ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 01

22 killed as India’s caste riot continues

An ethnic Gujjar man tries to torch a tyre during a protest in New Delhi yesterday. Reuters

JAIPUR, India, Saturday (Reuters) - Protesters from an ethnic Indian group demanding special government privileges blocked roads and damaged railway tracks today, stranding thousands in a fifth day of protests that has killed 23 people.

Violence erupted across north and western India after ethnic Gujjars began demanding they be declared a Scheduled Tribe (ST) which entitles them to government job and college quotas. The demand has been opposed by Meenas, a tribal group, who fear they will lose their own quota slice, leading to violent clashes between the two communities.

Today, a mob torched a police post in the western state of Rajasthan, popular with foreign tourists, where the protesters had also blocked several key roads, officials said in the state capital Jaipur. Gujjar protesters removed a portion of railway tracks in the northern Uttar Pradesh state, throwing train services out of gear.

“Services of about 25 trains have been affected,” B.P. Pandey, a railway official, told Reuters in New Delhi. “Our engineers have reached the spot, but the agitators are not allowing them to restore the tracks.” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed for calm in Rajasthan and neighbouring Haryana state today, urging people to desist from violence.

In the past two decades, more castes and communities under Hinduism's ancient hierarchy have been demanding special quotas to garner government jobs and college places through affirmative action programmes. Gujjars, spread across north and western India, are mainly shepherds and farmers.

There are several groups that benefit from government affirmative action -- Scheduled Castes (SC), made up of “untouchables” and which is the lowest tier, and Scheduled Tribes (ST) made up of tribal groups the next tier.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.