State government reaches deal with Indian caste protesters

Indian caste protesters accept to end riots after state government offer to be given quotas for government jobs and university places

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Indian residents gather on a street as others gesture to hold them back amid ongoing caste protests in Rohtak on February 20, 2016.

Indian protesters demanding better conditions for their caste said on Monday they had accepted a state government offer aimed at ending days of riots that have killed at least 19 people, as troops won back control of a canal that supplies much of Delhi's water.

Authorities in the northern state of Haryana which borders Delhi said they expected to restore order after apparently reaching a deal with leaders of the Jat caste, who said they were discussing whether to call off their protest.

Schools in the Indian capital had been ordered to close on Monday after the demonstrators seized control of a canal that supplies a reported 60 percent of the city's tap water, before the military regained control.

But the crisis appeared to ease after the state government on Sunday agreed the Jat community should be given quotas for highly sought-after government jobs and university places under India's caste-based quota system.

On Monday a Jat representative told AFP the community had accepted the government's offer.

"We have accepted the government offer and are in the process of consulting other Jat leaders to arrive at a consensus before deciding about calling off the agitation today," said Yashpal Malik, head of a group of Jat organisations.

"We are demanding that the government should compensate the families of people who died the agitation."

Talks were held in Delhi Sunday between Jat leaders, national Home Minister Rajnath Singh and the Haryana government run by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Thousands of troops had been deployed to Haryana on Saturday with orders to shoot on sight after week-long protests by members of the Jat caste turned violent, with rioters setting fire to homes and railway stations and blocking highways.

The protests eased overnight Sunday after the state government agreed to the Jat community's demands.

"There were a few clashes in parts of Bhiwani district overnight, where a curfew is still on, but the curfew has been lifted in other districts," said Haryana additional chief secretary P. K. Das.

He confirmed the death toll had risen to 19, with another 200 people wounded.

"Most of the road links have been restored in the state and we hope to be in control of the situation by end of the day," Das said.

He said the canal supplying water to Delhi had been cleared of protesters who had taken it over on Sunday, and workers were fixing the damage.

India's parched capital gets little rain and struggles to provide enough water for its nearly 17 million people.

Jats are the single largest community in Haryana, with nearly eight million members, and are traditionally a farming community.

They had been angered by comments in recent weeks from a local leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules the state and the nation, who opposed reservations for them.

India sets aside a proportion of jobs and university places for Dalits, known as "untouchables", and for other so-called "backward castes", under measures intended to remedy centuries of discrimination.