Caste Protests in India Lead to Deaths, Water Shortages
By Leah Cerilli
At least ten people have been killed and 150 injured as a result of the protests by India’s Jat community, according to Al Jazeera. The Jat community, an agricultural caste group, has been protesting in the north Indian state of Haryana against exclusion from caste-based quota systems.
Jat protesters, who are relatively prosperous, are angry at what they claim to be reverse discrimination, CNN reports. After the caste system was legally abolished in 1949, an affirmative action system of national quotas for government jobs and university spots were created for those formerly in low castes.
According to CNN, 49 percent of quota-related jobs and admissions had been set aside for lower social groups by 1990. Haryana’s Jats perceive the system as a blockade from a significant number of jobs due to reverse discrimination and demand the same reservations in government employment that are extended to the lower class.
According to Al Jazeera, the situation became violent on February 19 when protesters began setting fires to homes, shops, and government buildings. Thousands of troops have been deployed with shoot-on-sight orders in an attempt to quell the violence. As reported by the New York Times, multiple protesters were killed in clashes while others were killed when law enforcement fired on them.
Although the violence is centered in Haryana, water supplies in cities such as the capital New Delhi were affected when protesters cut off canal gates to water treatment plants. Water rations and school closings are in effect in the capital to preserve supplies, but it has not been enough. According to CNN, more than 10 million citizens were without water on February 25. Many large businesses in Delhi have also shut down as a result of shortages, raising concerns about the wellbeing of India’s economy.
The Indian army has seized control of large sections of the canal, according to the BBC. Workers have been deployed to repair areas damaged by protesters. However, repairs are expected to take a significant amount of time, and many are concerned that water tankers deployed in Delhi will not be able to supply the water needed.
This is not the first time the Jats have demonstrated dismay at the current affirmative action system. They have demanded inclusion in caste quotas for job and education opportunities since 1991, as pointed out by BBC. In March 2014, the Indian government said they would re-categorize Jats to include them in government job quotas under the Other Backward Castes classification, but India’s Supreme Court ended this plan after deciding that Jats were not a backward community. India’s government plans on setting up a committee to examine the grievances of Jats as a result of the protests.
Daily life is slowly returning to normal in Haryana. According to the New York Times, 80 percent of roads blocked by protesters have been reopened. Officials are urging people to ration water as eventual shortages are likely as the canal is repaired.