In the “Jaat” chapter of his book Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines, the author and journalist Amandeep Sandhu draws on his travels in the state to document caste relations there. His observations include incidents of caste discrimination he witnessed at a gurdwara at the Maddoke village to recording details of a land movement which saw Dalits—who comprise 32 percent of the state’s population—attempt to wrest back control of land reserved for them, from upper-caste owners who had occupied it.
On 11 October 2016, Sandhu travelled to the village of Jhaloor, where, though 250 of the 600 families belong to the Dalit community, they do not own any of the 2,300 acres of land in the village. He learned that six days earlier, Jutts had mounted a brutal assault on Dalits, against the backdrop of a long-standing dispute over agricultural land reserved for the Scheduled Caste community. While the Jutts constitute only about 25 percent of the population in the state, they own most of the land and dominate the political and social life. Sandhu explains that one aspect of this incident that continued to haunt him was the fact that “Jatts had used the village gurdwara to make divisive announcements, rally their men and prepare for attacks on Dalits … on the one hand, Panjab was battling incidents of sacrilege of holy texts, on the other, the Jutts and Akalis were misusing the gurudwaras, supposedly places of truth, justice and equality.”
Most Dalits in Jhaloor eke out a living by tending to cattle and selling milk, working for Jutt farmers, or through other petty trades. The panchayat land in Jhaloor is nearly 50 acres. The 16.5 acres of land reserved for the Scheduled Caste community is split into three parts, of which only one part—about six acres large—is cultivable. The other two plots, of 6 and 4.5 acres each, are located at quite a distance from the village and are not cultivable. Relying on the villagers I met, as well as a report that was released by the Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR), a Panjab-based human rights watchdog organisation whose members had visited Jhaloor a day before us, I pieced together an account of the events that led to the violent attack the Jutts had launched on 5 October 2016.