On March 18, senior leaders of the Jat community met a Haryana delegation led by chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar in Chandigarh on reservations for Jats in state government jobs and institutes of higher education. Intense debates were going on at Jat Bhavan in Rohtak’s Sector-1, 65 kilometres north-west of Delhi, headquarters of the Jat agitation. The meeting was headed by Jat elders, and the terms of the negotiations was being argued. The meeting started early and young men from schools and colleges around the city started congregating at the Bhavan. The elders sat outside the building under a pandal with their hookahs.

Tham buddheyan ki samajh mein yo ni aave hai ak sarkaar ke khel khelan lag ri hai mhaare saath. Yaahde baith ke batein kareya karo bas idhar udhar ki  (You old men don’t understand the games the [state] government is playing with us [Jats]. You just sit here and talk of irrelevant things [in the name of the movement]),” a middle-aged man, one of the few in trousers and a shirt, starts shouting.

The accusations and counter-accusations fly after a white dhoti-kurta clad, hookah-smoking elder asks him not to interfere when the seniors are talking. Others try to defuse the situation; there has been enough violence in the past weeks. The March meeting was a “symbolic protest”, a way of saying that this time there would be no violence; just the threat of it.

Young men from the adjoining districts of Hisar, Sonepat, Bhiwani and Jhajjar are assembling in trickles of two and three. The armed companies of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) are holding tight on entry points to the city, especially along the Delhi-Rohtak road. This assembly of men with short tempers, is a violation of prohibitory orders that have been imposed under Section 144 of the criminal procedure code. But the administration is overlooking this, on assurances from Yashpal Malik, national chief of the All India Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti (AIJASS) and Hawa Singh Sangwan, leader of another Jat faction. They have assured the government that no protest would take place outside Jat Bhavan.

Thus a government regulation was ignored because someone gave their word nothing would happen. The word of a man here carries more weight than the law, a hurt ego is a greater crime than almost anything. That’s Haryana, and the Jats—a community up in arms because it feels wronged and humiliated.

The violence that erupted in February had long been simmering in a cauldron of discontent and hurt pride. It came to a boil when the bjp chose a lifelong RSS karyakarta, Manohar Lal Khattar, a Punjabi in Jat land, as chief minister. He was the first non-Jat cm in 18 years.

It brimmed over when the government kept ignoring their demands, with some ruling party leaders even mocking Jat notions of their own importance. Most of all, the government failed to act even on intelligence reports of trouble. It failed to read the signs right under its nose.

The result: 30 people killed in Jat protests and property worth hundreds of crores destroyed.

On February 18, in Rohtak, two groups of lawyers were on dharnas for different causes—one against the “anti-national” statements in JNU, and the other in support of reservations for Jats. This came after 10 days of protests and roadblocks by Jat protestors. In a different corner of the city, meanwhile, traders and businessmen from Punjabi-speaking and other communities had also decided to march to the office of the district magistrate (DM) demanding restoration of supplies and lifting of the de facto curfew which was hurting business. The court and the DM’s office are barely 100 metres apart and any confrontation could have led to chaos. Yet the police did not make any arrangements to stop the march or the dharna.

Among the people leading the traders’ march was Rohtak MLA and BJP leader Manish Grover, whose supporters held posters calling for unity of the 35 other castes in Haryana against the Jats. Sandeep Singh, a lawyer present at the site, said: “The sloganeering was casteist and against the Jats which angered lawyers from the community.”

Fighting started after supporters of Grover started pelting stones and beating lawyers with lathis when they refused to vacate the road, according to more than one eyewitness account given to Fountain Ink. Grover, however, says he was not at the spot and did not lead any protest that day. He also said it was lawyers who started stone-pelting.

The protest was a sit-in, much like the students sitting outside the gate of Maharshi Dayanand University down the road.  Many lawyers were injured in the stone-pelting and ran to safety. Word soon spread that non-Jats led by Punjabis had beat up Jat protestors. Many students from Pandit N. R. Sharma College and MD University descended on the spot, and started fighting on the arterial roads of Rohtak. Both groups torched bikes across the city.

Jat Protest at Rohtak _23.jpg

Soldiers getting out of their helicopter in Rohtak. The government had to fly in the army as many of the police stations in the town were locked and the administration was unwilling or unable to provide protection. Photo: Manoj Dhaka.  Title Photo: Sumit Tharan.

