Rajasthan and Jhalawar

1. Rajasthan

Rajasthan, geographically the largest state of India, is situated in the north-western part of the country and is home to 68.6 million people (5.67 per cent of the country’s population). Rajasthan is divided into six zones covering 33 districts, 237 blocks and 41,353 villages. The state is largely rural and 80 per cent of its population is dependent on agriculture for a livelihood.

There is a high level of poverty in Rajasthan and living conditions are difficult for majority of the population. The sex ratio in the state at 926 is below the national average of 940, while the child sex ratio at 883 is below the national average of 914. It is among those states with the lowest child sex ratio; these figures indicate a strong male child preference and the probable practice of sex-selective abortion. This further indicates the lower status of girls and women within Rajasthani society. The median age at first marriage among women and men in the age group of 20-49 in Rajasthan is 15 years and 19 years respectively. Rajasthan has recorded an improvement in the female literacy rate and now stands at 52.6 per cent against that of 43.9 per cent in 2001, although this figure stands way below the national average of 65.4 per cent. Overall, this is the lowest female literacy rate in the country. On the contrary, the male literacy rate at 80.5 per cent is close to the national average of 82.1 per cent.

In a state like Rajasthan, young girls are married when they are still children and as a result are denied fundamental human rights. Early marriage compromises their development and often results in early pregnancy and social isolation, with little education and poor vocational training reinforcing the gendered nature of poverty. Required to perform heavy amounts of domestic work, under pressure to demonstrate fertility, married girls and child mothers face constrained decision-making and reduced life choices. Both boys and girls are affected by child marriage but the issue impacts girls in far larger numbers, with more intensity—and is wide ranging. This is obvious that the consequences of child marriage are often far wider than just their impact on the individual children affected. The marriage of children has negative effects on families and communities. The practice thrives on poverty and impacts adversely on a country’s health and education sector.

2. Jhalawar

Jhalawar is one of the 33 districts in the state of Rajasthan and lies in the northwestern part of India. The princely state of Jhalawar was the last kingdom of the British Empire and lies in the south-eastern region of Rajasthan at the edge of the Malwa plateau. It has a rocky,  but water-laden verdant landscape, unlike much of Rajasthan. With some exquisite pre- historic cave paintings, massive forts, thickly-wooded forests, and exotic wildlife, Jhalawar boasts of rich historic as well as natural wealth. Geographically, it can be divided into two parts – the plateau of Malwa in the South and the Mukundra hills in other parts. Jhalawar experiences the heaviest rains in Rajasthan. It consists of 7 sub divisions, 7 Tehsils1 and 6 Panchayat Samitis2 spreading over 252 Gram Panchayats3 and 5 municipal corporations. There are around 1622 villages out of which 1589 are populated. In 2006, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj of the Government of India listed Jhalawar as one of the country’s most backward districts out of a total of 640 districts in India.

1An administrative area in parts of India
2Panchayat Samiti is a local government body at the tehsil level
3A Gram Panchayat or Village Council is a statutory institution of rural self-government in India. The word ‘Panchayat’ comes from the Sanskrit word panch meaning five. This is because such councils originally consisted of five members. The State Government establishes a Panchayat in the name of a particular village. Members are elected on the basis of public votes.

2.1 History

Jhalawar has seen the reign of various clans and the impact of mixed cultures has been a natural occurrence for the people of the area; from the reign of King Mandhata of the Ishvaku clan, an ancestor of Lord Rama4, to King Shatrughati, king Vind-Anuvind, and the influence of various other groups such as the Malvas, Mauryans, Parmars, Marathas, Khinchi’s, Hadas, Jhalas etc.

The princely state of Jhalawar was founded as a result of the political conflict between two Rajput5 clans: the Jhalas and the Hadas of the princely state of Kota. Jhalawar was founded on April 8, 1838 by taking 17 Paragna’s (Administrative Units) from the state of Kota. The name Jhalawar was coined based on the name of the then king of Kota, Madho Singh Jhala, who subsequently became the first king of Jhalawar. Since Madho Singh Jhala did not have a son, he was granted permission by the British Empire to adopt a son and he did so by >adopting Bakht Singh, who was later named Zalim Singh II when he succeeded the throne. Since Zalim Singh II was against the British Empire in India, he was dethroned in 1896.

On February 6, 1899, the British Empire handed the state of Jhalawar to Maharajrana Bhawani Singh whose era is considered to be the golden era of Jhalawar. He was succeeded by his son Rajendra Singh. During his regime, Rajendra Singh allowed the Harijans to enter the Dwarika Dhish temple of Jhalrapatan. Harijans were individuals considered to be at the bottom of or outside the Hindu caste system. Originally called Untouchables or Pariahs, they were given the name Harijans by Indian political and religious leaders. King Rajendra Singh’s radical gesture brought Jhalawar into the spotlight and word spread across the entire country. King Rajendra Singh was also a poet under the pen-names Sudhakar and Makhmoor and is the author of ‘Pratidin Dagar Bahurat Harijan’, ‘Madhushala Madhubala’ etc.

