Sixteen people, including a policeman, were killed as members of the Gujjar community — renewing a demand for ST status — clashed with police in Bayana block of Bharatpur district, 230 km from Jaipur on Friday.
Administration and police officials confirmed the deaths and said the police opened fire to control a violent group of Gujjar protesters who were trying to damage a railway track, 60 km from Bharatpur town. Bharatpur Divisional Commissioner Niranjan Arya said the protesters first opened fire from country-made firearms leading to the death of a constable.
Principal Secretary, Home, V.S. Singh said eight of the bodies were still with the protesters, who were camping at the firing site till late night.
Arya said prohibitory orders were clamped in the Gujjar-dominated Bharatpur and three other districts — Dausa, Karauli and Sawaimadhopur — on Thursday following a call by Gujjar leader Col Kirori Singh Bainsala to disrupt rail services in support of their demand. The protesters had violated the order and gathered at the spot in large numbers.
The agitation, which is threatening to spread across the state yet again, comes just days ahead of the first anniversary of the May 27 police firing on Gujjars, and subsequent violence that crippled rail and road services and killed 26 people in Rajasthan last year.
Bainsala, who had led the protests last year, said his Rajasthan Arakashan Sanghrash Samiti would avenge the deaths of innocent Gujjars in Friday’s police firing.
A spokesman for Bainsala’s, Dr Roop Singh, said the death toll was more than the number given by the administration.
In Jaipur, where Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje took stock of the situation at an emergency meeting, the State Cabinet later in the evening decided to call the army and paramilitary forces to control the situation. A probe has been ordered into the firing incident.
The Gujjars, who want to their status to be changed from OBC to ST for reservation benefits, had suspended their agitation after the state government promised to form a panel to study their case. The panel later rejected their demand but recommended special assistance.
Bharatpur IGP Umesh Mishra said the protesters first attacked the police and torched two jeeps, which left them with no option but to open fire.
Gujjars leaders said the clashes broke out as those owing allegiance to Bainsala gathered in the morning at places in Bayana block in support of a rail roko call. They claimed the police opened fire without provocation.
They said tension prevailed in several villages in the block after the firing. Protesters tried to block several roads including the Jaipur-Bikaner highway near Sikar, police said.
The principal secretary said, “Mumbai-Delhi national highway has been disrupted and normal traffic has been affected in four districts. The timings of some of the trains have been changed.”