Dead bodies give oxygen to Gujjar protests

May 27th, 2008 - 2:12 pm ICT by admin  

By Sahil Makkar
Pilupura (Rajasthan), May 27 (IANS) It is an eerie sight. The dead bodies have been laid on railway tracks, and family members of the Gujjars killed in police firing light incense sticks — and wait for justice. Young men bring ice slabs so that the bodies do not stink or bloat. The entire landscape — the rail tracks and the fields around them — now only hosts some 3,000 angry Gujjar men, women and children.

The crowd never thins, day or night. Trains have stopped plying on these otherwise busy tracks.

On the tracks in Pilupura village are 12 corpses in coffins, including one of a teenaged boy. The area is just one-and-a-half hours away from the Bharatpur bird sanctuary, a huge tourist attraction.

Emotions are running high. The victims were shot last week as they poured out of their homes demanding that the Gujjars be classified as a Scheduled Tribe (ST) — to reap the economic benefits that come with it.

Though many are grieving, a vast majority is determined to make an intransigent Rajasthan government kneel. Most protesters have not had a bath or change of clothes since Friday, when the now-off-now-on Gujjar campaign for ST status took a violent turn.

This time, Gujjar leaders say, they will not give up. Come what may.

Pilupura is the epicentre of a Gujjar protest that has now crippled railway traffic in large parts of western and northern India besides road traffic to places such as Jaipur and Agra.

Gujjars are also squatting at Sikandara in Dausa district, on the Jaipur-Agra highway, with five more bodies.

At least 37 people, including two policemen, have been killed in clashes between Gujjars and the police since May 23 following the rail blockade by the community near Dumaria railway station close to Bayana town.

Officials say the police opened fire that day after a mob shot a policeman in the leg and attacked government property.

The Gujjars are classified as other backward classes (OBCs), but they want ST status 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 share of the quota pie with ST status since in Rajasthan there is only one ST group — the Meenas.

The Gujjars had held mass protests in Rajasthan in May-June last year. At least 26 people were killed in the violence then.

“We are ready to cremate our men on one condition - the administration must perform their autopsy here on the tracks and in front of us,” K.S. Bainsla, a retired Indian Army colonel who heads the Gujjar Sangharsh Aarakshan Samiti, told IANS.

Bainsla, a folk hero to the Gujjar community who are traditionally shepherds, was seated on a rail track, surrounded by stick-wielding Gujjar young men.

After talking tough, the government is trying to patch up with Bainsla. But he is no mood to shake hands.

“We don’t have faith in the government and Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. Both are cheats. They will do post-mortem (of the bodies) and say our men died due to pellet injuries, not because of SLRs (self loading rifles). They will fudge the reports. At any cost, we will not let it happen,” said the ex-colonel.

The Gujjars are not willing to cremate the dead till their demands are met. Bainsla is calling the killings a “mass genocide” of innocent people by the police and army.

“Flouting all laws and regulations, the police and army opened fire to kill peaceful and unarmed protesters. Why did they not sound any warnings? Over loudspeakers? They fired teargas and bullets from SLRs.

“We are firm that our men will not be cremated until we get a letter recommending that our community will get tribal status or till the doctors come here and perform the autopsy,” he said.

The relatives of those who died in the agitation are not complaining.

Sixty-year-old Nanak Ram, who sits near the coffin of his son, said: “I will cremate my son’s body only when the community gets ST reservation. I am ready to sacrifice my two other sons also for the community.”

Gujjar leaders are also accusing the government of not handing over bodies lying in the mortuary of the Sewi Mansingh Hospital (SMS) in Jaipur.

“We don’t know the exact number of bodies in SMS hospital. When our people went to take them, they were whisked away by the police. They were told to first call off the protest,” said Harsahay, an agitated Gujjar.

Additional Superintendent of Police Yash Pal, who was moved from Jaipur to Bayana a day after the firing, said: “By keeping the bodies, Bainsla wants to continue amassing emotional support from his people. He is creating pressure on the government. Bainsla also wants the government to pay hefty compensation for the families of the dead.”

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