Indian state grants new job quotas after caste violence

Indian Patel Patidar Community leader Laljibhai Patel sits in a police van after he was injured in clashes between supporters of Patel Patidar and Gujarat Police, on April 17, 2016.
Indian Patel Patidar Community leader Laljibhai Patel sits in a police van after he was injured in clashes between supporters of Patel Patidar and Gujarat Police, on April 17, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

AHMEDABAD, India (AFP) - A state in western India said Friday (April 29) it will reserve 10 per cent of government jobs and university spots for people whose income falls below a certain threshold after deadly caste protests last year.

India sets aside a proportion of official positions and post-secondary places for its lower castes to try to counter historic discrimination, but that has caused deep resentment among other communities, who say it freezes them out.

At least 10 people were killed when thousands of Patidars, a relatively well-off caste of farmers and traders, took to the streets in the western state of Gujarat to demand they be included in those quotas.

They argue that they are struggling to compete with lower castes who are given preferential access to government jobs.

Chief minister of Gujarat state Anandiben Patel said Friday a new quota system would be set up to cover those with a household income lower than 600,000 rupees (S$12,153) a year, regardless of their caste.

"People from general category having annual income limit of Rs 6 lakh (600,000) will get 10% EBC reservation in education institutions & government jobs," tweeted Patel, referring to the category of Economically Backward Class.

However the Patidars, who waged fresh protests in Gujarat earlier this month, say they should be included in the Other Backward Castes (OBC) category, whose members have their own, more generous quotas.

Community leader Lalit Vasoya accused the Gujarat government of a "political move" to end the divisive protests ahead of elections for the state assembly next year.

"Our demand for inclusion under OBC will remain as it is. We do not accept this decision of the government," Vasoya said.

Gujarat, the birthplace of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is one of India's most prosperous states, but still suffers from high levels of youth unemployment in its rural areas.

Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party rules in Gujarat, but has performed poorly in a number of recent elections in other states.

Similar caste protests have been held elsewhere in India.

Earlier this year around a dozen people were killed in the northern state of Haryana when members of the Jat caste waged violent protests to demand similar quotas.

Thousands of troops had to be deployed before the violence could be brought under control.