representation is estimated at as high as 40 to 50%. The representation of Jats in educational institutions was 10.35%. The literacy rate among Jat men is said to be 45%; among women, about 30%.

The Jats’ primary occupation remains farming. The average landholding is 2-3 acres. Only 10% of Jats are landless. Over a decade ago, some sections of Jats were not ready to accept the status of “backward class” because at that time land was not fragmented, and most Jat landholdings were large. With changing times and dividing families, however, holdings began to shrink.

So, which are the castes that do have reservation in Haryana?

Out of 80 castes, only 16 — Ahir, Arora/Khatri, Bishnoi, Brahman, Gossain, Gujjar, Jat, Jat Sikh, Kalal, Mahajan/Bania, Meo, Muslim, Rajput, Ror, Saini and Tyagi — do not find mention in the lists of Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes notified by the Haryana government. The Ramgarhia caste, which is synonymous with Khati or Barhai, also does not find mention in the list of Backward Classes of the Haryana government. The remaining 63 castes/communities have been notified either as a Scheduled Caste or Backward Class.

Did the Khattar government fail to anticipate the anger of the community?

The BJP is heading the government for the first time in the state, and the lack of experience could have led to an inaccurate assessment of the situation. The Jat agitation for reservations has been an annual affair around this time of the year (February-March) since 2012, but this year’s violence could have something to do with the BJP still being seen as an outsider in Haryana’s traditional Jat politics, its election victory notwithstanding. Of the eight cabinet ministers (including the Chief Minister), only two are Jats.

Where is this agitation now headed?

The Jats have trashed a government offer to include those with annual income of less than Rs 6 lakh under an Economically Backward Persons (EBP) category with a 20% quota, to be shared with four other castes: Tyagis, Rors, Bishnois and Jat Sikhs. The government has now announced it will prepare a draft Bill for reservation, and try to bring it in the Assembly session beginning March 17. However, such a Bill may not stand judicial scrutiny in view of the 50% ceiling on quota in government jobs imposed by the Supreme Court. This ceiling has been reached in Haryana, which has 27% reservation for OBCs, 20% SCs and 3% for the disabled. This is why the Punjab and Haryana High Court had struck down the Congress government’s 10% per cent quota for Jats, Jat Sikhs, Bishnois, Tyagis and Rors as Special Backward Classes.

Roiled Elsewhere

By: Satish Jha

Patidars in Gujarat
On July 6, 2015, Hardik Patel, 22, started an agitation under the banner of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti to demand the inclusion of Patidars in the OBC list. A mega rally in Ahmedabad on August 25 led to caste riots. At least 9 Patidar youths and one policeman was killed. According to police records, between June and December 2015, Patidars organised 1,251 protest meetings.

Patidars, who are farmers, are counted among Gujarat’s wealthiest communities. They have nearly 14% of the vote share, and are traditionally BJP supporters. They have applied to the Gujarat OBC commission seeking OBC status. Hardik is in jail, charged with sedition. He has been accused of trying to “dislodge a democratically elected government” by waging war against the state in order to force it to take an “unlawful decision” on reservation for the community. The charges under Sections 124A (sedition) and 121A (conspiracy to wage war) have been upheld by Gujarat High Court; an appeal is pending in the Supreme Court.

Kapus in Andhra

By: Sreenivas Janyala

On January 31, sidelined former TDP leader Mudragadda Padmanabham called a meeting of Kapus to demand the TDP government fulfil its poll promise to include Kapus in the BCs list. The YSR Congress Party extended its support to the meeting, held near Tuni railway station in East Godavari. The crowd turned violent, set a train on fire, attacked the police station and set vehicles afire.

The government has been dragging its feet in giving guidelines to the K L Manjunath Commission constituted to recommend the inclusion of Kapus in the BC list without disturbing the existing quotas. In 2014, Kapus, who constitute 23.4% of the population of AP, backed N Chandrababu Naidu.

After the unprecedented violence, a shocked Padmanabham withdrew the protest but warned the government he would sit on a protest fast. Naidu has assured that the Manjunath Commission would submit its report within six months.

Jats in Rajasthan

By: Mahim Pratap Singh

Before March 2014, Jats were in the central list of OBCs in Gujarat — Jat (Muslim) — and Rajasthan (except in the districts of Bharatpur and Dholpur). Jats also figured in the state lists of Haryana, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, UP, MP, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

The UPA sought the advice of the National Commission for Backward Classes on including Jats from these nine states, and the two Rajasthan districts, in the central list of OBCs. The NCBC advised against it, “as they are not socially and educationally backward community”, but the government notified an amended list anyway. The decision was challenged in the Supreme Court, which in March 2015 scrapped the central OBC quotas for the Jats in question, including in the two Rajasthan districts.

Rajasthan Jat leaders have now expressed solidarity with the ongoing protests in Haryana. Some college students have carried out a protest in Bharatpur.