Jats and the New Caste Conflict

Economic Grievance in Today's India

Demonstrators from the Jat community shout slogans as they block the Delhi-Haryana national highway during a protest in Haryana, India, February 2016. Adnan Abidi / Reuters

For three days in February, a violent caste protest shook the Indian state of Haryana. Protestors from the Jat caste blocked the national highway, halted trains, set buses on fire, and torched the finance minister’s home. They then damaged the Munak canal, responsible for the bulk of the water supply to New Delhi. The Indian government called in the army and paramilitary troops, and India’s air force flew sorties in support. After 28 people were killed, two hundred were injured, and the economic losses reached millions of dollars, the government agreed to the protesters’ demands, ending the violence. 

The Jats were demanding “reservations," or quotas for positions in government jobs and educational institutions. India provides nationwide affirmative action programs for three distinct groups: the “Scheduled Castes,” castes historically treated as untouchable; the Scheduled Tribes, India’s mostly forest-dwelling indigenous people; and the “Other Backward Castes.” The last category is

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