Gujjar protests hit Delhi, parts of north India (Lead)

May 29th, 2008 - 4:09 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, May 29 (IANS) Tens of thousands of Gujjars took to the streets Thursday in north India in support of their community’s demand for tribal status in Rajasthan, blocking all roads leading to the national capital and paralysing road and train traffic in parts of the region amid some violence. Clashes erupted between the police and protestors who burnt tyres at Aya Nagar and on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon road in south Delhi. The police fired tear gas to disperse the mobs and detained around 50 people.

In most places, however, the protests by the Gujjar community passed off peacefully although it led to a virtual paralysis of Delhi’s border regions, halting traffic to and from the city in the morning for a good four hours.

The situation began returning to normalcy after noon as the Gujjars — who formed human chains to stop road traffic and squatted on railway tracks blocking trains — started to disperse after shouting slogans against the Rajasthan government.

It was a show of strength by the mainly rural Gujjar community in support of their kin in Rajasthan, where 37 people have been killed in violent protests this month demanding that Gujjars be classified a Scheduled Tribe (ST) community to secure educational and job quotas.

The Rajasthan government is ready for talks with the community. But its leaders have vowed not to call off their campaign until the authorities kneel. Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Jammu region and western Uttar Pradesh are home to millions of Gujjars.

The situation in the capital was serious enough for the US embassy to warn its citizens about traffic disruptions in New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. It advised them “to maintain a low profile, and avoid areas of traffic disruptions and political protest”.

Traffic has been badly hit between New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, three cities that form the Golden Triangle, the most popular tourist triangle in India. In Rajasthan, hotels have reported mass cancellations.

Vehicular movement in much of western Uttar Pradesh was paralysed. Highways from Ghaziabad to Lucknow, the Uttar Pradesh capital, and Dehradun, the Uttarakhand capital, were under blockade at various places.

The Gujjar protests also led to train blockade in Jammu region. But this ended when the authorities pleaded that this would inconvenience pilgrims to the Vaishno Devi hill shrine.

Said community leader Shah Mohammad: “Gujjars in Jammu and Kashmir are Muslims. But we are indebted to the Hindu Gujjars who supported us when we asked for Scheduled Tribe status.”

Among the worst hit areas around New Delhi were its satellite towns: Gurgaon and Noida, which are home to many multinationals and call centres, and Faridabad.

Thousands of policemen from Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh as well as paramilitary forces were deployed in and around New Delhi. Police said they did not lift road blockades by force as that could have sparked violence.

The Delhi-Jaipur national highway that passes through Gurgaon was reportedly the only major inter-state road that remained open in the morning. The busy Gurgaon-Mehrauli road, the Mathura Road that connects Faridabad to Delhi, the Delhi-Noida-Delhi (DND) expressway and the National Highways 24 and 58 that connect Ghaziabad to Delhi came under blockade, with thousands of vehicles piling up.

About two dozen trains were stuck between Aligarh and Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh as the protesters squatted on the railway tracks.

The latest disruption to railway services comes on top of the large-scale cancellation and diversion of trains connecting New Delhi and Mumbai which pass through Gujjar areas of Rajasthan.

“Vehicular movement on Noida-Greater Noida Expressway was totally stopped,” said Raj Kumar Bhati, national convener of a Gujjar activist group.

Rajasthan, where the Gujjar protests broke out a week ago, was mostly calm Thursday. Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje had thousands of pamphlets dropped over areas where the protests are taking places, asking the Gujjars to end their campaign.

The army and paramilitary forces are patrolling many districts in Rajasthan including Bharatpur, Dausa, Sawai Madhopur and Karauli.

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