Today the country faces a new challenge: even the traditionally well-off farming communities are demanding reservations in government jobs. Their demand is an offshoot of deepening agrarian crisis that if ignored can snowball into an explosive situation
Reportage: Through the fields of Haryana
The Jats are a formidable community in Haryana. The expanse of their green crops extending as far as the eye can see reinforces their formidability and prosperity. It seems to be a comfortable life for the dominant caste of Haryana that steered the country’s Green Revolution. The reality, however, is different and not too difficult to figure out. A normal conversation with any member of the Jat community in the state is sufficient to highlight how the once prosperous landed community is today struggling to keep afloat.
Jat farmer Manoj Dabbas, a resident of Haryana’s M P Majra village, shows a fresh bullet wound on his waist and says, “The police can kill us if they want to, but we will not stop protesting till the time we get reservation in government jobs.” Dabbas claims he got the bullet wound on February 21, when his community was protesting for reservation. The Jat community in the village, which was the epicentre of the February protests, says that while Dabbas was lucky to be alive, another resident, Krishna Singh, was killed by a bullet allegedly fired by the police that pierced through his temple.
In fact, the village in Jhajjar district, where over 70 per cent population is Jat, is still guarded by the paramilitary forces that were rushed to the state after the protests broke out in February.
During the state-wide protests, the community blocked the national highways, destroyed public property and even disrupted the water canal that feeds Delhi, precipitating a political crisis for the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) government in Haryana and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre. The protests that claimed more than 30 lives emanated from a long-standing demand of Jats to get a backward class status.
The demand was first floated in 2009 by Adarsh Jat Mahasabha, a social organisation, and there have been regular demands for the Jat reservation in government jobs ever since. In 2013, a year before the national elections, the United Progressive Alliance government approved the inclusion of Jats in the Central Other Backward Classes (OBC) list for nine states in north India, despite the National Commission for Backward Classes recommending against it.
A year later, in March 2014, the Supreme Court struck down the decision, stating that the commission’s advice was binding and the government had no valid reason to go against it.
Residents of M P Majra village are still mourning the death of Krishna Singh. They are also hopeful that the February protests will be enough to pursuade the state government to include them in the OBC category. The conversations also highlight their belief that only reservations in government jobs can save them.
Twenty-five-year-old Majra resident Vinay Singh explains the reason for his frustration. He says despite having a Masters degree in computer application, he is unable to find a job.
“I have spent a considerable time in Gurgaon hunting for jobs. In the end, I realised that even though I am qualified, private companies will not hire me because of their biases against people from rural areas. This is the reason we are demanding reservation in government jobs,” says he.
So what made this prosperous agrarian community so desperate for jobs? “It is because we have very little land left today,” says Vinay. He explains that most people in the district sold their farmland to industries who promised jobs to the people in return—a promise that was never fulfilled.
“In 2005, more than 10,100 hectares (ha) of farmland was acquired under Reliance special economic zone (SEZ) with the promise of jobs to every family of the region. The project reduced our landholdings considerably, and not a single company has started work in the SEZ till now,” says Rajneesh, a software engineer and younger brother of Krishna Singh.
The SEZ paid Rs 22 lakh per acre (0.4ha) to the farmers but the project never came up. Recently, the company returned the land it took from the government, but reportedly made a fortune by leasing out the land they directly bought from the village farmers to another company. Residents say that on the one hand, private companies are making money on land acquired from the community, and on the other hand their youths are not getting jobs. Yogveer Singh, a 65-year-old farmer, says his son, like Vinay, is looking for a job after acquiring an engineering degree. The farmer has already sold a substantial part of his land to a private company to fund his son’s education. “My two sons were employed as watchmen in a company that closed down because of non-compliance with pollution control norms. Since then they have been looking for jobs. They are okay with both farming and working in the city. But farming is no more viable because we have little land left and the input cost has shot up substantially. Nobody is willing to employ them,” says Yogveer. He adds that even for getting subsidies for fertilisers, they have to stand in the queue for days, while the private companies make profits by leasing out land that was originally theirs. The situation has become so desperate that the region witnessed riots over access to fertilisers last year. Yogveer, as a result, justifies the Jat’s demand for reservation in government jobs.
Residents of Baghpur, another Jat-dominated village in Jhajjar district, give one more reason for the demand—eligible bachelors in the village are not getting brides because of their economic condition. “I want to get married,” says 27-year-old Baghpur resident Ashish Dhatka. “But that will happen only when I have a job to supplement the earnings from our marginal farm.” The village has a long list of such people and all of them are small farmers. “Many of us remained unmarried because there were fewer women due to female foeticide,” says 42-year-old Karamveer Singh. “But the new generation will remain unmarried because we do not have enough farmland or jobs,” he adds.
High input costs of crops and weather fluctuations in recent years have crippled the agrarian community in Haryana. “In an ideal situation, we can earn a profit of Rs 30,000 from each hectare of wheat crop. But our farm productivity takes a hit every year either because of unseasonal weather, pest attacks or because of delays in crop procurement by the government.”
“In the past 10 years, we have lost the capital we had. In fact, most of us have debt that we cannot repay,” says Arun Kadyan, another Jat farmer from Baghpur. According to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), Haryana has the country’s lowest spending on productive assets in agricultural households. This is because households earn more from non-farm sources than from farming.
People in Baghpur highlight yet another reason for the failure of farming in the region. While the water table in the village has increased substantially in the recent past, it is largely saline water. “Sonipat, Jhajjar, Rohtak and all the other Jat-dominated districts where protests took place have the salinity problem,” says Arun.
In such a situation, livestock has provided food security to marginal and small farmers in the region. Each household has more than one cattle. “I had 1.4 ha of land, out of which 0.8 ha cannot be used because of high salinity. This has increased dependency on the two buffaloes I have. I now sell 16 kg of milk to sustain my family,” says 55-year-old Bijendra Singh. Selling milk is normally frowned upon in the region, but the difficult times have forced many to do so. “We believe it is not honourable to milk our cattle for money. But we are desperate,” he says.
Rohtak highlights another peculiar problem. After the success of the Green Revolution, most families in the district started educating their children—with the hope of a better life. In Ismaila, declared the state’s model village, Jats have reconciled with the fact that agriculture will not be sufficient to sustain their next generation. But they have an immediate threat: the huge investment made in educating children is not fetching the return. Pradeep Khatri, along with his two brothers, sold 0.4 ha of land in 2010 for Rs 69 lakh to construct a house and fund the education of his children. “We are all trained teachers without a job. We sold the land so that we can invest in the education of our children. We are, however, worried that even they might end up without jobs like us. This is the reason we are demanding reservations,” says Pradeep.
“I have been farming since the past 20 years but today I am not able to pay a fee of Rs 2,000 per month for my son’s education,” says Jagbeer Singh, 42, who owns just 0.4 ha of land. His son, Rahul Singh, a 14-year-old boy studying in an English medium school, too believes that reservation will open new avenues for him. “I don’t want to farm. It doesn’t give enough cash to my family. I want to join the Army or a government job, so I need the reservation in government jobs,” says Rahul.
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