Jats occupy a preeminent position in Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi and eastern Rajasthan, being the largest group in north-western India. They are divided into 12 clans and about 300 gotras. Though the origin of Jats is shrouded in mystery, they are believed to be an Indo-Aryan tribe, connected to the Vedic civilization (4500 BC - 2500 BC) that existed along the Saraswati river. Even today, the highest density of Jat population is along the dried bed of Saraswati, starting from Haryana, going on to Punjab and ending up in Rajasthan. They play a predominant role in this region. Agriculture, soldiering and cattle rearing have been the main occupation of the Jats, but now they are branching out in other fields like military and police. They are also well represented in government civil services.
Though the common definition refers to only the Hindu Jats, a significant number of Jats are Sikhs and Muslims. 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 north India and southern Pakistan, although there are said to be some communities in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Iran and Ukraine. However, their origin, history, and current dispersion are spread much wider. They are said to be of Indo-Aryan (or often, Indo-Scythian) descent. 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 Tamar Lane in Persia and Uzbekistan.
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. Jats are a brave, hardworking and independent minded people. Primarily agriculturists, the Jats led a fairly autonomous political life. Even during the Mughal period, the rule of the state was limited. With the exception of Bharatpur, no Jat kingdoms were founded. As per the Varna (Caste) system, the Jats are Kshatriyas or the warrior class. As they were outside the rigorous brahmanical social order, this position was not emphasized till the growth of the Arya Samaj among the Jats. Overall, the Jats have a very good self image and they are a proud people. 'Men may come and men may go, but I go on forever,' is a well known Jat proverb. They are brave, hardworking people who possess both the desire and ability to rule. It has been said that no Jat wants to be ruled. Rather, he desires to have power over a group, if not over an area.
The first opposition to Aurangzeb's autocratic rule came from the Jats of Mathura. In 1669, the sturdy and hard working peasantry of Jats under the leadership of Gokla, zamindar of Tilpat, rose against and killed the Imperial Faujdar Abdun-Nabi. It took more than one year for the powerful Mogul forces to subdue the Jats. Gokul was killed and his family forcibly converted to Islam. But this did not deter the Jats and they once again rose in rebellion in 1685 under the leadership of Raja Ram. Akbar's tomb in Sikandra was plundered by them in 1688. Finally the Jats were defeated and Raja Ram slain in 1691. But the brave Jats again got organized under the leadership of Churaman and revolted. They continued a strong armed resistance against the Mughals after Aurangzeb's death.
Towards the end of Aurangzeb's reign, bands of Jats under individual leaders like Rajaram, Bhajja and Churaman carried out depredations around Delhi and Agra. They slowly increased their power. But whatever they had achieved was lost when Sawai Jai Singh II captured Churaman's stronghold of Thun in 1721. Till this time Jats were never united and they followed their individual village headsmen. But all this was changed by Badan Singh, the son of Churaman's brother, Bhao Singh. Even in the face of great difficulties, Badan Singh established his authority over almost of Agra and Mathura by wisdom, versatility and marriage alliances with powerful Jat families. Badan Singh died on 7th June, 1756. His adopted son and successor was Suraj Mal.
Suraj Mal, has been variously described as 'Plato of Jat tribes' and 'Jat Ulysses' because of his sagacity, steady intellect and clear vision. Suraj Mal extended his kingdom to Agra, Mathura, Dholpur, Mainpuri, Hathras, Aligarh, Etawah, Meerut, Rohtak, Farrukhnagar, Mewat, Rewari and Gurgaon. He was described as the greatest warrior and the ablest statesman that the Jats have produced. Suraj Mal died on 25th December, 1763. Such was the might of the Jats that Bharatpur came to be known as the impregnable city. The beautiful palace and gardens at Deeg and the Bharatpur fort, both built by Suraj Mal , symbolized the coming of age of the Jat state. Soon, nobody dared question the Jats’ prowess in battle. A British general, Lord Lake, thought otherwise and paid dearly with his life for his decision to besiege the Lohagarh fort. At Deeg, the maharaja’s men successfully took on the might of a combined Mughal and Martha army of 80,000. Growing from strength to strength, the Jats even dared to attack the Red Fort in Delhi, the ultimate icon of power
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. A large number of Jats serve is in the Indian Armed Forces and form one of the largest ethnic groups in the army. The late Colonel Hoshiar Singh PVC, winner of the highest military award, the Param Vir Chakra came from a Jat family of Haryana. The Green Revolution brought considerable prosperity to the Jats in the late 60s and 70s. The Jat regions in India are among the most prosperous on a per-capita basis. Today, many Jats are well read and some occupy high positions in academic and technical arenas. 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. Most Jats in India are Hindus, the rest being Sikhs or Muslims. The Jats living in Pakistan are primarily Muslim.
The Hindu Jats' religious beliefs are usually non-orthodox. A large number came under the influence of Swami Dayanand and the Arya Samaj in the early part of the 20th century. The Arya Samaji influence played a significant role in shaping the socio-religious identity. Until recent times, the Sikh Jats seemed to be the least meticulous in their observance of Sikh traditions, leaning more towards Hinduism. The Muslim Jats are Sunnis of the Hanafi school, but are known to have a strong tradition of worshipping many local saints.
Sir Chhotu Ram and Chaudhary Devi Lal (former Deputy Prime Minister of India), are the two most famous Jat leaders from Haryana. Seth Chhajju Ram was one of the most successful business man and philanthropist. Colonel Hoshiar Singh PVC won India's highest military medal, the Param Vir Chakra. Lt Gen Khem Karan Singh MVC was another great Jat soldier from Haryana and won the Maha Vir Chakra. Mallika Sehrawat, a very popular movie actress, comes from a well known Jat family of Haryana.
Other Jats from Haryana who won the Maha Vir Chakra award are: Captain Devinder Singh Ahlawat MVC, Lt Col Dharam Singh MVC, Major M. S. Chaudhary MVC, Havildar Fateh Singh MVC, Naik Shishpal Singh MVC, Lance Naik Hari Singh MVC, Sepoy Man Singh MVC and Major General S. S. Kalaan MVC.