The hills along the Jaipur-Agra highway turned into a battleground on Friday as thousands of members of the Meena community attacked agitating Gujjars with iron rods and knives, witnesses and the police said.
At least eight people were killed in the attack near Lalsot town of Rajasthan’s Dausa district, at the epicentre of the four-day agitation by the Gujjar community in support of its demand for inclusion in the list of scheduled tribes. The Meenas, the biggest scheduled tribe in the state, do not want to share the benefits of reservation with the Gujjars.
“About 20,000 Meenas attacked the village at around 3 p.m., pulled people out of their homes and misbehaved with women,” Ram Singh Gujjar, a resident of Lalsot, told the Hindustan Times at Jaipur’s Sawai Man Singh Hospital where one of his relative was being treated for injuries suffered in the attack.
Rajasthan home secretary V.S. Singh said, “There may be more bodies scattered in the hills.”
The Meenas were on their way to the nearby Pyaribas town to attend a caste panchayat, said K.L. Bairwa, Rajasthan’s additional director general of police. “When their march was thwarted by a Gujjar blockade, they turned violent,” he added.
The central government sent additional paramilitary troops on Friday to help police control the situation as the violence reached the outskirts of the national capital, but chances of peace remained elusive in the usually quiet Rajasthan as talks between the Gujjars and the state government foundered.
All major highways into Rajasthan were shut for the second day on Friday and bus and train services were severely disrupted as protests by the Gujjar community continued in and outside the state.
Shoot-at-sight orders were in force in Bharatpur and army contingents were kept at the ready in other areas. In Gurgaon, the Central Reserve Police Force staged a flag march. The Meenas want the Gujjars to end their blockade and have asked the state government not to give in to the protesters. About 30 people have died since the start of the agitation.
Eyewitnesses said violence erupted when members of the Meena community attacked the Gujjars blocking the highway near Lalsot, a Meena-majority town.
Kailash Meena, a spokesperson for the Save Tribal Reservation Movement, said community members were forced to retaliate after the Gujjars trapped them on a road lined on either side by small hillocks. “Meenas were stoned from the adjoining hills,” he said.
The community quickly mobilised more people and counter-attacked with sharp weapons and lathis. The clashes continued for almost two hours. Rajasthan government officials said about 30 people were seriously injured in the attack and some of them with head and chest injuries had been moved to Jaipur for treatment.
Witnesses said a group of Meenas had laid siege to Patoli town, near Lalsot, where some Gujjars have been on a dharna since Tuesday. There were fears of violence in Patoli where the Gujjars have dug war-like trenches, but officials said the situation was peaceful.
Ramesh Gujjar, one of those involved in the blockade, said: “One man in every trench would carry a pistol to retaliate in case the Meenas attack.”
(With inputs from Tushar Srivastav)