Outside the university and college, students started throwing stones at policemen around the area. As news of the attack on lawyers spread through social media more men from adjoining villages streamed into the city. Superintendent of Police Sourabh Singh led a team to clear the Rohtak-Jind road but his team was overpowered and retreated to the circuit house under a barrage of stones and lathis. From his residence, which is adjacent to the circuit house , IG Srikanth Jadhav was  trying to contact his seniors for help but received no response. Meanwhile, a separate team led by inspector Amit Dahiya went to NRS College, and emptied out the campus, driving students out of the city.

The police, under fire in the city, took it out on the students, severely injuring several. Since only the Jat men tried to escape— students from other communities stayed indoors—they were at the receiving end. Jat leaders allege that the boys were segregated and beaten up by the team to “teach them a lesson”.  However, this claim is improbable as the police team was already under attack in the city, and had no time to segregate Jat students away from the 500 students in the hostel. By late evening, the message had spread that police were specifically targeting Jat boys from the colleges.

This led to swarms of young men gathering inside Rohtak, blocking the roads and encircling the circuit house. By morning, the name of inspector Amit Dahiya, a Jat, had been confused for Dy. SP Amit Bhatia, a Punjabi. The logic was that a Jat officer would not beat up Jat boys. The names of Bhatia and his deputy Manoj Verma were circulated among Jats as officers who had beaten up Jat students.

On the morning of February 19, Bhatia and Verma faced an ordeal they will not forget soon. They were cornered by young Jat men outside MD University, and a mob was waiting with lathis. The young men also started targeting shops of non-Jats specifically, looting and then setting them on fire. Not a single Jat-run business was hit.

Bhatia and Verma managed to flee to the Agro Mall, about 300 metres away and called for help over the wireless. A BSF unit in the city did nothing since it had not received orders. Some officers of BSF later said they felt ashamed at not being able to do anything even though they witnessed the open loot and arson on the streets.

An INOX theatre at Satyam Mall was burned down, a McDonald’s outlet was gutted along with a high-end gym in the same building, apart from several other shops. Any vehicle they came across was torched, including several trucks, buses, cars and innumerable motorbikes. The men who could not enter the city in time for the loot, targeted industrial units on the outskirts.

Police barely managed to save the Asian Paints factory. A fire there could have led to a massive blast. The next-door factory of Hitech Plast Limited, which supplies plastic buckets to the paint unit, was gutted after the two guards there fled. The fire in the plastic material and the machinery raged for two days, with even the walls melting in the heat generated. C. K. Gupta, the plant manager, has been receiving teams from Mumbai that are assessing the damage caused. “We have suffered a loss of Rs 50 crore since nothing in the factory is left usable. Moreover, it will take at least a year to rebuild and get the factory functional again, which again means a loss of many crores,” he said.

McDonalds has decided not to re-open the outlet in the near future.

The Deputy Commissioner of Rohtak, Dusmanta Kumar Behera, fled to a safe house on the outskirts and did not answer the desperate calls by businessmen who could see plumes emerge from their shops. According to some accounts, he did order a team to the Agro Mall to rescue Bhatia and Verma. IG Srikanth Jadhav too ordered a special team to Agro Mall to rescue the two officers. The team was able to extract the officers to safety.

Meanwhile, SP Sourabh Singh and his men were trapped at circuit house but were trying to move into the next-door residence of IG Jadhav. They eventually managed to get out using ladders.  A mob had started making attempts to break the gate at the IG’s residence. Jadhav had fired in the air to disperse the men.

Whether he killed some men is unclear; but local television channels started showing that some men had been killed in the firing. This was amplified over social media platforms. State machinery was in disarray and only rumours seeped out of the city.

Protest at Rohtak_10.jpg

A riot-scarred building in Rohtak’s commercial district. The lone security force person in riot gear seems to emphasise the lack of response from the government.   PHOTO: Manoj Dhaka.

By mid-afternoon on February 19, after rumours of deaths at the IG’s residence, Jat men started entering the city armed with pistols, gandasas (long sticks with sickles on top) and lathis. An RTI filed by a local journalist last year says Rohtak has three times more licensed gun holders than the police. The crowd and the police exchanged heavy fire outside the IG’s residence. A section of the mob set Agro Mall on fire. Another group of armed Jats stormed the circuit house which had been vacated by then. They torched everything they found in the premises; all that is left of it now is the brick-and-mortar skeleton. 

A separate group entered the house of Haryana finance minister Captain Abhimanyu and burnt his house along with four other houses. These belonged to his brothers and family members. Police sources say the family of the first-time MLA was rescued by neighbours barely minutes before the houses were set on fire.

When Rohtak was caught in this lawless frenzy, the police were invisible. Fountain Ink has ascertained, from multiple interviews with businessmen and residents, that six of the eight police stations around Rohtak city were locked and policemen missing from action on February 19. Eyewitnesses, especially members of the business community, say they rushed from one police station to the other only to find each locked. All six Station House Officers have either been suspended or transferred.

