The Jat quota stir in February 2016 had shattered the lives of many in Haryana. The state saw unprecedented violence, loot and arson in which 30 people lost their lives and property worth thousands of crores of rupees was vandalised and gutted.
In Rohtak, the epicenter of the agitation, the memories of mobs running amok have come alive as the state – neighbouring Delhi – is in the throes of a second phase of agitation. A year ago, the state was a mute spectator. For three days – February 19 to 21 – when the violence was at its peak, emergency help lines remained either dead or unattended. Properties and shops of non-Jats were specifically targeted, robbed and then set ablaze. In Rohtak alone, more than 1,100 properties were destroyed and a total of 1,212 cases were registered.
A year on, as the Jats take to the streets again, Hindustan Times visited the victims of last year’s violence and found them struggling with everyday challenges. The after-effects of the quota quake are painful and spine chilling. Old, ailing parents are still struggling with the loss of their only son and widows are trying hard to educate their young children. Most have refused the Rs 8,100 per month contractual job offered by the government, calling it an insult.
“Ye din fir aa liye… ye to hum bhool bhi na paye the (these days have come again…we hadn’t been able to forget what we went through),” said Bharti, 43, wife of Shyam Saini, 44, who was killed in last year’s stir. The Jat groups were on a rampage and killed two men including Bharti’s husband. He was dragged out and killed even as he was helping his family run for safety.
Saini’s pension is stuck in paper work and Bharti is living in fear. “We don’t even have a man in the house. How will we feel safe?” she asks.
Ten houses away lived Krishan Saini, the second casualty from the same colony. His two daughters sit idle at home and the son was forced to give up his education. The colony remains tense as they see cops being deployed in their area; a sign of another round of Jat agitation. “We were living with love and affection with one and all. But after they invade your homes and burn, murder your people, how do you expect us to be even cordial?” said Ram Avtar Saini, an advocate and resident of the colony.
What Jats want
- Reservation under Special Backward Class in Haryana, OBC in Centre
- Rollback of cases registered during last year’s quota stir
- Release youth arrested in connection with last year’s stir
- Martyr status for Jats killed last year, along with a government job and Rs 10 lakh financial help to next of their kin
Twenty six-year-old Manjeet, a Dalit, was returning home from work when he was killed in the crossfire. After his death, his wife left for her parents’ home along with the two children. Manjeet’s parents now live alone in Rohtak’s Kartarpura colony.
“His father has been in bed since Manjeet died. He was the sole breadwinner and only son of the family. Most of compensation given by the government was taken away by our daughter-in-law who refuses to come back home. We have no one to share our pain with,” said Raj Bala, Manjeet’s mother.
Ravinder Nandal was among two of 19 slain Jats identified as ‘innocent’ by the state government during last year’s stir. The rest were labelled ‘rioters’ as they were allegedly shot dead by the security forces. Ravinder had left home to pick up his friend’s sister who was stranded. The family received a call an hour later that he was in hospital. He succumbed to injuries five days later. He has three sons; the youngest was only six-months old then.
“Our family has no property. The government offered me contractual job in security at health department. Who will take care of my little sons if I go to work so far away? I want a job in my own village so I can come back to them,” said Sapna, Ravinder’s wife.
Deep fault line
If you’re driving on NH-71 A these days, you can choose not to pay at Haryana’s costliest toll plaza by just telling the toll attendant that you’re going to take part in the protest. The gates are opened without a single question being asked.
The toll plaza happens to fall on the road that connects Rohtak to Jassia village, where the Jats are protesting. The attendant flagging cars is not being kind. He’s just scared, as HT learnt. The toll plaza, near another village, Makrauli, was vandalised and burnt during last year’s quota stir.
“We don’t want a repeat of February. We don’t argue with them (protesters) even though we are incurring a loss of Rs 4-5 lakh daily,” a toll plaza official who will not reveal his name.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR
- Jat launched an agitation for reservation on February 12, 2016.
- The stir soon turned violent. Between February 19 and 21, violence peaked, emergency help lines remained either dead or unattended.
- Properties and shops of non-Jats were specifically targeted, robbed and then set ablaze.
- By February 22, the protests were estimated to have caused a loss of Rs 340 billion.
- By February 26, 30 people had been killed in the violence
Soot had replaced blackboards in more than half-a-dozen schools in Rohtak last year, when schools became soft targets of rioters. Most of these schools lie close to Jassia village.
Last year, schools had to hire counsellors for traumatized students who initially sat in classrooms that had been charred.
“We didn’t want any of our students to develop any caste divide, so there were special sessions for them. Initially, they spoke only about violence so we introduced new activities. We have rebuilt most of the infrastructure but our library will always be incomplete. Around 20,000 books were burnt,” said Sanjay Soni, principal of Shiksha Bharti School, one of the oldest in Rohtak.
But it’s yesterday once more and fear rules the area.