Violence raged across Haryana for a second day as Jat protesters demanding reservation in jobs and colleges burned government offices and railway stations, attacked shops and clashed with security forces, leaving five more people dead on Saturday.
Authorities used helicopters to bring in army and paramilitary soldiers after angry mobs dug up roads and used trucks and buses to seal off the districts of Bhiwani, Jhajjar and the epicentre of the protests, Rohtak.
The violence appeared to take on caste colours with protesters looting and damaging non-Jat property in Rohtak, where incidents of firing between the two communities were also reported. A Jat guesthouse was set on fire in Bhiwani. Curfews were clamped on Sonepat, Jind and Jhajjar towns.
Four deaths were reported from Jhajjar, where police opened fire after being attacked, while the fifth was reported from Kaithal, taking the toll in the week-long protests to eight.
Reports of violence came in from almost every part of the state, especially Rohtak where, witnesses said, about 8,000-10,000 Jats had virtually “captured” the town. Protesters went on the rampage, setting fire to state buses and a couple of government offices and looting some 500 shops.
Stick-and-gun wielding mobs damaged railway tracks and started fires at three railway stations leading 600 trains to be cancelled since Friday, said Indian Railways spokesman Neeraj Sharma. A private college and an ayurvedic dispensary were also torched. In Jhajjar, angry protesters torched two banks and a petrol pump, defying the security clamp down.
Life was hit in most parts of the state with shops, offices and schools closed. Fuel pumps in many places went dry as transport through the state virtually broke down. Mobile internet services remained suspended in many districts for a second day. The Delhi-Lahore bus service was also stopped.
Thousands of protesters, including women, tried to stop an army flag march in Rohtak town where, police said, Jats from neighbouring villages were arriving in large numbers.
Top ministers and senior security officials, including national security advisor Ajit Doval and army chief Dalbir Singh Suhag, met on Saturday to discuss the state’s violent lockdown.
“There are reports that some extreme violence has taken place in Rohtak,” said a senior government official in New Delhi requesting anonymity and without elaborating.
Jat leaders have rejected the government’s offer to accept “all demands” of the community, which accounts for 26% of the state’s 2.64-crore population.
“We will not withdraw our agitation unless the state government brings an ordinance for giving reservation to Jats,” said Yashpal Malik, president of the All India Jat Aarakshan Sangarsh Samiti.
Although the Jats rank fairly highly in caste hierarchy, fast population growth and a lack of opportunity are fueling their demand for reservation in jobs and colleges. In 2014, the UPA government tried to allot quotas to them but the Supreme Court rejected the plan, saying it violated rules around quotas.
The Jat protests echo violence by Patidars or Patels making similar demands in Gujarat last August, which left several dead.
(With inputs from Rajesh Ahuja in New Delhi)