Deepak Tuteja, a local businessman, said, “One of the officers was seen running off on his motorbike by some young men even as Jats were setting shops and cars in the city on fire. We were left to our own fate.”

Rohtak, known earlier as Rohtasgarh is among the oldest cities settled by Jats, and was the epicentre of the protests. Jat Bhavan here is a symbol of Jat pride and its history of rule in the region. Built about three years ago with funds from the Jat Sabha Rohtak, its architecture is modeled on the palace and haveli built by Jat ruler Suraj Mal in Bharatpur and Deeg in Rajasthan. The canopy designs are based on Mansara Shilpa Shastra, the ancient treatise on design and architecture. On March 18, ITBP has deployed armed men, including some with Light Machine Guns on the outskirts whereas the Rapid Action Force (RAF) companies guard gates of the Maharshi Dayanand University and other colleges and their empty hostels. A caravan of riot-control vehicles and buses full of RAF and reserve police patrols the city every 20-30 minutes.

In the city’s interior, the Baniyas and the Punjabi-speaking people who settled here after Partition are prepared to handle any attack in case there is no breakthrough in the Chandigarh talks and the Jats become violent again.

Manish Grover, the local MLA, has made special arrangements for protection of their properties and has also got prompt help from the administration. While residential areas were not attacked earlier, shops and businesses were specifically targeted. This was done, Jat leaders say, to send a message to chief minister  Khattar, who is a Punjabi and seen as the biggest villain by the Jats.

As the meeting stretches into a post-lunch session, apprehensions over the government’s intentions rise. Security force patrols get more intense and businesses start closing. There is violence in the air. Close to 200 Jat representatives are in Chandigarh and some made calls telling the leaders on the ground that the government is refusing to relent.

Some youngsters at Jat Bhavan start urging the others to protest on the streets, so that television channels can beam live pictures to Chandigarh and put pressure on the government. Harbans Rangi, in his early forties, calms them down with difficulty. He wants to steer away the discussion from an emotional topic: the deaths of the at least 30 men during the pro-reservation agitations since February.

“The more they discuss it and more and more stories of sufferings of the families and the high-handedness of the police are repeated, the [more] aggressive they will get,” he says, adding, “Hot-blooded as they are, just like people my age now were in our time.”

Rangi’s time to be hot–headed had come in 1989, when prime minister V. P. Singh accepted the report of the Mandal Commission which advocated reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The criteria were social and economic backwardness of caste and communities who were not covered under the reservations granted to the Scheduled Castes. It sought to pass the benefits of reservation to intermediate castes, forever changing the country’s political demographic.

Jats were not included in the list of OBCs. Then, Rangi and the Jat leadership rejected the report and opposed its implementation. The opposition was against fragmenting rural societies since the relative backwardness of castes differed from region to region.

“Our leaders then, and even the youth were ideologically opposed to the concept of reservations. We did not see ourselves as less than anyone in our capabilities, educational and social, especially since we were a ruling warrior community till a few decades back,” Rangi says.

Local journalist Virendra Phogat says, “It had become a matter of caste pride— how could we be counted as backward along with SCs and STs? But 25 years since, the community has realised that reservations could have benefited them immensely. And with growing unemployment among youth now, there is no option but to secure reservations for the young and for coming generations. Otherwise the youth from the community will go astray. Resentment among them is already very strong.”

While other castes like the Ahirs (mainly Yadavs), Sainis, Gujjars, Lohars, Sunars, Khatis and Kambojs were included in the list of OBCs of Haryana, the Jats were not in either the central or the state list. Today, the argument from the more educated sections of the community is that reservations should be extended to Jats too since all other farming communities have it.

“Historically, if you read the Bhavishya Puran and the Padam Puran Jats have been referred to as Malechh. Al-Baruni’s accounts of India mention Jats as Sudras,” says Hawa Singh Sangwan, chief of the Akhil Bhartiya Jat Mahasabha.

In 1990, then chief minister Hukam Singh constituted the Gurnam Singh Commission to ascertain the list of castes to be included as OBCs. It recommended Ahir, Gujjar, Jat, Jat Sikh, Bishnoi, Saini, Rohr, Rajput and Tyagi castes. Om Prakash Chautala, as chief minister, implemented the commission’s recommendations the following year and reservations were extended to all these communities.

