Sun, Jun 03, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Indian state reopens transport links after caste wars


Train and road transport were partially restored in a northwestern Indian state after four days of violent clashes among police and two lower castes left at least 23 dead, officials said yesterday.

With a large number of army and paramilitary forces in place, authorities restored train and road services between New Delhi and Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan State, bringing relief to thousands of people stranded for days in the state, a major tourist destination, said V.S. Singh, the state home commissioner.

The protests have also disrupted transport to Agra, site of the Taj Mahal.

Members of the Gujjar caste protested on Friday in neighboring Uttar Pradesh state, disrupting train and road traffic there, the CNN-IBN television news channel reported. Details were not immediately available.

No new violence was reported in Rajasthan after four people were killed on Friday in clashes between the Meena caste and the rival Gujjar caste in Lalsot village in Dausa district, despite warnings that police would shoot protesters on sight, Singh said.

The Gujjars have been staging violent protests since Tuesday, demanding their caste's official classification at the bottom of India's complex social ladder to receive government jobs and university spots reserved for such groups.

The Meena caste, which already receives the benefits, is opposed to sharing them with the Gujjars.

On Friday, B.R. Gwala, an inspector-general of police, said the two communities were trying to mobilize supporters in their strongholds.

"However, the overall situation in the state is under control," he said.

Top leaders of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which governs Rajasthan, met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Indian capital yesterday and discussed the situation in the state.

Details of the discussion were not immediately available.

Dausa, about 120km from Jaipur, has seen most of the violence, including repeated attacks on government offices, railroad stations, and vehicles, said B.L. Arya, the state's deputy home secretary.

Gujjar protesters and police have also clashed in many places, resulting in the deaths of at least two policemen and 17 demonstrators. The protests have spread to neighboring Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi states.

Although India officially banned caste discrimination decades ago, lower social groups such as the Gujjar, who are traditionally farmers and shepherds in northwestern India, still face widespread disadvantages.

In an attempt to right historical wrongs, India's federal and state governments have over the past decades established quotas for lower caste groups to ensure they get government jobs and university spots.

Gujjars are already classified as one of India's thousands of "Other Backward Classes," which gives them some preferential treatment. However, they want to be redefined as a "Scheduled Tribe," an even lower classification that would open up more opportunities.

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