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Identification and Location. Primarily endogamous communities calling themselves and known as Jat live predominantly in large parts of northern and northwestern India and in southern and eastern Pakistan, as sedentary farmers and/or mobile pastoralists. In certain areas they tend to call themselves Baluch, Pathan, or Rajput, rather than Jat. Most of these communities are integrated as a caste into the locally prevalent caste system. In the past three decades increasing population pressure on land has led to large-scale emigration of the peasant Jat, especially from India, to North America, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, and more recently the Middle East. Some maintain that the sedentary farming Jat and the nomadic pastoral Jat are of entirely different origins; others believe that the two groups are of the same stock but that they developed different life-styles over the centuries. Neither the farmers nor the pastoralists are, however, to be confused with other distinct communities of peripatetic peddlers, artisans, and entertainers designated in Afghanistan by the blanket terms "Jat" or Jaṭ; the latter terms are considered pejorative, and they are rejected as ethnonyms by these peripatetic communities. In Pakistan also, among the Baluchi- and Pashto-speaking populations, the terms were, and to a certain extent still are, used to indicate contempt and lower social status.

Demography. No reliable figures are available for recent years. In 1931 the population of all sedentary and farming Jat was estimated at 8,377,819; in the early 1960s 8,000,000 was the estimate for Pakistan alone. Today the entire Jat population consists of several million more than that.

Linguistic Affiliation. All Jat speak languages and dialects that are closely connected with other locally spoken languages of the Indo-Iranian Group. Three alphabets are used, depending primarily on religion but partly on locality: the Arabic-derived Urdu one is used by Muslims, while Sikhs and Hindus use the Gurmukhi (Punjabi) and the Devanagari (Hindi) scripts, respectively.

History and Cultural Relations

Little is known about the early history of the Jat, although several theories were advanced by various scholars over the last 100 years. While some authors argue that they are descendants of the first Indo-Aryans, others suggest that they are of Indo-Scythian stock and entered India toward the beginning of the Christian era. These authors also point to some cultural similarities between the Jat and certain other major communities of the area, such as the Gujar, the Ahir, and the Rajput, about whose origins similar theories have been suggested. In fact, among both Muslims and Sikhs the Jat and the Rajput castes enjoy almost equal statuspartly because of the basic egalitarian ideology enjoined by both religions, but mainly because of the similar political and economic power held by both communities. Also Hindu Jat consider the Gujar and Ahir as allied castes; except for the rule of caste endogamy, there are no caste restrictions between these three communities. In other scholarly debates about the origins of the Jat, attempts have been made to identify them with the Jarttikā, referred to in the Hindu epic the Mahābhārata. Some still maintain that the people Arab historians referred to as the Zu, and who were taken as prisoners in the eighth century from Sindh in present-day southern Pakistan to southern Iraq, were actually buffalo-herding Jat, or were at least known as such in their place of origin. In the seventeenth century a (Hindu) kingdom was established in the area of Bharatpur and Dholpur (Rajasthan) in northern India; it was the outcome of many centuries of rebellion against the Mogul Empire, and it lasted till 1826, when it was defeated by the forces of the British East India Company. Farther north, in the Punjab, in the early years of the eighteenth century, Jat (mainly Sikh) organized peasant uprisings against the predominantly Muslim landed gentry; subsequently, with the invasion of the areafirst by the Persian King Nadir Shah and then by the Afghan Ahmad Shah Abdalithey controlled a major part of the area through close-knit bands of armed marauders operating under the leadership of the landowning chiefs of well-defined territories. Because of their martial traditions, the Jat, together with certain other communities, were classified by British administrators of imperial India as a "martial race," and this term had certain long-lasting effects. One was their large-scale recruitment into the British-Indian army, and to this day a very large number of Jat are soldiers in the Indian army. Many Sikh Jat in the Indian part of Punjab are involved in the current movement for the creation of an autonomous Khalistan.


