Gujjar protesters paralyse Delhi, surrounding region (Lead)

May 29th, 2008 - 3:11 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, May 29 (IANS) Thousands of slogan shouting Gujjars pelted stones, burnt tyres and squatted on the roads as they blockaded major roads in and around the national capital Thursday, resulting in massive traffic jams and leaving thousands of office goers stranded. Protesters came out in force early in the morning and blockaded roads between the capital and major satellite towns Gurgaon, Faridabad, Noida and Ghaziabad, leading to massive traffic snarls in the morning rush hour.

The Gujjar protest in the capital came six days after the community kicked off a violent rail and road blockade agitation in Rajasthan to press for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe category that will make them eligible for reservations in education and jobs.

Over 30,000 policemen and paramilitary personnel fanned out in trouble spots, anticipating violence in areas connecting the national capital with Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

Raising slogans, the protesters carried out rallies, burned tyres and stopped public transport and private vehicles on the busy Gurgaon-Mehrauli road, 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, leaving thousands of vehicles stalled on the roads.

By noon the blockade spilled over to some parts of south Delhi, where a sizeable number of Gujjars live. An eyewitness said at South Extension, protesters stopped traffic by lying on the roads.

“The protesters lay down on the road, forcing vehicles to stop. It got scary for a moment and it seemed there could be some violence. A large posse of policemen present quickly diverted the traffic to the adjoining roads,” said a commuter, Ranjana Singh.

The ‘NCR rasta roko’ (road blockade) call was given by the All India Gujjar Mahasabha in support of the agitation in Rajasthan.

Fearing a repeat of the Rajasthan violence that has left 37 people killed, mostly in police firing, since May 23, many office goers preferred to stay at home. Many offices in Noida had declared a holiday already. Very few public transport buses came out on the roads, in anticipation of mob violence.

In many areas, police were seen pleading with agitators who were pelting stones. In some other areas the police fired tear gas shells to disperse the crowds. In Gurgaon, the administration banned assembly of more than four people at one place.

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

The US government has warned its citizens about the possibility of traffic disruptions and advised them “to maintain a low profile, and avoid areas of traffic disruptions and political protest”.

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

The Delhi-Jaipur national highway that passes through Gurgaon was reported to be the only major inter-state road that remained open.

Even the mobile service Blackberry was hit due to the agitation. In a message to their customers they said: “Due to Gujjar agitation, Blackbery service centre at Gurgaon shall remain closed today (Thursday). Kindly do not visit there. We regret inconvenience caused.”

Sreeparna Chowdhury, who was coming from Noida, said she had urgent work in her office in Connaught Place and so ventured out despite her parents warning her to avoid going to work.

“I took many detours to come out of Noida, which was totally blocked. But at the Ghazipur chowk, I saw a large mob of protesters. One even snatched the key from the auto rickshaw driver. Thankfully, a cop came to my rescue and let us go,” she told IANS.

But there were unusually calm stretches on south Delhi’s Mehrauli-Badarpur road, an eyewitness reported, perhaps as a result of the blockade ahead. A group of around 200 Gujjars took out a procession down the road in the morning, carrying a mock coffin.

“Vehicular movement on Noida-Greater Noida Expressway was totally stopped,” claimed Raj Kumar Bhati, national convener of the Dehat Morcha. “The Gujjar boys staged a dharna (sit-in) at Pari Chowk in Greater Noida. No traffic movement was allowed to any side from Pari Chowk, either towards GT road or towards Noida and Delhi.”

“All the strategic points - Tilpat, Dadri, Dasna, Modi Nagar, Loni - were sealed,” Bhati added. “No vehicle and no train was allowed to move. The NCR was totally paralysed.”

Even vegetable vendors could not reach residential neighbourhoods in Ghaziabad, Noida or Greater Noida. “The prices of vegetables, milk and other grocery items at the retail shops were double,” said Poonam Singh, a resident of Noida’s sector-27.

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