Haryana: Heart of Darkness
An eyewitness recollects the horrors which unfolded during the Jat agitation. Many innocent lives were lost needlessly while the government was caught napping
Hardnews Bureau Delhi
The death toll in the nine-day violent Jat agitation demanding job quotas in Haryana has risen to 30. DGP YP Singhal said 30 people lost their lives while over 200 people were injured in the agitation that paralysed the state. At least 10 districts were severely affected by the violence. A policeman said 13 of the dead were killed in Jhajjar district, eight in Sonepat, five in Rohtak, two in Jind and one each in Kaithal and Hisar districts.
The violence during the agitation saw several government institutions, buildings, private shops, malls, educational institutions and hospitals set on fire by hooligans. Hundreds of shops were looted and set ablaze. A trade and industry body has pegged the losses in Haryana at around `34,000 crore
Rohtak bore the brunt of the violence but Jhajjar also suffered when, on Saturday, February 21, Jat protesters began burning shops of OBCs and Punjabis in the main market. Securitymen who arrived on the scene opened fire, killing three Jat youths. They were all in their early 20s.
In Jhajjar ,two Sainis (Krishan Saini and Shamlal Saini), one Kumhar(Virender) and one halwai (Dinesh Pandit) were killed. Three bodies lie unclaimed in Jhajjar civil hospital. They seem to be migrant labourers, perhaps caught in the crossfire.
Some reports say announcements were being made to single out shops on the basis of the caste of their owners. It was a very selective approach
In the line of six shops at Chhavani Mohalla in Jhajjar, where protesters went on a rampage, only one shop, the Jat-owned Sri Om Hooda Electricals, has been left untouched. The other five, belonging to Sainis and Nais, were allegedly set on fire by the Jats.
Here are some incidents that I witnessed during the agitation in Sonepat and nearby areas
At least 20 persons were injured in clashes between Jats and non-Jats in Rohtak. A group comprising non-Jats held a protest march but a clash ensued near the local judicial complex with some lawyers backing the Jats. The agitation spread to Sonepat, Jhajjar, Bhiwani, Hisar, Kurukshetra and Panipat.
A curfew was imposed in Rohtak, Jhajjar and Bhiwani as the agitation turned violent, resulting in deaths of three persons. In Rohtak, armed mobs set ablaze the house of the Finance Minister, Capt. Abhimanyu. My friend, MukeshMahto, who is a city reporter in a Hindi daily, described the incident on the phone to me. He said more than a thousand protesters walked towards Abhimanyu’s house and broke the main gate. They were carrying bottles of petrol and they set the house on fire.
Three protesters were killed in police firing after policemen, including a DSP, were taken hostage and the office of the IG, Rohtak range, was attacked. Over 100, persons, including security personnel, were injured. In Bhiwani, a dharmashala was set ablaze after a clash between Jats and non-Jats. In Jhajjar, Dighal Chowki, Dujana Chowki and Dighal toll plaza were set on fire. The Army was requisitioned in nine districts of the state on the same day.
The Jat agitation which started on February 14 from Rohtak’s Sampla town after the organisation of the Jat Swabhiman Rally went completely out of hand. As per the CCTV footage, agitators first looted the shops and then set them ablaze. Some reports say announcements were being made to single out shops on the basis of the caste of their owners. It was a very selective approach. Rohtak suffered the most in the nine-day agitation.
In Sonepat, agitators blocked the Delhi-Ambala rail route and hundreds of Jat protesters occupied the railway track, resulting in complete stoppage of all the trains in spite of security personnel guarding the track.
Six people were killed on Saturday. Four were killed in Jhajjar and one each in Kaithal and Rohtak. Protesting Jats blocked National Highway 1, cutting off Delhi from Chandigarh.
Many protesters also disrupted water supply to the national capital from the Munak canal. In the night, Jat protesters dug up the roads to prevent the army from entering Rohtak. The Army used choppers to drop troops at the Rohtak Police Lines. The state was burning but the administration was not able to tackle the situation. It was like being in a border area with a war going on. Most of the Jat agitators were carrying lathis and gandasas. They were challenging the Army personnel to a fight.
Somehow I entered the protest area at night. Most of my fellow reporters were not able to cross the Singhu border due to the roadblock. I was passing on information on the phone to friends. Whenever a Jat gave me a suspicious look, I simply said, Jat Ekta Zindabad in a Haryanvi accent. I reached Kundli town. On the highway, hundreds of passengers were badly stuck. Many were walking to cross the area. I heard a Haryanvi song playing loudly, ‘Kon jat nai rokkega ,jo so chliya wo karna’ (Who will stop the Jat, we will do what we want). More than a dozen Jat boys were dancing to songs being played by the DJ with lathis in their hands. It was like a celebration of victory and power in Jat land. They pretended to be above the law of the land. Somehow I managed to record a video through my mobile camera and repeated theJat Ekta Zindabad slogan with them so I could manage to move on. Many young boys were riding on bikes, shouting slogans, also passing lewd comments at women. Under these circumstances, I believe the allegations of the Murthal gang rapes might be true. It was not only an agitation but also a way to show the strength of Jats.
Haryana remained virtually cut off from the rest of the country. Jat agitation had a cascading effect on rail and road links across northern India. NH1 was occupied by Jat agitators. The Army was deployed but the situation remained the same. Around 1 pm, I received a phone call from a friend that the TDI mall in Kundli had been attacked by agitators. It became the target of goons. When I reached there, all the shops had been vandalised and looted, glass fronts were broken and goods grabbed. Even an ATM machine of Federal Bank was not in its place. Attackers tried to break down Federal Bank’s door but could not succeed. Food shops like Bikanerwala, BTW and branded garment shops like Duke and Nike were looted. “There were around 50 men with weapons,” said one of the eyewitnesses I met. In other districts, the situation was similar.
By evening, the Centre announced that a panel on the Jat demand for quotas would be constituted and Haryana will bring in a Bill to provide OBC status to Jats. I hoped that the tragic scene would end. But in Sonepat, Jats were not in a mood to quieten. Jat leaders demanded a special session of the Haryana Assembly to pass the resolution immediately. In other parts of Haryana, agitators started to go home after the assurance. The movement became a leaderless agitation. One leader said something but was challenged by another.
Jats were still on the roads. The Army warned the agitators to go away but they refused. Singhu border and Kundli were better than the previous day as many protesters had gone home. Around 12 noon, the Army opened fire to disperse protesters at Larsauli village in Sonepat. Though official sources said three persons lost their lives but my own sources put the death toll at five. After this tragic end, NH1 was cleared.
Normalcy is fast returning to the state. All railway tracks and highways are functional. But what Haryana lost can never be compensated. The social fabric of Haryana’s society is rent Non-Jats of more than 100 villages in Gurgaon have decided to boycott Jats, blaming them for all their losses. I hope that Jats will come forward and rebuild the trust.