The Jat as a whole are predominantly rural. Depending on whether they are sedentary or nomadic, the Jat of various regions live in permanent villages or temporary camps. Over the last 200 years there has been increasing sedentarization of nomadic Jat; this trend began in the last decades of the eighteenth century when many pastoralists settled in the central Punjab under the auspices of Sikh rule there, and it continued over a very large area with the expansion of irrigation in British imperial times. With the consequent expansion of cultivation all these pastoralists are facing increasing difficulties in finding grazing lands for their herds. The buffalo breeders face the maximum difficulties in this respect, since their animals need to be grazed in areas with plentiful water, and these are precisely the areas in which agriculture has expanded most. They still live in the moist region of the Indus Delta, but many have had to settle permanently. Formerly the camel breeders migrated over larger areas, but increasingly they are restricted to the delta region of the Indus River, the desert areas of the Thar and the Thal, and the semideserts stretching west of the Indus to Makran and Baluchistan. The camel drivers were, at least a few decades ago, fairly widespread in most parts of Sindh and the western Punjab, and Kachchh. While in some less densely populated areas each Jat clan has a compact geographic area of its own, elsewhere several clans may inhabit the same village. Most Jat peasants live in flatroofed houses made of baked or unbaked bricks in large compact villages, with few open spaces within the inhabited area; all villages have cattle sheds, village commons, and wells or ponds. Depending on the region and the precise community, Jat nomadic pastoralists use a variety of huts, mostly made of reed mats and wood, that are fairly easy to dismantle. The reed mats are woven by the women.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The mainstay of sedentary Jat economy is and has always been agriculture, and there are several proverbs and sayings in local languages that emphasize both the skill and industry of the Jat peasant, as well as the traditional attachment of this community to the soil. Cereals such as wheat, maize, and types of millet, as well as pulses and the cash crop sugarcane, are grown by Jat cultivators; in certain areas they increasingly grow fruits and vegetables also. In most areas of India where the Jat farmers live cultivation is now fairly mechanized, but in some areas the plow is drawn by oxen and harvesting is done by hand. Most crops are grown both for subsistence and for commerce. In addition to land the peasant Jat own water buffalo and cows for milk; male buffalo are often used for carrying loads. Milk is for household consumption and is not generally sold. The cattle are grazed on the village commons. The pastoral Jat consist of three distinct groups of water buffalo breeders, camel breeders, and camel drivers (often known as Mir-Jat, rather than simply Jat). The buffalo breeders sell their herd animals for slaughter or as draft animals, especially for the Persian wheel; they also sell excess butterfat but never sell milk. The camel breeders do sell milk, but their main income is from the sale of young male camels, which are much in demand for purposes of transport. The camel drivers hire themselves out with their trained animals, either working for a fee or for a share of the profit. In many areas where former pastureland has come under the plow, due to irrigation facilities, they are obliged to ask local farmers for the rights to graze their herds on their lands; in return they often have to give their labor during the harvest. The women of the pastoral Jat of the north also sell mats and ropes made from the leaves of dwarf palms. The army has been a major source of income for the peasant Jat since the late nineteenth century, and in recent decades many Sikh Jat are in the motorized transport business. Remittances from Jat immigrants in North America and elsewhere also contribute much to the income of a very large proportion of the population.

Industrial Arts and Division of Labor. Among the agricultural Jat, traditionally only the men work in the fields, while the women are entirely responsible for the household. In recent times more prosperous families hire non-Jat, primarily landless labor from other regions, as farmhands, partly as full-time workers but especially as part-time workers in peak seasons. Among the buffalo-breeding nomads, the men graze and milk their animals, and they sell these animals and their butterfat. Their women prepare milk products and do all the houseworkcooking, cleaning, fetching water and fuel, rearing the children, sewing and embroidering all textiles for household use, and weaving the reed mats for their huts. Among the camel breeders all work connected with the animals is carried out by the mengrazing the herds, milking, shearing, spinning and weaving the camel's wool into coarse blankets and bags, and selling animals. Household work is done by the women, and encompasses the same tasks as among the buffalo breeders. No food products are made from camel's milk, and in the months when the milk is plentiful enough to provide sole subsistence, little or no cooking is done.

Land Tenure. The landowners of a village stand collectively for the entire land of the village, but within the village each individual head of household has discrete rights within the various lineage segments. Generally, all landowners in a village are descended from a common ancestor who founded the village; his ownership of all the village lands is never forgotten, and by this token all individuated rights are successive restrictions of more general rights, applicable at all levels of genealogical segmentation. Common land is that which has not been brought under cultivation.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kin Groups and Descent. All Jat are divided into several large, usually dispersed clans, whose localized segments are often geographically compact, but among peasants they are sometimes equally dispersed, due to the population pressure on land. Most clans are de facto maximal lineages, which are further segmented; among Jat peasants this segmentation takes place at four broad levels. The minimal lineage is composed of a group of households, which had formed a single household two or three generations previously; they may still share a common courtyard and have joint rights to a well.

Marriage. While among Muslim Jat the practice of exchange marriage takes place at various levels of lineage organization, among Hindu and Sikh Jat no such exchange marriages are allowed, and the rule of exogamy is such that a man may not marry a woman who has any of her four grandparental clans in common with his. Polygyny is allowed though not common, and the custom of adelphic polyandry, or the sexual access by an unmarried man to his brother's wifewhich was often practiced by at least non-Muslim peasant Jat, in order to prevent further fragmentation of landhas declined in recent decades. Among all Jat, widow remarriage is permitted; either levirate is required or a widow is not allowed to remarry outside the maximal lineage, especially when she has children by her late husband. The practice of female infanticide, also known among the peasants, has dropped sharply. A woman's relationship with her husband's kin is organized according to a basic pattern of avoidance with seniors and of joking with those younger than the husband. Brothers share a common duty toward their sisters and their children.

Domestic Unit. Most Jat peasant households consist of lineal joint families, with the parents and one married son; many units are nuclear and some are collateral-joint, with two married brothers and their offspring living together. Among nomadic Jat the nuclear family and the lineal joint family are the most common domestic units.