4 Lord Rama is the seventh avatar of the Hindu God, Vishnu and the king of Ayodhya in the Hindu scriptures. He is one of many popular deities and figures in Hinduism and also the hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana
5 A Rajput (from Sanskrit raja-putra, "son of a king") is a member of one of the patrilineal clans of western, central, northern India, and some parts of Pakistan. They claim to be descendants of ruling Hindu warrior classes of North India

2.2 Places of interest and stories

2.2.1 Gagron fort

Gagron fort is situated around 4 kilometers north of the Jhalawar district headquarters. This fort is surrounded by the waters of the Ahu and Kali Sindh rivers on three sides and can be considered as one of the finest example of Jala Durg (protected by water). The fourth side contains a moat, designed to protect the fort against infiltration and assault. The fort has witnessed as many as 14 battles and 3 Jauhars6 in the past. Gagron fort was established in 1195 A.D by King Bijaldev of the Parmara Empire. It is believed that Alaudin Khilji7 had invaded Gagron in 1300 A.D. but was defeated by Raja Jaitsi

Gagron was also invaded by Sultan Hoshanshah of Malwa who who was the monarch of the Mandu region in the 14th century. Raja Achaldas Khinchi, the then emperor of Gagron exhibited a great deal of courage, gallantry, and ultimately attained martyrdom. The brave Rajput soldiers battled without any fear. The Rajput women, famed for their valour followed suit by committing Jauhar after hearing that the Sultan had overpowered and assassinated all the Rajput soldiers as they stepped inside the Gagron fort. Even today, the Jauhar Kund (the site where Jauhar would be attempted) is still placed within the Fort compound.

Consequently, Gagron fort was captured from the influence of the Mughal emperors in the 15th century. In the 16th century, the fort was conquered by Raja Mukund Singh of Kota. From that point onwards, Gagron was a division of the Kota region until the year 1948. In 2013, the fort was declared a world heritage site by the Archaeological Survey of India and UNESCO.

6 An act involving: 1. Honourable self- immolation, usually carried out by the women of the Rajput clan to avoid dishonourable capture or enslavement at the hands of invaders. 2. Subsequent march of the men to the battlefield where they can end their lives with respect
7 The second ruler of the Khilji dynasty in India

2.2.2 Kolvi Caves

The Kolvi Caves are situated about 90 kilometers from Jhalawar in the village of Kolvi. These caves have the distinction of being the only rock-cut caves in Rajasthan. They are ancient Buddhist caves in the form of a triangle at a distance of about 6 to 8 kilometers from each other. There were around 103 caves earlier but the number has now come down to 90.

The caves were first discovered by Dr. Impe in 1853 and were described in a report by General Cunningham published in 1864. As per the surveyors, these caves were first constructed in the 6th Century, but according to historians, these caves were constructed in the 3rd century by Gautama Buddha’s contemporary disciple, Mahamaudglayan.

2.2.3 Chandrabhaga-Chandrawati

The Chandrabhaga River flows from Jhalrapatan, around 5 kilometers of Jhalawar. The ancient city of Jhalrapatan has an exceptionally large number of temples of all kind and hence, it is also known as 'the City of Bells'. Amongst the old temples, about four or five still remain and the most famous amongst them is the Sitalesvara Mahadeva Temple which is also considered as one of the most remarkable specimens of architecture in India.

In the month of Kartik (October-November), a large cattle fair is held on the banks of river Chandrabhaga on the occasion of Kartik Purnima8. Pilgrims from Hadoti region and parts of the neighboring state of Madhya Pradesh come and bathe in the holy waters of the Chandrabhaga River. Various cultural activities are also held by the Rajasthan Tourism Department.

8 Kartik Purnima is the Full Moon Day of the Kartika month, usually the full moon in the month of November. It has many names including the Diwali of the Gods and Tripuri Purnima. This day marks the victory of Lord Shiva over the demon Tripuri.

2.3 Society and Culture

Community and social life in Jhalawar are concentrated on the banks of rivers and ponds. Most people reside in villages, to which the government has provided water connection, electricity, and road connectivity. People are farmers, agriculture-based labourers and skilled labourers. Generally, the house of the village head (usually the one who owns most of the land) is situated in the middle of every village. The people from lower castes/classes still reside on the outskirts of each village.

Jhalawar is part of the Hadoti regions which consists of Kota, Jhalawar, Baran and Bundi districts of Rajasthan. The people speak more than a dozen Rajasthani dialects like Ahiri, Saundhwadi, Malwi, Hadoti, Banjari/Labani, Marwadi and Dhoondhani.

Though people of all religions are found here, the most dominant population is theHindus. The several castes that are found in the region are Jain, Mahajan, Kumhar, Patidar, Chamar, Bheel, Meena, Dangi, Teli, Tamoli, Gurjar, Nai, Brahmins, Rajputs, Kayasthas, Faqirs etc.

