As police opened fire on Jat protesters seeking reservation, at least one person was reported killed and six were injured near the Maharshi Dayanand University (MDU) campus here. The protesters also attacked in a bid to set on fire the house of Haryana minister Capt Abhimanyu, who was not inside. Another house was also burnt. Police did not confirm the toll, while the melee grew bigger despite efforts by the government.
Jat leaders earlier on Friday refused to withdraw their agitation till a legislation is passed giving quota to the community under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category even as the authorities in the worst-affected district suspended Internet and SMS services due to the stir which has disrupted rail and road traffic.
Meanwhile, there were no cops visible on the Delhi highway. The Jats took out a protest march and damaged three buses of the state roadways, while a counter-protest was carried out by members of other communities, including the Balmikis, who are opposed to quota for Jats. The counter-marchers too damaged a truck in which Jats had earlier reached the area. The police have filed to implement Section 144.
The protesters in Rohtak accused chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar of resisting their demand as he was “not from the community” even as the state government called an all-party meeting to end the impasse.
“We are not going to withdraw our agitation till our demand is met. We will intensify our agitation in other parts of the state, including Panchkula and Yamunanagar,” All India Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti’s national president Yashpal Malik said. “We want BJP government in Haryana to bring a legislation in the upcoming budget session to include Jats in OBC category. They should bring a law in the Assembly with regard to Jat reservation and get it passed,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the Punjab and Haryana high court asked the Khattar government to file a status report on the law and order situation as a Jat quota stir turned violent overnight, forcing several districts to block mobile internet and messaging services.
Khattar also appealed for calm on the sixth day of the agitation by the influential community which constitutes nearly 30% of the state’s population.
The high court’s order came in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a Bhiwani resident who sought a direction to the government to clear roads and rail tracks by protesters and booking of all involved in violence. The court asked the government to file its response by Tuesday.
The strike, into the sixth day, has crippled road and rail traffic across the state and shut down educational institutions in many places.
“I appeal to everyone to maintain peace and harmony in Haryana and also open roads which have been blocked due to agitation,” Khattar told reporters after an all-party meeting called to discuss the issue.
He said a panel constituted to study the demands by the community is expected to submit its report March 31.
So far Jat leaders have refused to call off the strike despite the state government’s assurance of including the community in the quota for economically backward persons (EBP) of general castes and also increasing the EBP quota from 10% to 20%.
The Jats are seeking reservation under the other backward classes (OBC) category which would enable them to seek job quota in central government departments.
Police said mobile internet and SMSes have been blocked in Rohtak, Sonepat and Panipat as messages targetting the Sikh community started circulating, threatening to vitiate an already tense situation.
“Internet and SMS services have been suspended till further orders in Rohtak,” the district’s police chief Shashank Anand said.
Police said the decision was taken after the agitation turned violent overnight in the Jat heartland with protesters clashing and pelting stones on police trying to evict them after imposition of prohibitory orders in four districts.
On Thursday, two lawyers were injured and seven motorcycles set ablaze during clashes between members of the Punjabi community and lawyers in a case of mistaken identity. Sources said, some non-Jat people had mistook the lawyers as Jat protesters outside the Rohtak district court.
Watch | Agitation over Jat quota continues in Haryana
Officials said that groups of protesters were squatting on key roads and railway tracks disrupting traffic, with the worst hit being the Rohtak-Jhajjar region, the epicentre of the protests, besides Bhiwani, Sonipat and Hisar.
The protesters also set up road blockade at many places in Panipat, which also affected movement of vehicles towards Uttar Pradesh.
In view of the blockades by the agitators, Haryana Roadways suspended its bus services on many affected routes.
The Rohtak district administration has also declared holiday in all educational institutions of Rohtak till February 21.
“Our fuel trucks have not reached us for the past four days and soon we will be out of stock. It will add to the woes of the people,” said an employee of a fuel pump on Delhi road in Rohtak.
The All Haryana Petroleum Dealers’ Association vice-president Bhushan Goel said out of 102 fuel depots in Rohtak more than 90 have already been declared dried and remaining may go out of stock if the agitation lasts for one more day. The agitation has also affected crushing operations of the co-operative sugar mills in Jat-dominated areas of Rohtak, Meham, Gohana and Sonepat.