A full-fledged pantry is offering puris and sabzi in the middle of the road, a trailer and some tree trunks are blocking the Bahadurgarh-Rohtak bypass and over 100 Jat men are lounging under a tent smoking hookahs.
No one can get in, no one can get out — except women, children and the ailing.
As the violent quota stir by Jats in Haryana enters the eighth day with the death toll touching 11, there are similar blockades every 5 km on the way to Rohtak and Jhajjar, Ground Zero of the agitation.
Om Prakash, 26, from Jakhoda village in Bahadurgarh, is guarding one barricade with his friends, all wielding sticks and iron rods. A law student of Delhi University, Prakash articulates his cause in fluent English. “I missed the civil services by one mark last year. If I had reservation, I would have got through. There are many like me. I don’t think that our lot is any better than the others. The reason I am speaking in English is to show you that despite having had good education, I am not getting a job,” he says.
Missing a chance at a government job or “a better future” by one mark is a common refrain in Bahadurgarh. Gaurav Lochab, 21, who spent Saturday night sleeping on a trailer, says, “I failed in SSC by one mark. If I had quota, I would have passed. Now I am forced to work in a factory for Rs 300 a day.”
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Sandeep Dalal, 33, an MPhil and marketing manager in a private company, has also joined the stir. “I appeared for an entrance test for the armed forces after my graduation. But I couldn’t get through because my marks were just under par. Now I am in private job. But it’s not easy. No one wants to give jobs to Jats. They think we are uncouth and troublemakers. People instigate Jats and when they react, companies retrench them. We want government jobs,” says Dalal.
The protesting Jats maintain that their demands are rightful and their protest peaceful. They say land holdings have reduced to one acre per individual in a family and even dairies is not profitable anymore. And, they directly blame the OBCs for the violence in Rohtak and Jhajjar.
“It’s the other castes who are indulging in violence to defame us. Our men have not done anything. Look around you, not even a bicycle has been deflated. But Jats are the ones getting killed. If you provoke us like this, there will be consequences,” says former sarpanch of Parnala village, Kishan Lal.
At Nayagaon, about 5 kilometres away on the Rohtak bypass, trucks carrying goods to Haryana have been forcibly lined up across the road. Two charred cars bear testimony to what may have happened here the previous day.
“It was peaceful, this government has turned it violent. First, this MP Raj Kumar Saini makes provocative statements against Jats, then this government supports him and sends Army behind our kids. Who has given most men to the Army? The Jats. And now they are being killed. We now understand the meaning of having a non-Jat CM,” says Sajjan Singh, 60, adding that the stir would continue until Haryana Assembly passes the law giving quota to Jats.
There is considerable anger against Saini everywhere. “In fact, if the government does not give us reservation but gives us Saini, it will be just as good. Don’t write his name as Saini, write it as Mali. He should feel the pinch,” says Dalal, referring to the caste (OBC) that Sainis actually belong to.
Social media and Internet services have been suspended, but rumours are flying thick and fast to fuel the stir further. While the government maintains the death toll at 10, villagers say they have spoken to people in other districts and put the toll at 20-22. There are also rumours of a girls hostel having been attacked by police in Rohtak.
“This is a Jat genocide. The government wants to humiliate and finish Jats. Army is not called to fight the Maoists, but sent after Jats instantly. Our Jat leaders like Capt Abhimanyu are doing nothing for us. Leaders are going to JNU, no one is coming here. We have to do something. This government is abetting sedition,” says Prakash, referring to the students’ protest in Delhi.
About 5 km into Delhi, the fallout of the quota stir is palpable with youngsters blocking the road at Nangloi. As police remove the blockade, they gather again at Veer’s Gym across the road, under a billboard showing two bodybuilders along with the slogan: “Get Ripped. Get Laid”.
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