Thousands of Gujjars courted arrest across seven divisions of Rajasthan on Tuesday in a fresh agitation to pressurise the Rajasthan government to accord the community Scheduled Tribe status. The stir has so far been entirely peaceful.
Agitation leaders Colonel Kirori Singh Bainsala, convenor of the Gujjar Mahasabha, Roop Singh and Atar Singh Badhana courted arrest at Lohgrah stadium in Bharatpur along with a large crowd of supporters. “There is great enthusiasm. We have achieved our target of 4 to 5 lakh people going to jail,” Col Bainsala told Hindustan Times over telephone late on Tuesday evening. “The government may try to conceal the exact number of Gujjars arrested. Gujjars have already stopped supplying milk across the state to protest the injustice being done to us.”
There was indeed wide discrepancy in the numbers provided by different sources of people who actually went to jail. While the agitation leaders claimed that lakhs had courted arrest, officials put the figure at no more than 20,000.
Gujjar leaders also claimed that busloads of people travelling to district headquarters to court arrest had been stopped by the administration and prevented from proceeding.
Congress MP Sachin Pilot also courted arrest leading a large crowd at Muhana Mode, 25 kms from the capital. Other prominent Gujjar leaders arrested in different parts of the state included dissident BJP MLA Nathu Singh Gurjar, expelled BJP MLA Prahlad Gunjal, and former Congress chief whip in the state assembly Hari Singh Mahuwa.
“Every citizen has the right to agitate but it should be in a non-violent manner,” said Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. “It should not inconvenience common people.” The state government has geared up to meet this sudden influx into its jails. In all the 260 temporary jails tents — pitched on large, open grounds — have been erected and 60,000 policemen deployed to handle the arrests across 25 districts.
“We had expected around 1.5 lakh people, but the number of those coming forward is very small at present,” said Gulab Singh Kataria, state home minister. “We have deputed teams of the doctors and para medical staff at every jail to provide immediate support to anyone who is ill,” said R.K. Meena, principal secretary, health.
Although the agitation was confined to a single day, Gujjar leaders confirmed that those arrested will refuse bail and insist on remaining in prison. The continuing incarceration of such large numbers is likely to put severe strain on the government's resources in coming days.
(with inputs from districts)