AHMEDABAD — At least half a million protesters paralysed the main city of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state yesterday to demand preferential treatment for their Patidar caste – one of the state's most affluent.
The Patidars, or Patels, who make up around 12 per cent of the population of western Gujarat state, say they are struggling to compete with less privileged castes for jobs and university places.
Several incidents of violence and rioting were reported across Ahmedabad late yesterday following the arrest of firebrand protest leader Hardik Patel, who was subsequently released on bail.
Fire department officials said at least four buses were torched by the mob.
"Violence has occurred at a number of places in Ahmedabad after Hardik Patel's arest. Efforts are on to control the situation," additional commissioner of police Rajiv Ranjan Bhagat told media.
India sets aside a proportion of government jobs and university places for Dalits, known as "untouchables", and for so-called "other backward castes" under measures intended to bring victims of the worst discrimination into the mainstream.
But the system of "reserved" categories has caused resentment among other castes including the Patidars, traditionally farmers and traders, who are now demanding the same privileges for themselves.
"People in the Patel community are not getting jobs even if they have degrees," said protest leader Patel.
"In education too, a student under reserved category with less grades gets admission, but a Patel does not get admission despite having secured higher grades."
State authorities have already ruled out granting the Patidars' request, but their campaign has gathered pace in recent weeks.
Police commissioner Shivanand Jha said nearly 20,000 security personnel had been deployed in Ahmedabad for yesterday's rally and roads within a two kilometre radius of the venue were closed to traffic.
Kantibhai Patel was among those who had travelled to Ahmedabad for the protest wearing a white cap printed with the words "I am Patidar".
"Reservation is our right. If we do not get our right we will obtain it by force if necessary," he said. — AFP