Jats: The legacy of the warrior race

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It is said that in a Jat village, it is nearly impossible to find a single-family that does not have at least one member serving in the armed forces. Since the colonial era, the Jat community has been designated as a “martial race” and to date constitutes a large percentage of the Indian Army. There exists a historical affiliation between the Jat community and the armed forces, and it is this affiliation that is considered to be the pride of any Jat village.

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Who are Jats?

In the twenty-first century, over nine million people across the Indian subcontinent belong to the Jat community. Today, the majority of the community resides in the region which is bound by the Himalayan foothills in the north, by the Ganga on the east, the Indus on the west, and by the Deccan Plateau in the south. However, a minority of almost five percent of the Jat population resides in present-day Pakistan.

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Since the colonial era, the Jats have been considered to be a “martial race”. During the colonial years, the Jats were valued for their strength, valour, and loyalty and were recruited into the army. Even today, a large portion of the Indian Army is made up of soldiers belonging to the Jat community.

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What is a “martial race”?



Figure 4: Jat Sikhs declared as martial race (source: Caravan magazine)

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Kshatriya – the warrior caste

From a cursory glance at the “martial race” theory it becomes evident that it was highly flawed and contradictory. Simply put, it was in no way “scientific”. However, it did capitalise on the four-fold varna system. The British were interested in the warrior-caste or the Kshatriya who were said to possess loyalty, bravery, and other “martial” ideals.

The idea of “innateness” was a key to the British conception of “martial races.” The idea of “innateness” gave legitimacy to the endeavour of classification in the first place. According to the British, “martial” qualities like stature, bravery, and loyalty could be heritable and thus, was the foundation of the model of innateness. Hence, elements like culture, social practices, and region of origin were treated as genetic factors. This led the British to favour certain religious and caste groups as “martial races.” For instance, Muslims were seen as more “martial” than Hindus. However, communities like the Jats, Rajputs, and Sikhs were Hindu communities possessing “martial qualities.” This could explain why these communities have time and again tried to re-assert their Kshatriya status.

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Mythological claims on “Kshatriya-hood”

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The rebellious Jats

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The question is, how did the British realise that the Jats were warriors? Possibly many were mercenaries but it is much more likely that it is because they fought with the Jats themselves. This brings us to the “siege of Bharatpur.”

The siege of Bharatpur took place between 2nd January and 22nd February of 1805 in the princely state of Bharatpur (now in the state of Rajasthan). The siege of Bharatpur was the climax of the long-drawn Second Anglo-Maratha War. The princely state of Bharatpur was the capital of the Jat kingdom. The Maharaja of Bharatpur, Ranajit Singh, rose in rebellion against the British by joining an alliance with the Indore Maharaja Holkar and the Maratha Empire.

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The Jat Regiment and World War 1

Figure 10: 10th Jat Regiment of the British Indian Army (Source: britishempire.co.uk)

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The Jat Regiment of the British Indian Army played a decisive role in World War 1. Although they were often dismissed as peasant people, the British recognised their strong military tradition. Over 40,000 Jats were recruited into the Indian Army during the First World War.

One such brave Jat soldier was Risaledar Badlu Singh (13 January 1876 – 23 September 1918). Risaledar Badlu Singh was one among very few Indians who were awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

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— London Gazette, 27 November 1918.

Risaldar Badlu Singh was the first from 14th Murray’s Jat Lancers (and 9th British Indian) to be honoured with the Victoria Cross.

The Jat regiments in post-independent India

Even after 70 years of independence, the Jat Regiment remains one of the most highly decorated Regiments in the Indian Army. Currently, the regiment has 23 regular battalions, 4 Rashtriya Rifles battalions, and 2 reserve battalions. The battle cry, adopted in 1955, in Hindi, “Jat Balwaan, Jai Bhagwaan” meaning – “Jat is Powerful, Victory be to God!”

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The glorious history of the Jat Regiment is in keeping with the motto “Sangathan Wa Veerta”, which means “Unity in Valour”. This truly signifies the spirit and fighting qualities of the Jat soldiers.

Figure 13: Jat Regiment of the Indian Army

Therefore, it becomes evident that the Jat community has played a central role in the history of Colonial and Independent India. The Jat community has played a crucial role in the development of India – from feeding the people as farmers to protecting the people as army men. To date, the Jat community remains the embodiment of strength, bravery, and loyalty.

References:

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About the Author

This is Srabondeya Haldar, a third-year History student of Shiv Nadar University currently pursuing a minor in Sociology

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