May 30, 2007 / 10:46 AM / 12 years ago

Indian tourist route blocked in tribal protest

JAIPUR, India, May 30 (Reuters) - Protesters from an Indian tribe torched two police posts and blocked a highway between two of India’s biggest tourist destinations on Wednesday, demanding affirmative action to gain government jobs and college places.

The Rajasthan state government deployed 600 police along the main highway between Jaipur and Agra, home to the Taj Mahal. The army was also called in.

"The situation is volatile and we are keeping a close watch on it," said G.C. Kataria, Rajasthan’s home minister.

The protests came after Tuesday’s deadly clashes between police and ethnic Gujjars demanding special status as a tribe.

Thirteen Gujjars were shot dead by police and one policeman was beaten to death by crowds.

On Wednesday, demonstrators blocked the Jaipur-Agra highway and rail traffic between the two cities was also diverted.

Kataria said more than 80 people have been arrested.

The Gujjars are demanding the status of a "scheduled tribe" which, under Indian law, would benefit them with government jobs and education opportunities.

The Gujjars belong to the northwestern parts of India. Most of them are Hindus except those in Muslim-majority Kashmir state, who follow Islam. They have traditionally been farmers on the plains and shepherds in the hills.

The issue of job and education quotas for lower castes and tribal people has often sparked controversy and protests in India.

Last year, dozens of medical students were hurt in clashes with police as they protested against a government plan to reserve some seats at universities for lower castes and tribes.

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