The Jat agitation in the national capital has been suspended for a fortnight following assurances by Haryana chief minister ML Khattar. But dharnas continues to disrupt life in Haryana. Although there is a lull in the agitation in Delhi for now, the Jat community has again raised a clamour to be included in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) list which would give them reservation in education and jobs. The reason for this demand is mainly because of the feeling of resentment in the community, which feels isolated and alienated. Jats have predominantly been the dominant community in Haryana. Of late, the youth in the community feel disillusioned with the traditional means of livelihood having given way to swankier lifestyles and fancy jobs. There is also the coming of age of the youth who seem to be caught in a time warp between their previous generations and the modern world.
The Jat community has relied largely on agriculture for subsistence. Since Jats were landholders in administratively vital areas, many of them have become rich due to land acquisition by the government which has resulted in windfall gains. Even in the agricultural hinterland, big SUVs and expensive houses are a common sight. A bulk of the money in many such households has already been spent on items that proclaim wealth. Now the money taps have dried and the future generations find themselves in a fix. Also, the youth from other communities have forged ahead despite traditionally having meagre resources. Jat families with little or no resources have found that education leads to opportunities and a step up on the social ladder. Other castes have made the most of the opportunity and generations have benefitted. The Jat youth are conditioned to believe that they have been deprived of the new-generation prosperity because they don’t have a slice of reservation cake.
The Jat community is witnessing a contradictory trend. Because of their peasant background and social categorisation, the Jats have often asserted their superior identity through aggression. With agriculture unable to sustain them any longer, this peasant caste is now faced with new challenges: growing urbanisation, the importance of education and the need for assured government jobs.
Closely linked with this is the backdrop that the Jat community in Haryana had enjoyed political power since chief ministers Devi Lal, Bansi Lal and Om Prakash Chautala belonged to this caste. Because of this, the Jats felt politically empowered. The present chief minister of Haryana, Manohar lal Khattar, is a non-Jat. Although a temporary truce has been struck with him, Khattar is still perceived as non-sympathetic to their demand for reservation in education which is a path to government jobs. This disenchantment has aggravated the situation and has led to a trust deficit.
Jats are identified as unbending in their social behavior. Hence, the demand for reservation is a new form of social behaviour because individualism and assertiveness as traits among the Jats are getting compromised with the the government’s refusal to accede to their demands with regard to reservation.
The agrarian crisis that arises is mostly due to the urbanisation challenges and the agrarian linkages. The Jat community youth find themselves distanced from the mainstream in terms of language, culture and lifestyle. They are still rooted in the same traditions and customs which seem misplaced today. Most of the agrarian crises are because of fragmentation of land. The urban-rural distinction has ended because Haryana has developed very good road communications. So, the Jat youth are not only exposed to an urban way of life but also to government jobs and delink them from agriculture. It is empirically proved that the children of Jat peasants do not want to be cultivators. It is in this background that the current Jat agitation has to be seen.
Recently, the Jat community displayed a show of strength where the community was represented from Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. They decided to block the supply of goods to Delhi to intensify pressure on both the Central and the Haryana government. However, the agitators are worried that since the State assembly elections are over, the Central and Haryana state government may simply ignore the demand of the agitators.
Chief minister ML Khattar appears to have averted the wrath of the Jats for now. But their dissent cannot be wished away for long.
Abha Yadav is Deputy Registrar (Legal), Central Public Information Officer and Labour Welfare Officer, Jawaharlal Nehru University