In 1994, however, chief minister Bhajan Lal from the Bishnoi caste had the names of six communities removed, including Jats and Jat Sikhs. It was a political move to consolidate the non-Jat vote bank, though the government did not give any explanation for the sudden change in policy. Another commission under former MP Ramji Lal recommended in its 1995 report that the community be included in the OBC list, but the government did not budge.

As resentment in the community grew and reservations could not be brought in again, the next CM, Bansi Lal, in 1996 began an era of 18 years under Jat CMs. It was also the beginning of 10 years of widespread corruption and loot of government resources, taken to its zenith in the six-year reign of Chautala, starting 1999. He is now in jail after being convicted of multiple corruption charges.

In this period, though the Jats did not make significant progress educationally, they cornered a sizeable portion of class II and III government jobs, largely because they were favoured by the power circles and could sell some land to pay bribes.

Recent studies by some private organisations and RTI replies have established that in districts with Jat MLAs or MPs, they formed a sizeable workforce in the government—in many cases 60 per cent of all employees. RTIs by Karnal-based NGO Janhit Social Welfare Society showed that by 2012 in Rohtak, Faridabad, and Mahendergarh districts, Jats comprised 61, 34 and 29 per cent of the local police respectively—a remarkably high percentage considering they comprise only 29 per cent of the state’s population. Jats are especially few in Mahendergarh, around 15 per cent, while the Yadavs are in overwhelming majority.

The joy ride ended in 2005 with the Congress coming to power. Bhupinder Singh Hooda, a Jat, was the CM. Community leaders went into a huddle. As the clampdown on corruption began, jobs started drying up, and the Jats realised that with no security through reservations, they would see large-scale unemployment.

This period also coincided with a fall in farm incomes—the mainstay of Jats. The other sector where they look for employment is the armed forces. There too, the numbers that can be inducted are limited.

Tikam Singh, one of the hookah-smoking septuagenarians outside Jat Bhavan, says, “They (politicians) keep saying we are a land-owning community but it is limited and over generations there have been 30-50 divisions of the same land portions since independence.”

Government figures show that in 2001 around 67 per cent of farmers in Haryana owned less than five acres, which has now fragmented further. Latest government figures based on a survey in 2012 show that 87 per cent of Jats in the state are farmers while the rest work in animal husbandry, as traders, and in other professions. This means the community has consistently become more and more dependent on dwindling farm land, even as its population keeps increasing.

Hawa Singh Sangwan, the Jat leader from Bhiwani, claims that 70 per cent of Jats in Haryana own less than five acres. According to the National Sample Survey the average holding of a farmer in India fell around 60 per cent: from 2.63 acres in 1960-61 to 1.06 acres in 2003-2004. In Haryana this transformation has been slower but its effects have begun manifesting themselves in diminishing farm incomes. Moreover, any fluctuation in monsoons and rains puts stress on farmers in the state. The last four years, especially 2014 and 2015, have seen bad monsoons and the distress has multiplied manifold.

“If one member of a family or extended family has a secure job, even if it is a grade II or III job, it helps save for bad years. The families that secured good jobs for their children have moved off the land since it is too labour-intensive and does not assure a good return at the end of the year,” says Phogat.

Satbeer Sarwari, a senior journalist who worked with a leading English daily for 12 years before starting his own newspaper from Rohtak four years ago, says the rise in economic prosperity among Jats in the National Capital Region (NCR) has also led to a rise in material ambitions and expectations among youth.

“Some or other relative has suddenly got a real estate business after selling their land in Gurgaon and Sonepat districts. They drive big cars, wear expensive clothes and carry savvy gadgets. Any young boy or girl growing up in the village would want a shot at such a lifestyle.”

Adds Phogat, “Baat yeh hai ki aaj ka naujawaan pajama pehen ke khet ki mitti mein haath-pair gande nahi karna chahta (Today’s youngster does not want to dirty his hands, feet and clothes working in the fields).”

Over the past decade, the issue of Jat alienation, and government indifference to the community had started dominating discussions in khap panchyats across the state. Their grievance intensified after a third commission in 2001 recommended that Jats be included in the OBC list and the government turned it down. Several small protests were held by various khap panchayats over the years and they remained largely peaceful. Frustration over the issue grew every year and the panchayats’ umbrella organisation, the Sarvjaat Khap Samiti became vocal about it. Pronouncements of the Sarvjaat Khap, outrageous or otherwise, are law for the Jats. It is the organisation the police and state administration dread, since displeasing or annoying its leaders can result in Jats crippling the state machinery in a matter of hours.

A senior officer of the Haryana Police, himself a Jat, said, “The Jats are a mix of various warrior sub-clans that are self-sustaining communities. But they will unite and rise like an army when the Sarvjaat Khap calls for protests or agitations. That’s how strong the caste allegiance or ‘brotherhood’ is among the Jats.”

