The blockade on water in the capital has been lifted. A week of clashes has left 16 people dead, and hundreds wounded. India’s 80 million Jats want to be downgraded from upper caste to receive more aid from the government.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – A week of caste-related protests in the Indian state of Haryana has left at least 16 people dead and hundreds wounded with roads blocked, houses and cars set on fire, and one of the world’s largest capitals, Delhi, without water.
At the heart of demonstrations is the Jat community, one of India’s many ethno-cultural groups. At present, Jats number 80 million, and are 30 per cent of the population of the State of Haryana, which is next to the capital.
With ancient origins (from Shiva's Locks according to legend), the Jat people are a traditionally agricultural community that left Sindh, moving into northern India, and the western Gangetic Plain in medieval times. They eventually took up arms against India’s Muslim rulers and established a major kingdom in the 18th century.
Their martial virtues reached their zenith under the British, who incorporated India’s "martial races" in the British Indian Army. Along with aristocratic Rajputs and the brave Sikhs of Punjab, many Jats lost their lives during the Second World War. Because of this rise from agriculturalists to a warrior caste, the Indian government ruled out providing Jats with benefits given to most disadvantaged groups.
Under Indian law, castes, ethnic groups and minorities belong to a hierarchical system that provides special treatment for ‘Other Backward Classes’ (OBC) in areas like education and employment, including a 27 per cent quota in the public service. The same is also true for religious minorities.
However, the system is flawed to the extent that, with the exception of those who have pursued a military career, most Jats continue to be employed in menial jobs in agriculture and animal husbandry.
The Jats are thus a paradox for India. Formally, high on the social scale (providing some of India’s foremost political figures), but largely poor. Contrary to what Indian pride and sense of modesty might dictate, they want the government to demote their group to a lower rank.
In recent years, this has led to government attempts to add some of the poorest Jat clans onto the OBC list with the result of displeasing others. However, things boiled over recently when Jat clan leaders came together to oppose the government after the latest failure to extend quotas to all Jats by negotiations.
At present, at least seven of Haryana’s largest cities have been placed under curfew whilst Jats are coming from neighbouring states of Rajasthan and Punjab to provide support for their fellow Jats in Haryana.
Indian Prime Minister Modi has reacted by deploying at least 3,000 troops to quell any protests with orders to shoot curfew violators.
Thus, no room for dialogue seems to exist, and the conflict can be expected to intensify with inevitably more casualties.
Protesters have seized the main roads preventing the transportation of food and basic necessities to Rohtak, Jind, Bhiwani and other places. Gurgaon, India’s main Information Technology (IT) hub and home to many foreign multinationals, has also been affected.
A spokesman for the Northern Railways announced that, due to the agitation, 150 trains were cancelled from the capital to the States of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Jammu (Kashmir).
However, what worries the authorities the most is that Jat protesters seized the canal that supplies water to 18 million Delhi residents. Although the army took it back, it might take three to four days before normal supplies resume to affected areas. (C.L.)