AHMEDABAD, India – Clashes erupted overnight between police and members of a landowning community demanding government benefits in western India. Authorities sent paramilitary forces to help restore order Wednesday, as the group's leader called for a strike.
Authorities issued a curfew Tuesday night in at least five cities of Gujarat state, after mobs attacked police officers with stones and sticks and burned government and private vehicles. Cellphone communications were blocked in the state capital of Ahmedabad to stop both rumors from spreading and gangs from coordinating their movements against law enforcement.
No casualties have been reported, police said.
The Patidars, also known as the Patel community for the last name they share, are demanding the special status given to many minorities in India, guaranteeing them a share of government jobs and school places.
The Patels, which make up about 20 percent of Gujarat's 63 million population, say their livelihoods based on seasonal farming have become increasingly difficult amid India's agricultural malaise and rapid economic growth marked by high inflation.
On Tuesday, Patel leaders led a rally attended by 500,000 Patels from across Gujarat. Later, police detained the group's 22-year-old leader Hardik Patel, prompting members of the community to rampage through cities in Gujarat.
Hardik Patel called for a strike on Wednesday across Gujarat, the state Prime Minister Narendra Modi administered as chief minister for 12 years.
"The agitation will continue until our demands are met," Patel said.
Schools said they would remain closed, but it was unclear how many businesses would follow the strike call during the day.
Modi's successor, Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, urged members of her own community to maintain peace and calm.
The Indian government said it was sending paramilitary forces to help restore order.