Soldiers of the Indian army have been deployed in Gujarat after several people died in caste-related violence. Clashes spread after an influential traders' community demanded preferential treatment for government jobs.
Thousands of troops were patrolling Gujarat on Thursday after at least seven people, including a police officer, died in caste-related violence.
"Six protesters and a police officer have lost their lives and 18 people are critically injured," Keshav Shah, a senior police in the capital Gandhinagar, told journalists.
"Schools, business and private offices will not open today. The mood is tense and no one should venture out," Shah added.
The violence began in Gujarat's biggest city, Ahmedabad, on Tuesday. A leader of the Patel or Patidar community, Hardik Patel, called for a rally and a statewide strike, demanding preferential treatment for his community in government jobs and schools.
His detention by the police led to clashes between security forces and demonstrators across the state. At least a dozen police officers were injured in the violence which began two days ago.
"We will not let the government suppress our demands. They can kill as many Patels as they want," the 22-year-old Patel told his supporters.
Is Modi losing support?
This is the first time the army has been deployed in the state since clashes in 2002 between Hindus and Muslims killed over 1,000 people. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Gujarat's chief minister at the time. In a speech intended to appease the Patel clan, Modi appealed to "all brothers and sisters of Gujarat that they should not resort to violence."
Modi (seen with his mother in this picture) seems to have fallen out of favor with the Patels in his home state
The State government has refused to give in to Patel's demands, but the 22-year-old leader calls the movement "a fight for our rights" and says he and his followers will "continue to campaign on the roads and the streets."
The Patidars or Patels are one of Gujarat's most affluent communities and make up 14 percent of the state's population. They have also proven to be a bulwark of support for Prime Minister Modi, but claim they are at a disadvantage compared to members of lower castes, who get government jobs based on a national quota system.
The scheme intends to bring untouchables and similar victims of centuries-long discrimination into the mainstream, but has faced opposition from more privileged sections, who believe that reserving seats in government jobs, schools and universities for the underprivileged is hampering their chances.
mg/msh (Reuters, AFP)