Every sub-caste of Jats has its own khap which identifies itself with a bigger umbrella organisation. There are three main organisations fighting for reservations—Samasth Jat Samaj Sangathan led by Raghuvir Nain, Akhil Bhartiya Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti led by Hawa Singh Sangwan based in Bhiwani and state agriculture minister Om Prakash Dhankar, and the most influential of them, the All-India Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti led by Yashpal Malik.

Malik was the leader of the delegation that met the government on March 18.

Leaders from all factions spoke in the Sarvjaat Khap Samiti and detailed discussions were held with community leaders from other states. It culminated in a declaration by the All India Jat Mahasabha at its 2008 convention in Jind, demanding reservations in the state as well as central list of OBCs.

The AIJASS then launched a massive protest in September 2010 under Hawa Singh Sangwan in Mayyar village of Hisar by blocking rail traffic. One person was killed in firing during clashes. After assurances from the Hooda-led Congress government, the agitation was deferred. But it was launched again at the same village next year and protestors uprooted rail tracks.

After this the government ordered the Haryana Backward Classes Commission (HBCC) to prepare a report on reservations for the five communities left out: Jats, Jat Sikhs, Rors, Tyagis and Bishnois. The commission submitted its report in 2011, and the government sat on it until it was forced to approve it “in principle” in December 2012, days before the Sarvjaat Khap Aarakshan Samiti was to launch a state-wide “road block”.

Jat Protest at Rohtak _10.jpg

Jat protesters in full voice during a march in Rohtak. A combination of rumour, pent up resentment and lax government led to some of the worst rioting in decades. 
PHOTO: Manoj Dhaka.

The HBCC recommended reservation of 10 per cent for the five communities including the Jats, under the special backward classes. It also recommended an additional 10 per cent for the economically backward categories, which meant Below Poverty Line (BPL) families from the general category castes. While this declaration did result in the protests being called off, it presented a seemingly impossible legal challenge. The state already had reservations of 20 per cent for SCs and STs, and 27 per cent for OBCs. It had room for three per cent more, in keeping with the Supreme Court ruling that caps reservations at 50 per cent. The Sarvjaat Khap Samiti demanded reservations within the 27 per cent quota for the OBC. This, they said, would make it legally tenable, rather than an attempt to go beyond the quota cap.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, eyeing Jat votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, approved the inclusion of Jats in the central list of OBCs during its last cabinet meeting in March 2014. This decision was taken in haste as the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) was yet to submit a report. The NCBC, on its part, outsourced the survey of the socio-economic condition of Jats in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat to the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR).

The survey’s findings have been questioned by Jat leaders. Legal experts that Fountain Ink spoke to said that the survey took a small sample size of the community, which included the district of Bharatpur in Rajasthan. Jats were the ruling community in Bharatpur, till a few decades back and are better off compared to the other regions. The NCBC, based on the ICSSR survey, recommended that Jats should not be included in the OBC list, but the UPA government had gone ahead with the decision in any case.

This was challenged in the Supreme Court in Ram Singh and Others vs Union of India and heard by a bench of Rohinton Nariman and Ranjan Gogoi. When the recommendations of the Mandal commission were sought to be implemented, the National Backward Classes Commission (NBCC) was created by Parliament following direction of the Supreme Court.  The commission evolved social, educational and economic criteria for inclusion in the OBC list.  The ICSSR based its report to the NBCC on both a 2 percent sample size survey it conducted and a review of the existing literature on the condition of various castes in the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. The literature ICSSR relied on was mainly the reports of the State Backward Classes Commissions which the state governments, excepting Gujarat, relied on to include Jats in their respective OBC lists.

Much of the data from State Backward Classes Commissions showed that the Jats in several states were lagging behind OBC castes like Gujjars and Ahirs in social, educational, employment and economic grounds. In some states they were even behind the Kurumis, on certain parameters. But the SC ruled that even if this data were correct, relative backwardness to other OBC castes, was not sufficient; the Jats had to independently meet the criteria for backwardness laid down by the NBCC under the National Commission for Backward Classes Act (1993). The court also said that the data was not applicable because it was not contemporary ie much of it came from studies conducted in the Nineties and a few in the early Nineties.  There are also doubts about the reliability of the methods employed.

