Castes and quotas in India

Some keys to understand the Jats riots

Business & Politics

News - India & You

February 22, 2016

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The situation remains tense in northern India after some riots led by the influential Jat community where at least 19 were killed and 200 wounded these last three days and which resulted in water rationing and schools closures in the Indian capital, Delhi. Representatives of the Jat community, who are calling for quotas to ensure government jobs and university seats to members of their caste, have reached on Sunday an agreement on that matter with representatives of the State of Haryana (North).

Riots with huge consequences

The Jat community riots in the State of Haryana (North) have left these last three days at least 19 people dead and 200 injured. The protesters, armed with sticks, burned again on Sunday shops and attacked the police station in Rohtak, one of the centers of the conflict in the State.

The army deployed on Sunday in the State thousands of soldiers who were ordered to shoot on sight to end the unrest. In some parts of the State, the police claimed it could no longer control the situation, with houses and train stations burned and many roads paralyzed.

The riots also led to the blocking of a canal that ensures the neighboring Indian capital, New Delhi, nearly 60% of its water supply. New Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, has implemented a rationing of water for the 17 million inhabitants of Delhi NCR. He ordered the closure of schools on Monday, not to waste this precious water resource, already missing in normal times in some parts of Delhi. Since then, the Indian army took over control of the canal.

Who are the Jats?

The Jats, a caste and a community of rural origin, accounts officially for almost 30% of the population of the state of Haryana. They also live in other northern states and in Delhi, notably in villages in South Delhi, such as Shahpurjat.

The Indian government had allocated in 2014 quotas to the Jats, in the whole country. But the Indian Supreme Court has since overturned that decision, saying it contravened the quota rules.

The Jats, a community with rich but also much poorer members, consider themselves as disadvantaged in that matter.
Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunities

The Jats want quotas for members of their caste in government jobs and university seats.

They accepted an offer by the government of the State of Haryana on that matter on Sunday, after talks between their leaders of the ruling party in Haryana, the BJP, under the auspices of Indian Home Minister, Rajnath Singh.
The Jats will gain quotas through a legislation to be passed soon, according to a BJP leader.

India allocates quotas to lower castes, such as the Dalits, in public offices and universities, through a positive discrimination conducted throughout the country.

This policy has, in the opinion of specialists, produced some results during the decades following Indian Independence in 1947 and contributed to better integrate these castes in the political forum, in the economy and in the university system.

But this initiative met some opposition from other communities not qualifying for it. A growing number of members of the latter consider that this policy conflicts with the principle of equal opportunities. They argue in consequence either for limiting or stopping these measures over time, or for their extension to other castes that also consider themselves disadvantaged, as in the case of some Jats.

This debate between the principle of positive discrimination and that of equal opportunities, as well as the question of the relevance, the scope and the duration of quotas measures, exist in other countries pursuing such policies, including the United States since the end of Segregation in the 1960s.



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