Stage set for talks with Gujjars

June 12th, 2008 - 6:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Jaipur, June 12 (IANS) The Rajasthan government Thursday released 24 women who had been arrested during the ongoing agitation by Gujjars for Scheduled Tribe status to set the stage for talks with the agitation’s leadership later in the day. The additional district and sessions court in Dausa district released the women on bail - a precondition the Gujjars had set for agreeing to the second round of talks.

The women had been arrested June 6 for squatting on the railway track near Bandikui in Dausa as part of the agitation, hitting rail traffic on the important Jaipur-Delhi sector for about six days. They were charged with causing damage to rail property and indulging in violence.

“As the Dausa court has released the women on bail we have decided to initiate talks with the Vasundhara Raje government on our charter of demands,” said Prem Singh, a Gujjar leader.

Bharatpur divisional commissioner Niranjan Arya confirmed the move, saying, “Colonel K.S. Bainsla (Gujjar leader) has agreed to a send a 23-member delegation to Jaipur for talks.”

The talks were expected to start around 4-5 p.m., a state government source said.

The second round of talks between the Gujjars and the state government had run into rough weather after the Gujjars laid down preconditions - that the women protesters be released and murder charges withdrawn against 20 members of the community.

Preliminary talks between the Gujjars and the Rajasthan government over the community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe status on Monday afternoon remained “constructive” - in the first signs of an end to a violent agitation for affirmative action since May 23 that has claimed 39 lives.

Rajasthan Mines Minister L.N. Dave and Irrigation Minister Sanwar Lal Jat along with Irrigation Secretary and chief negotiator S.N. Thanvi and the Bharatpur divisional commissioner met 37 representatives of the Gujjar community Monday at a government school in Bayana in Bharatpur district, about 160 km from here.

During the first round, the Gujjar leaders focussed on three demands - release of the Gujjars held during the agitation, restoration of power supply to some Gujjar-dominated areas and a stop to police raids in such areas.

Earlier, the Gujjars had insisted on holding the talks in Bayana, the flashpoint of the agitation where Bainsla and hundreds of his supporters have been blocking rail and road traffic since May 23. However, the state government was insisting on Jaipur.

In a compromise, the two sides decided to hold “preliminary” talks in Bayana, followed by more talks in Jaipur.

The Gujjars, classified among Other Backward Communities (OBC) in Rajasthan, want to be included in the list of Scheduled Tribes for better education and job opportunities.

Gujjars had also held protests all over Rajasthan from May 29 to June 4 last year to press their demand. At least 26 people were killed in the violence then.

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