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31 killed in Gujjar caste riots in Rajasthan

JAIPUR, India (Reuters) - At least 31 people have been killed and scores injured in western India in two days of clashes between police and members of a farming caste demanding job quotas for their community, a state minister said on Saturday.

A truck burns after it was set ablaze by members of the Gujjar community during clashes with police in Rajasthan May 25, 2008. REUTERS/Vinay Joshi

The violence began on Friday when protesters belonging to the Gujjar caste lynched a policeman in Bharatpur district in Rajasthan, G.C. Kataria, the state’s home minister, told reporters.

Police shot at protesters as they tried to damage railway lines and government property, he said. At least 15 were killed.

On Saturday, the army was called in to help calm the violence as another 15 people were killed when police shot at a mob protesters trying to torch a police in Sikandra.

Thousands of protesters were blocking a rail route between Delhi and Mumbai, police said. Highways have also been blocked, and state authorities have cancelled many buses.

Gujjars are already considered among the low born in India’s complex caste hierarchy. They want to be thought of as even lower -- a so-called scheduled tribe -- so they can qualify for the nearly half of all government jobs and state college seats reserved solely for the lowest castes, who tend to be poorer than their high-caste compatriots.

But a state government committee did not agree, and announced instead it would spend 2.82 billion rupees ($67 million) improving schools, clinics, roads and other infrastructure in Gujjar-dominated areas.

The protesters do not want the money.

“We do not accept the economic package,” K.S. Bainsla, the head of the main Gujjar protest organisation, told reporters. He said the state government must write to New Delhi recommending Gujjars be recategorised. “We’ll not accept anything less.”

A year ago, Gujjars in Rajasthan fought police and members of another caste that already qualifies for job quotas. At least 26 people were killed in that violence.