As is the case with most places in India, the structure of society in Jhalawar is deeply patriarchal. A strong preference for sons exists in the region as it does throughout the country, since cultural institutions make it economically advantageous for families to have sons. The area is therefore plagued by high rates of female infanticide and female feticide.

Girls are commonly married young, quickly become mothers, and are then burdened by stringent domestic and financial responsibilities. They are frequently malnourished (since women typically are the last member of a household to eat and the last to receive medical attention) and are given fewer schooling opportunities compared to boys.

Hindus believe in the theory of “Mahurats” or auspicious timings in every step in life – whether to begin a new venture or making an important purchase. Akshaya Tritiya is one such momentous occasion. It is considered an auspicious day in the Hindu calendar and a large number of children are married off on this day. Young girls are forced to marry men they have never met before and who may be many years older than they are. Once married, they are responsible for looking after their husbands, the house, and the children they give birth to while still children themselves.

Nata Pratha is another traditional practice where a man or woman can opt out of their present marriage and can seek another partner by paying a specific monetary price for him or her. This custom has been practiced over centuries. Generally, the woman is given custody of the children, who are automatically empowered to inherit the father’s wealth. This practice can be misused and a woman left with no assistance or support; she can simply be sold off to the highest bidder. Often, the woman is completely ignorant of the fact that she has been exchanged and is expected to meekly walk off with a stranger. The panchayat or the five village leaders can be approached in cases of issues insufficient sum or custody of the children.

2.3.1 Food

The common food of the area is wheat products and vegetables. The famous Rajasthani dish i.e. Daal, Baati and Churma is very popular among the people of Jhalawar. Rice is rarely consumed, perhaps once in a week or fortnight. Most people are vegetarians and only some sections of Rajputs and people from lower castes consume non-vegetarian food items, in addition to people belonging to the Muslim community. However, during marriages, non- vegetarian items are not served, even in the Muslim community. Famous food items served during weddings are Poori (Deep fried bread), Saag (Opium or Spinach leaf vegetable), Nutty (Made of fine wheat flour), Nankeen (A savoury/salty mix) and/or Daal (Pulse) and Baati (Wheat flour ball either boiled in water or roasted in dried cow or buffalo dung and then dipped in ghee i.e. clarified butter).

Jhalawar is famous for producing world-class opium and most people are addicted directly to opium or opium products. The most famous local sweet is Posta Dana Barfee (made of opium seeds). People also eat vegetables prepared from opium leaves.

2.3.2 Location

Jhalawar is located in the South-Eastern part of Rajasthan on the edge of the Malwa plateau. It is bounded on the North-West by Kota district, on the North-East by Baran district of Rajasthan. On the East, it shares its boundaries with Guna district, on the South with Rajgarh and Shajapur districts, and on the West with Ratlam, Mandsaur and Nimach districts of the state of Madhya Pradesh.

Jhalawar lies on the National Highway 12 (Jaipur in Rajasthan to Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh). Though, there is a newly opened railway station in Jhalawar, it is only connected by a single passenger train from Kota to Jhalawar. The nearest biggest station is Ramganj Mandi which falls on the New Delhi-Mumbai railway line and is around 27 kilometers from Jhalawar.

2.3.3 Geography

Jhalawar has a rocky but water-laden verdant landscape, unlike much of Rajasthan. The terrain is rock-strewn and scrub-covered, occasionally bright with fields of poppies and citrus-green groves of oranges.

Jhalawar district is an expanse of fertile plain having rich, black-cotton soil. It is watered by several rivers, giving it a verdant look. The largest river flowing through the area is Kali Sindh which flows through the territory to join the Chambal, Rajasthan's largest river.

The Aravali hills, which are the most ancient folded mountain range in India, cross the region and roughly divide the plains of Hadoti from the Malwa plateau. These hills and the surrounding areas were once thickly forested and teemed with wildlife.

2.3.4 Climate

The climate of the area is similar to that of the Indo-Gangetic plain, with hot, dry summers and delightfully cold winters. The monsoon is, however, very distinct from the oppressive humid climate of the North India plains. Jhalawar is known to have the highest rainfall in the state of Rajasthan. An average of 35 inches of rainfall keeps it cool and gentle breezes ward off the stifling humidity.

2.3.5 Agriculture

The most common cash crops in the area are garlic, coriander, and poppy while it is also famous for the production of oranges. Jhalawar is also known as the "Nagpur of Rajasthan", as it stands second place in orange production in India after Nagpur, which is in the state of Maharastra. The citrus belt is spread around the Bhawani Mandi, Jhalrapatan, and Pirawa sub divisions, which produce high-quality oranges that are exported to various countries.

2.3.6 Demographics

Males constitute 53% of the population and females 47%. Jhalawar has an average literacy rate of 62%, higher than the national average of 59.5%: male literacy is 76%, and female literacy is 47%. In Jhalawar, 14% of the population is under 6 years of age. The sex ratio stood at 946 per 1000 males according to the 2011 Census9 figures. However, the child sex ratio is only 912 girls per 1000 boys.