Who are the Jats and how have they impacted water supplies in India?

World Today

Protesters run some with sticks during a pro caste quota protest in Rohtak, 70 kilometers (45 miles) west of New Delhi, India, Friday, Feb. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Deepak Khanna)

North India has seen a week of chaos after protests led to water stoppages to capital New Delhi and its 18 million residents. The unrest highlights both India’s caste conflicts and the capital’s precarious water supply. Read here to learn more about the conflict, the water disruptions, and how it all happened.

When did this happen?

On Saturday, protesters from the underprivileged Jat community in North India’s Haryana state breached the wall and damaged equipment at the Munak Canal, near the village of Bindroli, about 86 miles from New Delhi.

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The canal channels water from rivers in North India and provides 60 percent of New Delhi’s water supply. The blockade resulted in nearly 10 million people without water.

Watch our report from CCTV’s Shweta Bajaj:

Jats protest leaves millions in New Delhi without water

India's military says it is back in control of a canal that had been taken over and sabotaged by protesters, after days of deadly demonstrations. The blockade has left some 10 million people in India's capital without water, and officials say repairs may take days. CCTV America's Roee Ruttenberg reports.

At least 12 people were killed by Indian security forces firing on protesters since the weeklong protests turned violent, state Home Secretary P. K. Das said on Sunday. Another 150 protesters have been injured in clashes in various parts of the state.

Who are the Jats and why are they protesting?

The Jats are members of a farming community within India’s ancient system of caste hierarchy. The community is generally land-owning and would fall in the Vaishya caste. However many Jats are pushing to be included in India’s system that aids lower castes.

Image on Flickr from Robert and Talbot Trudeau.

Image on Flickr from Robert and Talbot Trudeau.

While India abolished the caste system in 1950, it provides an affirmative-action like system to members of lower castes to help them overcome discrimination.

The systems provides quotas for jobs and educational opportunities. In 2014, the Indian government said it would place the Jats in a category known as “Other Backward Castes” or OBC which would allow them the benefits they sought.

Ethnographic photograph of Jats in the vicinity of Delhi, India, 1868.

Ethnographic photograph of Jats in the vicinity of Delhi, India, 1868.

But in 2015, India’s Supreme Court ruled that the Jats do not qualify as an OBC. The Jat community has faced recent economic and farming hardships and are protesting that they be re-classified as members of the OBC.

Why was New Delhi impacted so badly?

Even unimpeded, the Munak Canal is still inadequate in supplying enough water to meet New Delhi’s needs. Shortages are common during the dry seasons.

Worldwide, India has low water supply per capita. In 2010, there were approximately 22 cubic meters of water available per inhabitant, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers:

Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers via Statista

The situation is especially bad for the most marginal communities living in slums or riverside shanties, where many rely on sewage-tainted river water, leaks from broken pipes or deliveries by municipal water trucks.

Others in New Delhi draw heavily from the ground, leading the city’s aquifer levels to decline by 4 meters (13 feet) in the last decade, according to the Central Ground Water Board.

While some residents were filling buckets and bottles in case the situation worsened, others, including many wealthier households that rely on groundwater, were buffeted from the crisis.

Residents of Sanjay Colony, a slum in southwest New Delhi, said Tuesday that this week’s water shortage was making an already bad situation worse.

“We already spend a lot of hours trying to get water,” said Indrapal, a security worker who gave only his first name. “People haven’t been able to go to work.”

Renewable water sources in India are also scarce. In 2014, there were only 1.5 cubic meters of renewable water resources per person, according to FAO (Aquastat).

Source: FAO (Aquastat) via Statista

What will happen now?

Jat leaders called for an end to the protests on Monday after the state government agreed to their demands for 27 percent job quotas. The community comprises nearly 29 percent of Haryana state’s 25 million people.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government also set up a federal committee to examine the protesters’ demands.

Watch our analysis from CCTV America’s Roee Ruttenberg:

Violent protests leads India to revise its caste-based quota system

The unrest led to clashes between protesters and security forces. At least 12 have been killed, and there's damage to critical public services. CCTV's Shweta Bajaj reports.

On Monday, government forces secured the Munak Canal and engineers were working to restore New Delhi’s full water supply. In the meantime, 70 water tankers have been sent to western areas of the city where taps have been dry for up to two days.

Of the city’s three water treatment plants, one was again working at full capacity on Wednesday, while the other two had resumed operations at 50-60 percent capacity.

The country’s water resources remain limited.

Story by the Associated Press and CCTV News.