Members of one of India’s lowest castes rioted today in a bid to get shunted even further down the social ladder, and four people were killed after a mob beat a police officer to death, officials said.
The unrest in western India – the scene of riots nearly a year ago by the same group, the Gujjars – prompted authorities to call out soldiers to bolster the police, said Gulab Chand Kataria, the home minister of Rajasthan state, where the violence took place.
The Gujjars, who already occupy one of the lowest rungs on India’s complex social ladder, have been agitating to be reclassified at an even lower level so they can get government jobs and university spots reserved for such groups.
Today they took to the streets of western India after a government panel set up to look into their demands recommended a £35m (€44m) aid package for the community, but ruled out caste reclassification.
“We will accept nothing but Scheduled Tribe status,” said Kirori Singh Bainsal, a Gujjar leader, rejecting the government offer.
Gujjars are currently considered part of the second lowest group, known as Other Backward Classes, a step up from the Scheduled Tribes and Castes.
Police were forced to fire live ammunition and tear gas after Gujjars killed a policeman and set several police vans and a railway track on fire, said police.
Kataria, the home minister, said four civilians were killed in the shooting in Bharatpur district, some 95 miles east of Rajasthan’s capital Jaipur.
Twenty-six people were killed during last year’s Gujjar riots.
The Hindu caste system was outlawed soon after independence from Britain in 1947, but its influence remains powerful and the government has sought to redress discrimination against those on the lower rungs through quotas for university spots and government jobs.
However, instead of weakening caste affiliations, the result has been a fracturing of politics along caste lines with each of the lower groups vying for their share of the spots set aside.