Curfew after violent caste protests in Indian state

NEW DELHI • Indian authorities imposed a curfew and issued shoot-on-sight orders in a northern state neighbouring New Delhi after spreading caste protests left at least one person dead and troops were deployed, officials said.

Television images yesterday showed mobs wielding sticks rampaging through the streets in northern Haryana state, setting fire to a local government minister's house and railway stations, damaging train tracks and blocking two key highways. The day before, the police had opened fire on protesters, killing at least one, as the week-long protest by the state's dominant Jat caste, who are demanding quotas in government jobs and education, took a violent turn.

More than 5,000 army and paramilitary troopers patrolled the streets to impose a round-the-clock curfew in eight districts.

"One person is confirmed dead and five are critical. Eighty-eight others are injured," Haryana police chief Yash Pal Singal said. Local news reports said three people had died in the violence.

Protesters damaged railway tracks and started fires at stations, causing 600 trains to be cancelled since Friday, a spokesman for Indian Railways said.

Jats, a comparatively affluent caste group, have been calling for quotas in government jobs similar to those allocated to lower castes, but other groups oppose their call.

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday held meetings with security officials before dispatching additional troops to the state and appealed to protesters for peace.

But Jat leaders threatened to continue protesting after talks with Haryana's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party state government was inconclusive. "The protest will only end when the government accepts our demands," Mr Yashapal Malik, the president of a national Jat organisation leading the protest, said.

India sets aside a proportion of jobs and places to people from so-called lower and backward castes under measures intended to bring victims of the worst discrimination into the mainstream.

But the policy of "reservation" causes resentment among other communities who say it freezes them out.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 21, 2016, with the headline 'Curfew after violent caste protests in Indian state'. Print Edition | Subscribe