The Jats of Southwest Asia
A Cluster of 4 Jat groups in 4 countries
The Jats are not a homogeneous ethnic group living in a particular area and speaking a single language. Rather, they are a people who live scattered around the world among several ethnic groups, yet retain their own identity. This distinction is often based on occupation and heritage.
The Jats are primarily located in northwestern India and southern Pakistan, although there are also significant communities in Maldives, Russia, and Ukraine. However, their origin, history, and current dispersion are spread much wider. History proves that they reached Egypt with the Muslim conquerors, lived in Afghanistan before the Muslims, and invaded China with the Mongol army. They also proved to be a threat to Tamarlane in Persia and Uzbekistan.
There are different opinions as to the origin of the Jats, but most seem to recognize them to be of Indo-Aryan descent. There is also a theory suggesting that they may be the predecessors of Gypsies. Whatever their origin, in the eighteenth century, the Jats became a force that could not be ignored.
What are their lives like?
Known for their military prowess, many Jats were recruited into the British-India army during World War I. Before that, they served as fighters in the Persian army. In times past, a Jat who did not have a horse was looked down upon by his peers. Today, the Jats are well read, and some occupy high positions in academic and technical arenas.
In India and Pakistan, the Jats are usually either farmers or nomadic herdsmen. Sometimes they are even forced to do both. Different tribes of nomads breed different types of animals. Because they value thriftiness and diligence, the Jats are often regarded as miserly. The settled Jat farmers grow cereals such as wheat, maize, and millet. They also raise sugarcane as a cash crop. Fruits, vegetables, and rice are grown in certain areas. Only the men work in the fields, while the women are responsible for maintaining the household. The basic diet of peasant Jats consists of unleavened bread and curry, seasonal vegetables, ghee (a type of butter), and milk.
Most of the Jats live in rural areas. Depending on whether they are settled farmers or nomadic herdsmen, they may live in permanent villages or temporary camps. Most Jat villages are compact. They consist of small homes, cattle sheds, a village square, and a well or pond. The houses generally have flat roofs and are made of baked or unbaked bricks. Nomadic Jats live in portable huts that are usually made of reed mats and wood.
Conservative by nature, the Jats rarely marry people from other ethnic groups. Great pride is placed in their ancestry. In fact, all the Jats in a particular village consider themselves to be the descendants of the man whom they believe founded it by the power of the sword. Physically, the Jats are taller and heavier than most of their neighbors. Because of their larger build, their reputation for violence, and the fact that they control much of the land and village income, they are generally feared.
What are their beliefs?
The Muslim Jats are Sunnis of the Hanafi school, but are known to have a strong tradition of worshipping many local saints. The Hindu Jats adhere to the traditional practices, as well as a wide variety of additional beliefs and practices. Until recent times, the Sikh Jats seemed to be the least meticulous in their observance of Sikh traditions, leaning more towards Hinduism. Regardless of their religious affiliation, all Jats observe many ceremonies, especially rites of passage such as circumcision and initiation into adulthood.
What are their needs?
There are only two missions agencies targeting the thousands of Jat in India. As a result, most of the Jat believers (nearly 223,000) live in India. Sadly, this only represents a tiny 2% of the entire Jat population in that area. There are currently no missions agencies working among the Jats living in Pakistan, Russia, or Ukraine. Missionaries, Christian broadcasts, and evangelistic literature are needed to effectively penetrate the Jats with the Light of the Gospel. Most importantly, they need people who will begin to intercede for them, tearing down the strongholds that are keeping them in spiritual bondage. Only then will their hearts be prepared to receive the Good News as it is presented to them.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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