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As Jat agitation begins again, Haryana's social fabric lies in tatters

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:58 IST

The resumption

  • The Jat community\'s agitation for reservation under the OBC category has resumed after a lull
  • But the violence and arson it caused last month has shattered the social harmony of Haryana

The divide

  • Haryana called itself the land of 36 biradaris. Now, there\'s deep mistrust between communities
  • While non-Jats fear for their lives, some Jats fear the stigma, while others are feeling guilty

More in the story

  • A democratic rights organisation studied the previous wave of violence - what caused it?
  • The political games after the violence - why Cong and INLD are batting for Jats

The Jat community's agitation for reservation has resumed after a lull. But even though life in Haryana has moved ahead in the intervening few weeks, the massive violence and arson witnessed then has shattered the social harmony of the state.

The truth is that there is tremendous mistrust between communities today, because a quota agitation quickly escalated into a caste war. People are now being identified first in terms of caste or community, and the general discourse has taken the form of 'us and them'.

Also read - Jat Reservation Stir: All you need to know about Jats and their protest

The key incident that has led to this was the the selective targeting of properties during the arson. Members of almost every community are asking why their community was targetted. This has worsened over the last few days, with whisper campaigns and social media comments doing the rounds pitting communities against each other.

The reasons behind the strife

Haryana had always taken pride in projecting itself as a land of 36 biradari (communities), which co-existed happily. Now there is a sustained effort by certain elements to pit 35 biradaris of non-Jats against Jats.

One can frequently come across comments on social media and among individuals calling for boycott of the community, which is bound to have a drastic impact in the days to come.

A six member team from the Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR), Punjab, and the Democratic Lawyers Association (DLA), Punjab, has come out with a report stating that the election of a BJP government in Haryana, led by a non-Jat CM, conducting of Panchayat elections (with a rider on education) in January 2016, the provocative statements by cabinet ministers DP Dhankar and Captain Abhimanyu, and Kurukshetra MP Raj Kumar Saini prepared the ground for the Jat agitation.

"The deepening of agrarian crisis, successive crop failures, mounting unemployment, increasing economic inequality and widening rural-urban gap were also the contributing factors," said Professor Jagmohan Singh of AFDR and Daljit Singh of DLA while releasing the report.

There is tremendous mistrust between communities because a quota stir escalated into a caste war

For their part, both the key opposition parties, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the Congress, have been raising this issue at various meets.

Both these parties have Jats as their core support base, and have been accusing the ruling BJP of encouraging polarisation on caste lines. INLD leader Abhay Chautala has been demanding registration of criminal cases against those giving slogans of '35 biradari'.

Also read - Watch out UP: The Jat fire may singe you too

Fear grips the public

During a trip to Gohana town, this reporter was taken around by some locals, who went on pointing to the burnt and looted shops, identifying them with the caste of their owners.

Also read - Ground report: scarred residents say Jat rampage was planned, blame netas

"The fear continues among the people, and it will take a long time to go. Ever since this violence has subsided, the Jats are also very scared, fearing a backlash anytime, since sweeping statements have come both in the media and otherwise, holding the community responsible. Jats in urban areas are afraid of being waylaid anytime when they are vulnerable," said a resident of the town.

Sunita Tyagi, a social activist with the Jan Sangharsh Manch Haryana, made arrangements for almost 50 Dalit women to stay in her house when the Valmiki neighbourhood was targeted by arsonists.

She says: "The worst toll has been on the minds of the children who have witnessed the violence and are identifying good and bad in terms of various communities. We have a nine-year-old in the family who is afraid to step out of the house. You can imagine what would be the plight of the children in the areas where they saw looting of shops and burning of establishments."

Most establishments targetted by arsonists belonged to non-Jats like Punjabis, Sainis and Dalits

Bhanwar Singh, a journalist with a vernacular daily, adds: "Even when the violence was on and we were out doing our jobs talking to people, we made it a point not to identify each others' castes for mutual safety amidst the madness. Bhaichara ab khatam ho gaya hai (there's no more brotherhood)."

A major factor that has led to the social polarisation is that about 90% of the establishments targetted by the arsonists belonged to non-Jat communities like Punjabis, Sainis, Dalits and others.

The 'guilt' of the Jats

Dr Devender Sangwan, who belongs to the Jat community and is a prominent psychiatrist in Rohtak, told Catch: "After what has happened, the Jats are now carrying the burden of guilt. Things cannot be generalised. There were a large number of Jats who came out to protect the properties from the mobs in the city right before my eyes.

"Secondly, the arsonists during the initial stages had not distinguished whether they were targetting the properties of Jats or non-Jats. But what will be remembered is that these things happened during the reservation stir of Jats."

To highlight the divide in the society, Dr Sangwan related his personal experience: "People who always stopped to make small talk with me now just offer a courteous greeting and go their way."

The most perplexed are the youth, particularly those Jats who do not come from well-to-do backgrounds. "I wonder who is going to employ us because of the stigma that has been attached to our community," said a youngster.

Social media a vehicle of hate

Social media once again proved to be a major source of rumour-mongering that added fuel to the fire, till the time the government stepped in to cut mobile internet services in violence-affected areas.

There were hate messages exhorting the people to assemble under the leadership of their communities and take on others. Sources said that a large number of messages were circulated about students in Maharishi Dayanand University being targeted on community lines.

The divide has gone to the extent that people are even questioning the government giving compensation to the families of those who dead in the violence.

Over the last several decades, Haryana has seen politicians getting identified more by their castes than their parties, and championing the cause of their community.

There were hate messages exhorting the people to assemble under the leadership of their communities

Former CM Bhajan Lal had emerged as the leader of non-Jats, as he belonged to the Bishnoi community. Prior to him, former Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal had emerged as the tallest leader of Jats.

Observers say that former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda also wanted to emerge as a Jat leader and capture the void left behind by Devi Lal. The present Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, has emerged as a prominent non-Jat face on the political landscape.

The rational viewpoint

Those with a rational viewpoint say the only way forward is to carry out mass awareness drives among the common people on the causes of the strife. "People must be told that it is the failure of the capitalist economic model that has culminated in what happened," said Sunita Tyagi.

Dr Sunil Sethi, whose hospital had been targeted, said: "The arsonists came in SUVs. They were well-dressed and went to target apparel showrooms and mobile shops. Are these the people who need reservations?"

There are some like Dr Sangwan who believes that the people must be made aware of the concept of reservation, and why it was introduced.

More in Catch - Jat stir: Haryana back to normal. It's politics as usual for BJP, Cong & INLD

Jat agitation intensifies: Delhi's water supply cut, highways blocked

First published: 17 March 2016, 8:53 IST