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Indian army deployed to quell protests

Jat community protesters block National Highway 1 near Panipat, India, on February 21. Photo EPA/STR

Jat community protesters block National Highway 1 near Panipat, India, on February 21. Photo EPA/STR

New Delhi [RAW]

India has deployed thousands of troops to a northern state to quell protests that have severely hit water supplies to Delhi, forced factories to close and killed 10 people.

Rioting and looting in Haryana by the Jats, a rural caste, is symptomatic of increasingly fierce competition for government jobs and educational openings in India, whose growing population is set to overtake China’s within a decade.

The latest unrest threatens to undermine Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of better days to come for Indians who elected him in 2014 with the largest majority in three decades.

As before, the 65-year-old leader ignored the protests – instead giving a speech on rural and urban development in the eastern state of Chattisgarh, unveiling a statue to a late Indian guru and praising a 104-year-old woman for backing his campaign for a clean India.

The federal government deployed 4,000 troops and 5,000 paramilitaries in a massive show of force, and ordered an end to the protests by Sunday night. Home Minister Rajnath Singh met Jat leaders and offered to meet their demands.

In Bahadurgarh, on the road west from Delhi, around 2,000 protesters occupied a highway intersection and stopped truck traffic. Shops in the town were closed.

‘We are here to die,’ said Rajendra Ahlavat, a 59-year-old farmer and protest leader. ‘We will keep going until the government bows to our pressure. There is no way we will take back our demands.’

TV reports from Jhajjar, further west, showed troops fanning out on the streets against a backdrop of burning and damaged buildings – evidence of the fury of Jats who make up a quarter of Haryana’s population and number more than 80 million in all.

Haryana’s police chief said the death toll had risen to 10 and 150 more had been injured.


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