All out caste-war in the name of reservation

Charred Only shops owned by Jats survived the violence in this Jhajjar market. Photo : Vijay Pandey


The silent lanes of Jhajjar’s non-Jat colonies, the charred houses in Chavanni Mohalla and the wreckages of motor bikes, trucks tractors and life resemble a scene from a war movie. While reports of the gang rapes in Murthal are yet to be confirmed, different versions are surfacing on social media and news dailies. Pressure is building on the investigating team to come up with something concrete.

A rampaging mob of over 3,000 Jat protestors hit Jhajjar on 20-21 February and burnt down several houses and looted several stores. Most of the looted and destroyed property belongs to non Jat castes — Saini, Punjabi, even Bramhin. Rohtak, the epicentre of the reservation stir too, has the same story to tell. On the ground, people speak of large scale violence of an extremely caste based nature. This is not merely an agitation for reservation. Have the Jats of Haryana waged a caste-war?

Initial reporting on the Jat agitation gave the picture of a spontaneous burst of violence with a sense of aimlessness. But, upon a closer look, this random burst also has a pattern to it. One of the only shops not ransacked in Chavanni is ‘Hooda Store’ — Hooda is a Jat surname. Nearby, three stores are lined up after one another. They belong to a Punjabi, a Jat and a Saini respectively. The First and third one, an electronic showroom and a shoe store, have been reduced to ashes. However, the store in the middle — Haryana Book Store — has been left untouched by the mob as the owner is Jat.

The state mechanism was hijacked by our own ministers belonging to the community under question,” says Rajkumar Saini, BJP  MP from Kurukshetra (see interview). “The CM was advised to remain silent else a civil war like situation would have developed in the state.” Raj Kumar had openly expressed his disapproval regarding the way the Jat community was agitating for reservation. He says that because of his position, the Saini community in Haryana has been made victim in the entire theatre of violence. The Sainis belong to the OBC category, a status which the Jats are also fighting for. Apart from this, houses and shops belonging to Punjabis were also torched. This is said to be a direct attack to tarnish the image of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who is also a Punjabi.

What happened in Chawani will take years to heal. As an elderly man from the locality guides us through the ruined lanes, we meet 14-year-old Devender Saini. He lost his left eye to one of the pellets fired by the Jat mob. The doctors at the PGI Rohtak Hospital have said that it seems unlikely that his vision can be restored. “Tenth mei padhta tha, aaj se chod di (I used to study in class 10, but from today I have left my studies),” says Devender, who would have been giving his board exams in a few days had things not taken a violent turn in Haryana. His father, Prem Singh, unfolds his arms to show us scars. “Me and around 50- 60 elderly people folded hands in front of a mob no less than 3,000 requesting them to stop. Despite that they began firing. My hand was pierced by several pellets.”

By the time the rampage in Chawani stopped, three families had lost their dear ones and over fifty were injured in the firing. The mob broke into houses, threw Molotov cocktails. People ran for their lives, seeking refuge wherever they could. Those who failed to do so were either injured or killed.

Devender, an 18-year-old boy, struggles to speak as he recounts the horror. Pointing to the bandage around his neck his mother says, “They were about to kill him. I begged for his life, pleaded that he is my only son. But before sparing him they threw some powder on his neck and body.” Several other victims like him don’t know anything about this powder other than the unbearable burning and pain it causes even now.