On March 7, 2015, the Court delivered its judgement: “The perception of a self-proclaimed socially backward class of citizens or even the perception of the “advanced classes” (sic) as to the social status of the “less fortunates” (sic) cannot continue to be a constitutionally permissible yardstick for determination of backwardness, both in the context of Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution. Neither can any longer backwardness be a matter of determination on the basis of mathematical formulae evolved by taking into account social, economic and educational indicators. Determination of backwardness must also cease to be relative; possible wrong inclusions cannot be the basis for further inclusions but the gates would be opened only to permit entry of the most distressed. Any other inclusion would be a serious abdication of the constitutional duty of the State. Judged by the aforesaid standards we must hold that inclusion of the politically organized classes (such as Jats) in the list of backward classes mainly, if not solely, on the basis that on same parameters other groups who have fared better have been so included cannot be affirmed.”

This means that the Jats cannot be allowed reservations through the relative process of inclusion by comparison to the castes already in the list because they missed the bus earlier.

Haryana got a non-Jat chief minister in Manohar Lal Khattar in October 2014. The BJP had promised reservations for Jats in its manifesto and during its campaign rallies, on which it has gone back. Khattar declared in Rohtak during the protests last month that Jats would not be on the list of OBCs that have 27 per cent reservation. “That list will not be disturbed,” he said, instead talking of a Special Backward Class status for the community based on their economic status, which Jat leaders have rejected.

Khattar is seen as an outsider in the Haryana BJP but was propelled to the post of CM owing to his background as a RSS karyakarta. While the party won comfortably, it managed only four of the 14 seats in Jat-dominated Sonepat, Hisar and Rohtak district, which includes the towns of Jhajjar and Jind. While some Jats did vote for the BJP owing largely to the Modi wave six months earlier, most still voted for a Jat leader in Bhupinder Singh Hooda of the Congress. Among the victorious MLAs for BJP was a newcomer, Captain Abhimanyu, a Jat leader.

The state voted for the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls, and Raj Kumar Saini, MP for Kurukshetra, emerged as one of the state’s top leaders.

Saini has become the face of the BJP’s opposition to Jat reservations. In various speeches since the SC verdict last year, he has insisted that Jats do not deserve to be in the OBC list. He has threatened to quit the party along with MLAs supporting him if the government accepts their demand.

Jaton ke lath-maar tareekon se koi nahi darne wala ab (Jats’ threats of show of numbers to arm-twist the governments in the past is not going to scare us anymore),” he has insisted time and again. “They crippled the state in 1990s agitating against reservations and are now threatening to disrupt peace and harmony for reservations,” he said.

One of his more controversial statements was: “Jaton ka raaj bahut chal liya, ab unhe CM ki spelling tak bhulva denge (Jats have ruled enough (in the state), now we will make them forget how to even spell ‘chief minister’).

Expectedly, the response from Jat leaders was violent, brazenly casteist and expletive laden. In khaps across the states Saini was abused openly and referred to as a “maali” (gardener), because of their status in the caste system. His stance on the issue and defiance of Khattar’s leadership hardened over the past year and he has now become one of the most hated politicians Haryana, within the BJP and outside. One of his most divisive statements was the reference to Jats as the reason for slow development in the state. Referring to the various non-Jat castes in the state in a metaphorical way, he said, “There are 36 castes in the state; if all the others unite we can take care of Jats.”

Saini says that it was one of the Jat leaders who coined the term, alleging, “They are the ones who started saying Jats are equal to all the other 35 castes (non-Jat castes). Such shameful statements have become common for them.”

There is no evidence that someone else coined the phrase, while Saini’s videos are all over YouTube and have been shared on social media. Almost every young Jat has watched them.

The state Congress was caught in the crossfire as its voter bases lie in all communities. Tacitly, however, its leaders like Professor Virender kept egging on protestors to fight for the cause. In a leaked audio tape, Virender is heard asking a party worker to stir up protests in Sirsa district, based on which the state government ordered his arrest after the protests spread. Bhupinder Singh Hooda too was heckled outside his residence in Rohtak by traders and businessmen urging him to put a leash on Jat protestors.

The administration in Rohtak, where the violence first started, paid no heed to police intelligence in the first week of February. The intelligence said resentment and communal sentiment among Jats had strengthened and could result in violent clashes. On February 9, Khattar who was informed about the intelligence inputs and had dismissed them as routine, decided to hold a meeting with Jat leaders including Sangwan. He announced that the government will set up a high level four-member committee to examine the reservation issue and that it will submit its report by March 31. While Sangwan called off the protests, the AIJASS led by Yashpal Malik did not. But Khattar was confident that now that Sangwan had relented, the rest will fall in line. He miscalculated badly.

