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India's Ethnic Community Calls Off Protests


In India, an ethnic group demanding special privileges has called off week-long protests after the government agreed to consider their demands. The agreement came after protesters blocked highways leading to the capital. The sometimes violent protests erupted in the northern state of Rajasthan a week ago and have claimed 23 lives in the past week. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi.

Hundreds of protesters from the ethnic "Gujjar" community disrupted traffic on key highways leading into New Delhi, set fire to several vehicles, and threw stones at security forces deployed to maintain order.

Police fired in the air and lobbed tear gas in some areas following sporadic clashes between protesters and police.

The "Gujjar" community called the one-day strike in Delhi on Monday in support of their campaign to be named a backward tribe. This would allow them access to government jobs and college quotas set aside for lower caste Hindus under an affirmative action program.

The violent campaign erupted a week ago in Rajasthan state, where the community of shepherds and farmers has a sizable population.

But on Monday evening, "Gujjar" community leaders agreed to halt their campaign following promises by the Rajasthan state chief minister Vasundara Raje that the government will consider their demands.

Raje says she held meetings with prominent leaders of the community, and they have assured her the protests will end.

The government will establish a three-member committee to consider the demands.

The agreement will bring some relief to Rajasthan state, where tensions have been running high and at least 23 people have died in clashes related to the "Gujjar" campaign. The "Gujjars" have attacked government offices, railroad stations and vehicles. In recent days the protests had widened to other areas in northern and Western India where the "Gujjars" live.

However, seeking a lasting solution may not be easy. The demand by the "Gujjars" for backward tribal status is strongly opposed by another community called the "Meenas" which already receives special privileges under the affirmative action program. The "Meenas" fear that their share of government jobs and college seats will decrease if the "Gujjars" are also given backward tribe status.

India's affirmative action program is an attempt to set right historical injustice to Hindus classified as lower caste that have suffered centuries of discrimination.

But the program has had unusual fallout - it has triggered demands by many communities to be classified as backward in order to access privileges granted to these classes.

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