Dholpur, Rajasthan : The Gujjar community agitation demanding five percent quota in jobs and education turned violent Sunday with shots being fired and police vehicles torched in Dholpur district and protesters blocking road and rail traffic in many areas in Rajasthan.
The Gujjars have been staging an agitation since Friday demanding a five percent reservation in government jobs and higher education institutes. Dholpur Superintendent of Police Ajay Singh said that the protesters not only blocked the highway on Sunday but also began attacking stranded travellers and misbehaving with women at the Waterworks junction.
He said when the police warned the protesters, the latter pelted stones and set three police vehicles on fire. He said the protesters went on a rampage, damaging stranded cars and misbehaving with women and families. Three-four policemen and a few travellers got injured in the melee. The incident led to massive traffic jams on either the sides of the highway.
At least, 20 trains were cancelled and seven diverted during the day as the protesters, led by the Gujjar Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti chief Kirori Singh Bainsla, continued their sit-in on railway tracks in Sawai Madhopur district for the third day on Sunday, officials said.
The sit-in began on Friday evening and has affected the movement of over 250 trains through the region since.
The agitators also blocked highways connecting major cities on Sunday.
According to police officials, three cases have been registered in connection with the blocking of traffic. Violence broke out in Dholpur district as unidentified miscreants fired 8-10 rounds in the air while a blockade on the Agra-Morena Highway was in place, SP Singh said.
The protesters set afire three police vehicles — two jeeps and a bus, he added. The SP said the protesters also pelted stones, injuring four personnel, adding that police had to lob tear gas shells to disperse the crowd.
The Hindoli-Uniyara state highway was blocked in Bundi district, where hundreds of people demonstrated throughout the day. As traffic movement came to a halt, vehicles were diverted to other routes. The demonstrators, however, allowed the passage of ambulances and vehicles with patients or pregnant woman.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot called the stone pelting and the torching of vehicles unjustified. "Holding protest is justified but sitting on railway tracks is not. Protesters should come forward for talks. The government is open for dialogue and has constituted a committee," he said.
Referring to the violence in Dholpur, Gehlot said, "Anti-social elements have joined the protest. Administration and police will investigate the reasons of the incident. Gujjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla has appealed to maintain peace so people should listen to him."
According to the Northern Railways, trains like 12953 Mumbai Central-Hazrat Nizamuddin August Kranti Rajdhani Express, 19022 Lucknow Jn.-Bandra Terminus Express, 12059/12060 Kota-Hazrat Nizamuddin-Kota Jan Shatabdi Express and 12909 Bandra Terminus-Hazrat Nizamuddin Garib Rath Express were among those which were cancelled.
At least 13 trains were running late in the zone. The 22405 Bhagalpur-Anand Vihar Garib Rath Express, Mumbai-New Delhi Rajdhani Express, Howrah-New Delhi Poorva Express were delayed by around three hours while the Raxaul-Anandvihar Sadbhavna Express was running late by seven hours, it said.
The Northern Railways said 19024 Firozepur-Mumbai Central Janata Express, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra, 12472 Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra-Bandra Terminus Swaraj Express, 12450 Chandigarh-Madgaon Goa Sampark Kranti Express and 12904 Amritsar-Mumbai Central Golden Temple Mail had been diverted.
According to the police, protesters fired shots at them with country-made pistols. Singh said this forced the police to use teargas shells. He added that the police have video recording of the entire ruckus and they are on the lookout for the culprits who fomented trouble.
Bainsla summarily refuted the police's allegation. Bainsla blamed the police for provoking the protesters in Dholpur. He labelled what transpired at Waterworks junction as a minor incident, adding that he has appealed to his brethren to maintain peace.
Another Gujjar leader and Dholpur sarpanch Jaibir Poshwal echoed Bainsla's statement. He said that the police began roughing up the protesters, their action triggering stone-pelting from the latter. He denied that protesters fired at the police.
After the incident, prohibitory orders under Section 144 were imposed in many parts of Dholpur. Additional forces were deployed and district collector Neha Giri took stock of the situation with SP Singh. On Saturday, a state government delegation, including Tourism Minister Vishvendra Singh and senior IAS officer Neeraj K Pawan, had met Bainsla and his supporters to hold talks, but no agreement could be reached.
Bainsla has said that the community will continue their protest demanding five per cent reservation to the Gujjars, Raika-Rebari, Gadia Luhar, Banjara and the Gadaria communities in government jobs and educational institutions as promised.
"We will remain on dharna. We do not want to talk with the government. We are waiting for the government to give the order for five per cent reservation," Vijay Bainsla, son of Kirori Singh Bainsla, said. He said an appeal had been made for maintaining peace but it was the angst of the people which have come out during the protests.
Meanwhile, Sawai Madhopur became the epicentre of the agitation as Colonel Bainsla led thousands of Gujjars in blocking the rail tracks of Delhi-Mumbai route. This has affected the train movement between Delhi and Mumbai since Friday as more than 25 trains have been cancelled and more than 60 have been diverted.
The protesters also blocked highways in Sawai Madhopur, Bhilwara and Karauli, forcing the state road transport department to divert buses plying on these routes.
Rajasthan government set up a committee of three ministers on Saturday to defuse the tension. The team, led by tourism Minister Vishvendra Singh, held talks with Gujjar leaders. Singh told FirstPost the meeting was positive and said the government would take legal opinion and offer the Gujjars the “best offer”. However, Colonel Bainsla said Singh did not have any plan; he warned that the protests would intensify and occupy the entire state.