Bodies await autopsy, Gujjar agitation spreads

May 28th, 2008 - 10:35 pm ICT by admin  

By Sahil Makkar
Bayana (Rajasthan), May 28 (IANS) The decaying bodies of 37 Gujjars, who died last week, are still lying at four places awaiting autopsy and cremation on the sixth day Wednesday of the largely rural community’s agitation for affirmative action. Life also remained crippled in several towns across this western Indian state of Rajasthan with highways and roads blocked. No talks were held between the Gujjar Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti (Gujjar pro-reservation front) and the Vasundhara Raje-led state government. On the contrary, the Gujjars decided to carry their battle for the Scheduled Tribes status closer to Raje’s citadel and announced a general shut-down Thursday in the capital city Jaipur.

The Gujjars have also decided to shut the national capital region Thursday. On Wednesday despite heavy squall and rains, the Gujjars did not leave the epicenter of their agitation in Bayana block. In fact, their number swelled from 5,000 to nearly 8,000 as the day progressed.

That the Gujjars were intensifying their movement was clear from reports pouring in from Bharatpur, Karoli and Dausa districts, of skirmishes between Gujjar agitators and the police, of tear-gassing and baton-charges, road blocks and burning of effigies of the chief minister and state Home Minister G.C.Kataria.

The agitators say the Scheduled Tribe status would make them eligible for quota-based government jobs and places in government educational institutions in the state.

Gujjar leader K.S. Bainsla, a retired Indian Army colonel, said once the bodies of four people now with the police are returned, the administration was free to perform the autopsies at the railway tracks in Pilupura village where he has been camping for the past six days along with thousands of Gujjars.

The administration is not willing to even consider this demand.

Inspector General of Police Umesh Mishra told IANS that no one could fulfil such demands.

“We can’t give four bodies to them. Post-mortems would only be conducted in a mortuary, not along the railway tracks,” he said.

As neither side is ready to relent, 12 corpses are lying under a tent and a tree in Pilupura village and five are lying on the Jaipur-Agra Highway in Sikandra area of Dausa district. At least 14 bodies are in Sawai Mansingh Hospital in Jaipur, and four are in the Bharatpur district hospital.

All these people were killed in clashes with the police May 23 and a day later.

Gujjar leader Bainsla Wednesday once again criticised the Raje ministry and the central government over the reservation issue.

“The prime minister returning the letter to state government clearly suggests that they are pushing the ball in each other’s court. It is nothing but delaying tactics of both governments,” Bainsla told IANS.

“We demand that the state government send the letter as per the constitution and stop fooling us Gujjars. We would not leave the place at any cost till we get the recommendation letter. Our people also want to become collectors and bureaucrats (civil servants),” he added.

The centre returned Vasundhara Raje’s letter Tuesday and asked her to send it as per the constitutional provisions.

While the Gujjars have been classified as other backward classes (OBCs) in the state, they want the ST status like the rival Meena community and a share of the quota pie. Ironically, OBCs get 27 percent reservation and STs 7.5 percent, but the perception is that the community will get a larger quota share with the ST status.

The community held similar protests all over Rajasthan May 29-June 4 last year. Normal life was paralysed and at least 26 people were killed in the violence that seemed headed towards a caste war between Meenas and Gujjars last year.

Meanwhile, the administration has blocked the squatting agitators’ food supplies and jammed their mobile phone network as a strategy to weaken their movement.

The authorities have also begun large-scale arrests. According to Bharatpur Superintendent of Police Rohit Mahajan, 78 Gujjars have been arrested and over 120 weapons have been recovered from them.

The police Wednesday also arrested four men for allegedly lynching a head constable in Bayana, which actually provoked the police into opening fire on the mob.

The army, too, conducted a flag march in the entire belt of Gujjar settlements. The army men have been given strict instructions not to confront people even in the face of any provocation.

Asked about the Gujjar agitation also affecting people in other parts of the country, Bainsla said: “I am very sorry for that but cannot help it. People have also to see the suffering of my community.”

Bainsla Wednesday told IANS that he turned down the appeal of spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to withdraw the agitation. Bainsla said he cannot backtrack from his stand now.

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