The AIJASS blocked rail traffic in Mayyar village in Hisar on February 12. The police were ordered not to fire, to avoid a repeat of 2012, when a Jat youth was killed in the violence. On February 14, on the outskirts of Rohtak, protestors blocked the Rohtak-Delhi Road at Sampla village. The police did not intervene and diverted traffic to other routes. The IG of Rohtak range, Srikanth Jadhav had on February 15 informed senior officials that the situation could get uncontrollable. He had asked for more force but his request was denied.

Agriculture Minister O. P Dhankar also rushed to Sampla village and urged Malik to withdraw his men but discussions failed and supplies to the district started dwindling by the day. The protests spread to Jhajjar and Jind towns in Rohtak and Sonepat districts and agitators started blocking other highways across the state, including the Delhi-Chandigarh highway at Murthal in Sonepat. The government then decided to call in three companies of the BSF. FIRs against protestors blocking various highways were also registered and preparations for arrests were made, when on February 18 the clashes turned communal.

As Rohtak was spinning out of control on February 19, things came to a head in adjoining Jhajjar as well. Young men were congregating in small numbers, and a larger number was assembling in villages outside the town. They too had received messages of attacks on Jats in Rohtak, by Punjabis and other non-Jats on Jats. Jhajjar SP Sumit Khoar, however, had set up check points across the city to keep peace. By the afternoon, he received an urgent message from Rohtak IG Srikanth Jadhav for back-up, Jhadav’s house was under attack and his men had fled the town.

Khoar reached Rohtak to help Jadhav and his team with around 200 men. He managed to disperse the crowd outside the IG’s residence and bring some calm to the town. However, in his and the team’s absence, young Jat men in Jhajjar spilled on to the streets and started gathering in large numbers at the Bagh Juara stadium. Later, the mob assembled around Bhagat Singh Chowk at the centre of the town. Even as the mob started to spill into the main market, SP Khoar reached the spot and his team fired at protestors who were pelting stones. Three men including a Brahmin died in firing by police. Some policemen were also injured. By mid-afternoon the crowd dispersed and a group of 50-70 men gathered at the Jat Dharamshala, where the bodies were kept.

In Rohtak, a BSF company had reached the circuit house by evening. A soldier was injured in firing, after which the BSF opened fire, injuring many people. The state machinery in Chandigarh too had finally woken up and Khattar called the Centre for help. Since the roads were blocked, the army was to be flown in to various cities and towns in 18 helicopters. Jadhav reportedly had a breakdown as he feared he would be attacked because he is a Dalit. He was shifted out of the state the next morning. Senior IAS officer A. K. Singh, and IPS officer B. S. Sandhu were made liaison officers for the army in Rohtak district. It took two days for the government to get a grip on the situation. By then, almost all of Jhajjar and Rohtak districts had been looted.

The Sikh Regiment was landed in Rohtak and brought the situation under control in most parts of the city by February 20. In Jhajjar, the February of 19 and the morning of February 20 saw greater tensions between Jats and non-Jats. In the evening, some Brahmins and other locals went to the Jat Dharamshala to claim the body of the Brahmin boy killed in the firing. They were turned away.

This angered some men who decided to fetch the body the next morning. When they turned up outside the dharamshala the next morning, at least six Jat men, fearing an attack, fled the spot. The others got into a scuffle with the visitors. Soon more Brahmins gathered, outnumbering the Jats, who ran from the dharamshala by jumping over its walls. The men who recovered the body of the Brahmin set the dharamshala on fire. Rumour that non-Jats had burned 15-17 men alive at the dharamshala spread like wildfire. Building on the anti-Punjabi sentiment, a huge mob gathered in Jhajjar the next morning even as the district police was preparing to hand over the reins to the Gorkha regiment called in to guard the city.

The Gorkha soldiers had orders not to fire, unless absolutely necessary, which meant they stood and watched the looting in the city. Chawla Electronics, the biggest in town, was stripped of every item and set ablaze by the mob. The owner has left the city and does not plan to return in the near future.

 The Gorkha soldiers had orders not to fire, unless absolutely necessary, which meant they stood and watched the looting in the city. Chawla Electronics, the biggest in town, was stripped of every item and set ablaze by the mob. The owner has left the city and does not plan to return in the near future.

In the crowd were also Jat shopkeepers who set their own shops ablaze in a bid to get insurance as well as compensation from the government. One of them, R.K Singh, a cloth merchant was not lucky enough. He packed all the clothes and transported them home in an auto rickshaw and then set his shop ablaze. To his misfortune, the CCTV camera in the shop survived the fire and was recovered by the police. The magistrate hearing his compensation claim fined him Rs 9 lakh and he has been sent to jail.

