The Jat stir for quota in government jobs and education is picking pace in Haryana after a slow start, with numbers of protesters swelling by the day.
On Sunday, the eighth day of the renewed agitation that saw widespread violence and left 30 people dead a year ago, sit-ins were held in villages and along national highways, sources said.
To attract crowds to build pressure on the Khattar government, the organisers have roped in ragini artistes, folk dancers and are holding poetry recitations for children.
Makeshift mega kitchens are serving hot food to keep the protesters going.
The agitation picked pace after All India Jat Sangharsh Samiti (AIJASS) chief Yashpal Malik visited the dharna spots and the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal came out in support of the protesters.
AIJASS is an umbrella organisation leading the campaign for Jat quotas in Harayan and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
In Jassia in Rohtak, the epicentre of last year’s stir, thousands of Jats, including women, hold daily demonstrations demanding reservation, withdrawal of cases registered during the last year’s violence and release of protesters arrested on charges of rioting and arson.
The protesters usually start gathering at the “dharna ground” in the afternoon and stay on till evening.
With people from nearby villages joining the protest, crowds swelled on Sunday. Police were forced to divert traffic on national highway-71A, which connects Rohtak to Panipat, as protesters started blocking vehicles.
There were a few tense moments when protesters refused to move away from the road. They returned to the dharan site, which runs parallel to the highway, on the request of the AIJASS members, who asked police to divert traffic to avoid a flare-up.
Though Section 144 of the CrPC, which prohibits assembly of more than four people, is clamped along the national highway and public spots, it is hardly a deterrent.
Security personnel are deployed in the markets and public places in Rohtak, which saw large-scale looting and arson last year when properties of non-Jats were targeted by mobs.
The protesters will observe February 19 as Balidan Divas’ in the memory of those who lost their lives in the last year’s stir, Malik said on Sunday.
Folk dancers, raginis artistes and food are the crowd-pullers at the dharna sites. The protest committee is also holding speech and poetry recitation competitions to draw young kids.
A committee has been set up to receive donations. Lakhs of rupees have been donated by members of the community and politicians, AIJASS sources said.
A traditionally dominant community that forms quarter of the Haryana’s population, Jats say they have been overlooked by successive governments.
The Punjab and Harayan high court had in May 2016 stayed the Khattar government’s decision to grant reservation to Jats and five other communities in jobs and educational institutions under the newly created backward class ‘C’ category.