Army out in India's Rajasthan to control quota protests
Army troops were deployed in India's Rajasthan state Saturday, a day after 16 people died as the ethnic Gujjar community held violent protests and clashed with the police, dpa reported.
The Gujjars, an ethnic group who rear livestock and earn a living by selling milk and dairy products, are demanding that they be classified as a scheduled tribe in order to qualify for government jobs and slots in educational institutions reserved for this section.
Once nomadic, the Gujjars mainly inhabit India's northern and western areas like Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
The agitating Gujjars in Bayana town and adjoining villages of Rajasthan clashed with the police on Friday, leaving 16 people, including a policeman dead, PTI news agency reported.
Bayana, in Rajasthan's Bharatpur district, is about 155 kilometres east of capital Jaipur and barely 65 kilometres west of the Uttar Pradesh tourist town of Agra, home to the Taj Mahal.
Most of the dead were Gujjar protestors who were killed when the police opened fire on a rioting mob that set two police vehicles ablaze and lynched a policeman in Karwar village near Bayana, PTI reported.
The police said they were forced to open fire to control the mob after teargas and rubber pellets failed to disperse them. A judicial probe has been ordered into the firing.
On Saturday, Gujjar groups continued their protests damaging state-run buses, vandalizing a bus stop on the Agra-Jaipur highway and damaging a rail track on the Mumbai-Delhi route, IANS news agency reported.
Gujjars also tried to block highways connecting Rajasthan capital Jaipur with Agra and Delhi. The Rajasthan government has stopped bus services on several routes and several trucks were reportedly stranded.
Four columns of the army, numbering about 800 troopers, had been deployed in Bayana and three adjoining villages where the situation continued to be tense, Bharatpur district official T Ravi Kant was quoted as saying.
Orders prohibiting gathering of crowds and public meetings had been promulgated in five districts of Rajasthan including Bharatpur and Jaipur.
The latest violence comes nearly a year after protests by Gujjars in Rajasthan over quotas claimed 26 lives.
Under India's affirmative action policy, quotas have been set for government jobs and admission to educational institutions for disadvantaged sections of society and lower castes who are listed as scheduled tribes and scheduled castes.
Gujjar leaders said they would take their agitation to other areas and the protests would continue till their demand was met.
They claimed Rajasthan's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party had promised to give them scheduled tribe status before local elections in 2003.
The state government has said such a decision can only be taken by the federal government to which it had sent a recommendation.