14 dead in Rajasthan mayhem, army called out

By Anil Sharma


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Jaipur : At least 14 people were killed in the worst outbreak of violence in Rajasthan since 1966 as police fired at thousands of Gujjars seeking tribal status in a bid to improve their economic standards.

By evening, the Indian Army was rushed to three major trouble spots including Patauli near Dausa, about 80 km from Jaipur, after an overwhelmed police pulled out of the area, leaving frenzied Gujjars dominating a wide belt.

Twelve civilians were shot dead earlier in the day as policemen chased Gujjar mobs through villages along the Jaipur-Agra highway after the protesters killed a police constable at Patauli, officials said. The identity of one dead man was not clear.

Nearly 100 people were also injured in the violence, most of them civilians.

Some Gujjars – who are mainly cultivators – also chopped off a constable's leg and a hand of another in the area, infuriating the security forces and sparking two and a half hours of tit-for-tat violence.

Angered by the deaths of their community members, Gujjars rained whatever missiles they could at the policemen, attacked police vans and also burnt tires on roads to block movement of security forces.

Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria told reporters in the evening here that the situation in a vast stretch of southeastern Rajasthan remained tense but he said the government was determined to restore peace.

He defended the police decision to fire at the protesters after the use of batons and tear gas failed to contain the trouble.

"I think the police did a very good job," Kataria said, even as Indian troops were hurriedly dispatched from Jaipur, Kota and Bharatpur to Patauli, Bundi and Mahua respectively to beef up the police.

Mobs set fire to several buses along the Jaipur-Agra highway, paralyzing road traffic for hours. The Jaipur-Agra-New Delhi "Golden Triangle" is hugely popular with both Indian and foreign tourists.

Kataria said the Agra-Jaipur road traffic was back on track but added ominously: "We don't know what will happen at night."

But he went on: "We will be making arrests. This is no way to protest in a democracy. Killing policemen is unacceptable. Only the central government can give them tribal status because it involves constitutional change, not us. We will recommend their case. But why the violence?"

Besides Patauli, the other worst hit place was Bundi, about 180 km from Jaipur. Another place that saw violence was Mahua, about 40 km from Patauli.

Rajasthan's Gujjars, who also live in large numbers all over northern India, want that they should be classified as tribals, economically a far worse social grouping so that they can take advantage of the benefits the government extends to the latter.

Gujjars are a poor community in Rajasthan compared to the two dominant groups – Jats and Rajputs. Gujjar leaders allege that successive governments in the state have discriminated against them.

A similar protest in September last year also saw violence, affecting train services between Mumbai and New Delhi.

Home Secretary V.S. Singh said earlier that the army would hold flag marches on the Jaipur-Agra highway.

Tuesday's trouble erupted at 8 a.m. when about 30,000 Gujjars gathered on the highway and blocked it.

The police tried to disperse them but they refused to take orders. The police then started hitting the crowds with batons, fired tear gas and finally resorted to firing.

There was panic as the crowds damaged police vehicles. Police eventually backed out from the scene, witnesses said.

"We had only two options – either to fire again or leave the area. In the best interests of everybody, we decided to back out," an official said.

Prohibitory orders have been imposed in Tonk, Jaipur, Dausa, Sawai Madhopur and Karauli districts.

The Gujjar Sangarsh Samiti had called for blocking all highways leading to Jaipur Tuesday.

The Gujjar Mahasabha had postponed its agitation till July 31 after a cabinet sub-committee was formed in September to examine the quota issue and moving the Gujjars from other backward classes (OBCs) to Scheduled Tribe category.