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Protesters besiege Delhi over job quotas
NEW DELHI |
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters from the Gujjar community burned tyres and blocked roads leading to New Delhi on Thursday, bringing a battle for state jobs and college quotas in which dozens have died closer to the capital.
Huge traffic jams formed on major highways leading into New Delhi, as ethnic Gujjars, demanding access to state jobs and college quotas, shouted slogans and squatted on main roads on the borders of east and north Delhi.
Thirty seven people, including one policeman, have been killed in the protests.
The Gujjars, who threw stones at police and at places broke windshields of cars and buses, are fighting to be reclassified further down India's complex Hindu caste and status system to qualify for government jobs and university places reserved for such groups.
Police cleared most blockades after hours of scuffles. Some train services to towns outside Delhi, including several tourist destinations, remained suspended.
Demonstrations turned violent last week after protesters lynched a policeman and police fired on protesters, killing 36 of them in just a few days.
On Thursday morning, the stick-wielding Gujjar protesters turned away vehicles from the towns of Noida and Gurgaon, home to scores of outsourcing and computer software firms.
Many offices were closed. Some telecom firms such as BlackBerry closed their service centres in these suburbs.
"The truth is that our politics is driving us into an explosive cul de sac," wrote Pratap Bhanu Mehta, head of the Centre for Policy Research, in The Indian Express.
"The recent, terrible violence is a reminder of what happens to societies when they can neither endure their current social condition, nor the means to overcome it."
BLOCKED WITH BODIES
The government reserves about half of all seats in state colleges and universities for lower castes and tribal groups to flatten centuries-old social hierarchies, in what has been called the world's biggest affirmative action scheme.
The Gujjars fall into the Other Backward Classes grouping and seek to be reclassified under the Scheduled Tribes and Castes grouping.
The scheme has been criticised for accentuating caste identities in India, where discrimination on caste is banned in the constitution.
Some critics say the quota system masks India's failure to provide good universal education and social equality.
In Rajasthan's towns of Bayana and Sikandra, where Gujjars are a majority, protesters blocked roads with bodies of some of those killed in the police firing a week ago, saying the bodies would not be cremated until the government relented.
The army and federal police forces surrounded the two towns.
"The Rajasthan government must realise the mood of the people and not delay the implementation of quotas for Gujjars," Avatar Singh Bhadana, a top Gujjar leader, said.
A year ago, Gujjars in Rajasthan fought police and members of another caste that already qualifies for job quotas. At least 26 people were killed in that violence.
After these protests, a state government committee said it would spend 2.8 billion rupees ($67 million) improving schools, clinics, roads and other infrastructure in Gujjar areas. But Gujjars rejected this option.
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