43 Dead as Tribe Pressures Indian Government to Join Lowest Caste

Police fired on protesters from one of India's lower castes Friday, killing two people and bringing the death toll to 43 after a week of violence.

Members of the Gujjar tribe have protested across northern and western India since May 23 to pressure the government to reclassify them as members of the lowest caste, so they can benefit from government quotas.

Most of the 43 people killed were shot by police during protests, while one policeman died after a beating and one protester was trampled to death.

Police opened fire again Friday on about 200 demonstrators who were allegedly throwing rocks at officers in Khushali Dara in western Rajasthan, 100 miles west of the state capital of Jaipur, said state official Rohit Kumar Singh.

Two people were killed in the shooting and dozens more were wounded, Singh said.

On Thursday, thousands of Gujjar protesters burned tires and blocked roads on the outskirts of New Delhi. Police shot dead one protester in the neighboring state of Haryana and another was trampled to death, said Haryana police spokesman A.H. Zaidi.

Earlier this week, a leader of the tribe, Kirori Singh Bainsala, and 13 others were charged with murder and rioting. The murder charge is connected to the killing of the policeman who was beaten to death during the early days of protests.

No mention has been made of any possible action against police officers who have used live ammunition in Rajasthan to suppress the demonstrations.

Singh said Friday's shooting was under investigation.

Gujjars took to the streets after a government panel set up to look into their demands recommended a $70 million aid package for their community, but ruled out caste reclassification.

Gujjars are considered part of the second-lowest group, known as Other Backward Classes, a step up from the Scheduled Tribes and Castes, the lowest classification.

Soon after India's independence from Britain in 1947 it was made illegal to discriminate against someone based on the Hindu caste system, but its influence remains powerful and the government sets quotas for jobs and university spots for the different caste groups.

Twenty-six people died in Gujjar riots in Rajasthan last year.

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