The Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan, demanding their community's inclusion in the list of scheduled tribes (ST), claimed six more lives on Thursday, taking the total death toll to 22 since the stir began three days ago.
The violence has spread to 21 of the state’s 31 districts. There were signs it could escalate further after the Meena community threatened to counter the agitating Gujjars. They warned Gujjar leaders they would act if the stir was not withdrawn by Friday.
The Meenas, the largest scheduled tribe in the state, fear that if the Gujjar's demand is met, their community's share of the benefits accruing from their ST status, would be reduced. The STs currently have 12 per cent reservations in jobs and educational institutions.
The Gujjars are at present in the OBC category.
Meanwhile, state government representatives and leaders of the Gujjar Sangharsh Samiti (GSS), which is leading the agitation, held a second round of talks in Jaipur on Thursday, which remained inconclusive. A third round of negotiations had also begun late on Thursday.
The first round had been held in Dausa on Wednesday. The GSS leaders were escorted to Jaipur under the army’s protection. Earlier, as protests continued across the state, police opened fire in eight places to check rampaging Gujjar mobs.
Four people, part of a violent crowd, were killed in Boli town of Sawai Madhopur district, 150 km east of Jaipur. Two other deaths were reported from Kotputli and Bayana. About a dozen people were injured.
Additional DGP (Law and Order) Kanhaiya Lal said that the police opened fire in Boli when a mob turned violent and surrounded a police station. “Four persons died in the incident,” he confirmed.
Defending the police action, state Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria, said: “We will do everything to maintain law and order. Counting the number of dead will not solve the problem. In the 60-year-old history of Rajasthan, did you ever see courts, government offices, records, police stations and schools burning?”
The army was called out in Kota, Sawai Madhopur, Alwar and Karauli districts to restore law and order. The Jaipur-Delhi highway was also already handed over to the army, following violence near Kotputli on Wednesday night.
Several other districts too witnessed violent clashes between the police and the Gujjars, who tried to shut down markets in reply to a bandh call given by the GSS.
By late Thursday evening, reports said that the Gujjar agitation had spread to Delhi and the National Capital Region, including Gurgaon in Haryana and Noida in Uttar Pradesh.
(With inputs from Aabshar H. Quazi in Kota and PTI inputs)