A gang of 30-35 people attacked the State Bank of Patiala branch on the afternoon of February 21. Two guards were on duty on the day but only one of them—Hawa Singh Yadav—turned up and secured the area that housed the lockers. He first fired in the air in warning.

In his home, in Kheri Khumar village, three kilometres from the town, Yadav recalls, “One of the men shouted that I shouldn’t risk my life just to save the bank since they too had guns, to which I said that I had enough bullets for everyone. Another man said there were 25 of them, to which I said then I have 25 bullets.”

Two men barged in and Yadav fired, killing them. The other men threw crude petrol bombs and tried to blow the shutter open, triggering a fire inside. But the bank was not breached. As in Rohtak, no government official was present. The police and district magistrate were reportedly lodged in an open-air arrangement at a banquet hall on the outskirts of the city.

Yadav has not joined work since that day, fearing that someone from the families of the two people he killed will seek revenge.

The brunt of the attack by the Jat mob, however, was borne by the Sainis in the Chhanvni (cantonment) area. There are almost 400 Saini families in the mohalla,  and men shouting Khattar-Saini murdabad, in a reference to Khattar and MP Raj Kumar Saini, stormed the place and attacked people. The first was Krishan, a farmer who ran a flour mill. He was in his shop when the mob stormed it. He was dragged out and axed to death. His body was found with the head split, stomach torn open and intestines splattered on the street.

People of the mohalla ran for their lives while some men who tried to resist were grievously injured. Mainpal Singh Chauhan managed to bolt the door of his house, inside which his parents, wife and three children were holding their breaths. He rushed them to the top floor where the family stores  fodder. “As the mob burnt our car, tractor and my motorbike, we sneaked into the room and hid under the fodder. Thankfully they spared the house, or we might also have died in the fire,” he recalls, sitting outside the house, where the remains of the tractor still lie. He can’t sell the tractor yet since compensation will be approved only after some officials inspect the site and ascertain the “actual reason” for its destruction. Nobody has visited except the local MLA and ex-education minister Geeta Bhukal, who has given nothing but assurances that the perpetrators will be brought to book. “For the loss of Rs 60 lakh, I have received just Rs 2 lakh till now. I am hoping the quota issue is resolved once and for all and we can live in peace.”

But for the army, the Jat mobs could have killed many more people. Even as mayhem continued till February 24, government officials did not visit any of the cities, towns or villages swept by violence. Instead, the bureaucracy and top leaders were busy investigating claims by news channels and the owner of a famous dhaba-cum-restaurant in Sonepat, that Jat men had dragged women out of cars and gang-raped them. None of these allegations proved true.

Rajshree Singh, in charge of the investigations into the allegations of rape of women, said, “No evidence in this regard was found. The case where a woman alleged rape turned out to be a case of harassment by unruly men who wanted them to vacate their car so that they could torch it.” The final report of the police concluded that there was no truth in allegations of rape by Jat protestors. By then seven men had been booked under sections that amount to rape, which Jat leaders have now demanded be taken back.

Yashpal Malik, chief of the AIJASS, said, “Police have failed to explain the deaths of such a high number of people and instead filed false cases in haste to save face. The government should focus on the real problems in the state.” On the killings by Jat men in Saini mohalla in Jhajjar, Malik says, “Let the government investigate and prove the charges. We know many have broken the law and those who have indulged in killings must be brought to book. But it should not be specific to one community, which is already falling behind on all parameters.”

At Jat Bhavan in Rohtak, meanwhile, Harbans Rangi pacified the youngsters with much difficulty, selling the idea of a ‘final bill’ by the Khattar government by March 31. “What else do I tell them? We know the government has managed to deflect the introduction of the bill or amendment—whichever it decides on – to the next session of the Assembly. But these men need some hope. Many are taunted by contemporaries from other communities on the reservations bill.”

Rangi runs an institute where he teaches mathematics to students of classes 9-12 and he says that while Jat boys are not less able than children in the general category, they do require special attention. “These are village boys who spend half the day working in the fields. How can one expect them to compete with students who dedicate much more quality time to their studies? Sports have given them some outlets; reservations will further help them embrace the mainstream rather than stay on the fringes and be misunderstood and misjudged most of the time.”

The divide among students of various communities has widened and the venom of caste politics has found footholds in many unexpected corners. Some of his students, mainly from the Punjabi community, have discontinued their tuitions. “Every child from a non-Jat community who secures a quota seat after studying under me comes to me in private to share the news or simply does not bother to inform me at all. The division was done many years back. It is time to rectify it or a whole generation of Jats will become rebellious in its outlook.”

(The cover story of the April 2016 edition of Fountain Ink.)