Inheritance. Among those with land, all sons inherit equal shares in terms of both quantity and quality. Formerly, a man's wives shared equally on behalf of their sons, irrespective of the number of sons each had. Although in theory inheritance of land follows a strictly agnatic principle and daughters and sisters do not inherit, daughters' sons have been observed de facto to be among the inheritors in many cases.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social and Political Organization. All Jat are divided into patricLans; among the sedentary communities, each of these has a hereditary headman. By and large, the villages in which Jat farmers live, together with non-Jat, are under the jurisdiction of a clan council, and this council, of which every clan headman is a member, is the decision-making unit at the community level. Traditionally in these villages Jat farmers were integrated as patrons into the patron-client system prevalent in the area. Their clients were members of various service castes; however, this system has largely broken down today. Wealthy Jat landowners have entered local, regional, and even national politics since the beginning of this century, and in many areas they are still active as influential representatives of farmers and rural folk in general. Among the pastoral Jat of the Indus Delta, the clans are organized on the hierarchical principle of age, with the oldest man of the oldest lineage being at the head of the pyramid, followed by the eldest men of the younger lineages. Institutionalized authority over this entire group rests not with a Jat but with a Karmati-Baluch.

Conflict. A frequent source of conflict within the minimal lineage is land; such conflicts often take place between agnatic collaterals, since their lands usually border each other. Factional conflict is fairly common at a broader level.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Ceremonies. A Jat can be Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh, and in 1931 over 50 percent of the entire Sikh population was constituted by Jat. Many ceremonies, especially those accompanying the rites of passage, are common to all Jat, irrespective of religious denomination. Among Hindu Jat there are in addition numerous local or more widely prevalent religious beliefs and observances. These include knowledge of certain but by no means all major mythological figures (gods and goddesses) of the Sanskritic tradition and the celebration of several festivals, both seasonal and annual, both of the all-Indian Hindu Great Tradition and of the localized Little Tradition. The Muslim Jat populations have a strong tradition of venerating a large number of local saints (pīr ). Although most are officially Sunni, they have a large number of Shia traditions, and one group of Jat are Ismaelis. Till recently Sikh Jat, though very conscious of their distinct religious identity, were not very meticulous in their observance of the precepts of Sikhism. Most of them still observe Hindu marriage rites and till recently followed Hindu funeral customs; the majority also employed Brahmans as family priests. In most villages inhabited by Sikh Jat there is the shrine of a Sikh martyr of old that acts as an ancestral focus for the minimal lineage. Various supernatural beings play a role in Jat life and are common to most Jat irrespective of creed; belief in many of them is widespread in the region as a whole.

Arts. The women of the nomadic Jat are very skilled in needlework and embroider various textiles using threads of many colors in the delta region but mainly black and red in the north; tiny pieces of mirror are also used to decorate these textiles.

Death and Afterlife. Jat hold conflicting views on life after death. Some believe in the traditional Hindu concept of rebirth, others believe in going to Hell or Heaven, but many believe that there is no existence after death and that there is no form of life besides the present one on Earth.

See also Ahir; Baluchi; Gujar; Pathan; Punjabi; Rajput; Sikh


Hershman, Paul (1981). Punjabi Kinship and Marriage. Delhi: Hindustan.

Kessinger, Tom G. (1974). Vilayatpur, 1848-1968: Social and Economic Change in a North Indian Village. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lewis, Oscar (1958). Village Life in Northern India. New York: Random House.

Pettigrew, Joyce (1975). Robber Noblemen: A Study of the Political System of the Sikh Jats. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Pradhan, M. C. (1966). The Political System of the Jats of Northern India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Rao, Aparna (1986). "Peripatetic Minorities in AfghanistanImage and Identity." In Die ethnischen Gruppen Afghanistans, edited by E. Orywal. Wiesbaden: L. Reichert.

Westphal-Hellbusch, Sigrid, and Heinz Westphal (1968). Zur Geschichte und Kultur der ]at. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.


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Jaṭ. Caste group dominant in Sikh Panth. Although low in the Hindu caste hierarchy, the Jaṭs are economically powerful as landowners in Pañjāb, with a martial and agricultural tradition.

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Jatapart, apparat, art, baht, Bart, Barthes, cart, carte, chart, clart, dart, Eilat, fart, ghat, Gujarat, Gujrat, hart, Harte, heart, heart-to-heart, impart, Jat, kart, kyat, Maat, Mansart, mart, outsmart, part, quarte, salat, savate, Scart, smart, start, tart, zakat •Hobart • wallchart • flow chart •Bogart • Stuttgart • Earhart •greenheart • sweetheart • Leichhardt •Reinhardt • Bernhardt • handcart •Descartes • dogcart • go-kart •pushcart • dustcart • rampart •forepart • underpart • Bonaparte •counterpart • Bundesrat • Robsart •Mozart • Hallstatt • kick-start •push-start • upstart

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JAT Jugoslovenski Aero-Transport (Yugoslav Airlines)

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