13 die in police firing on Gujjar rally demanding tribal quota status

Jaipur: Gujjars hurl stones at unseen police during clashes on National Highway 12 at Bundi in Rajasthan. At least seven people have been killed in violent clashes in India’s Rajasthan state over the government’s affirmative action plans, officials say.Police fired on protesters from the nomadic Gujjar tribe who had blocked a key national highway near Delhi.

At least one of those killed is believed to be a policeman.

The Gujjars are demanding that they be included in an affirmative action quota which would give them access to government jobs and other benefits.

Police say they opened fire after tens of thousands of Gujjar protesters turned violent. Protesters said police shot at unarmed crowds.

Protesters began their action on Monday night, blocking a key highway which connects the city of Jaipur with the tourist destination of Agra where the Taj Mahal is located.Police have confirmed only three deaths, including one of a policeman.

But witnesses and local officials in Dausa district where the violence took place say more than double than that number were killed.

A senior police officer told the BBC he suspected that at least half a dozen more people had been killed in the clashes and that protesters were holding six bodies, including those of two policemen.

“The police first tried to negotiate with the protesters,” HK Dahmor, chief of administration of Dausa district, told the AFP news agency.

“When the protesters did not budge, the police tried to physically move them from the spot which sparked the clashes.”

A Gujjar community leader, Avinash Badana, told India’s state-run Doordarshan channel that the police had fired on “unarmed people”.

Correspondents say the situation is still very tense and extra police have been rushed to the area.

The state administration is holding an emergency meeting and soldiers are being sent to the area to try to keep the peace.

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says the Gujjars are a large and politically-influential nomadic tribe spread across north India.

They are demanding that they be categorised as an official tribe so that they may benefit from affirmative action quotas which will give them access to government jobs as well as places in state-supported schools and colleges, he says.

Our correspondent says the issue of affirmative action is a sensitive one in India with many poor communities arguing that it is the only way millions of under-privileged people can benefit from India’s economic boom.

But those opposed to it say it is a cynical move by politicians to gain more votes from politically influential communities who make up a large percentage of the country’s population.
-BBC (May 30, 2007)

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