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Clashes Erupt as Indians Rally to Protest Affirmative Action Caste Quotas

The protests, led by the influential Patel community, were opposed to a policy that sets quotas for lower castes in government employment and schools.

by VICE News
Aug 26 2015, 10:13pm

Renewed clashes broke out between members of India's social and economic classes on Wednesday, following a night of violent protests in the western state of Gujarat.

As many as 300,000 people rallied in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's largest city, on Tuesday. Reports described demonstrators burning police stations and public buses. Seven people were killed in the ensuing violence. The massive demonstrations prompted the government to send in the army to restore peace and impose a curfew on Wednesday.

The protests, led by the influential Patel community, were in opposition to affirmative action policies that set quotas for lower castes in government employment and schools. Demonstrators argue that the policies give lower castes an unfair advantage. The movement has been led by 22-year-old Hardik Patel, whose arrest after Tuesday's rally sparked more violent clashes with police that evening.

Patels make up roughly a fifth of Gujarat's population and have historically enjoyed a privileged status as landowners and merchants, exercising considerable control over lucrative industries.

In an effort to reverse decades of discrimination based on the caste system, the Indian government imposed a quota system to ensure fair access to government employment and education. According to the policy, 27 percent of positions are reserved for what the government has termed the "other backward classes" (OBCs), in reference to economically and socially disadvantaged groups. Patels feel disadvantaged by the policy and demand that they be included in the OBC classification.

"It's a fight for our rights," Hardik Patel told crowds at the rally on Tuesday. "If they grant our demand, we will accept it with humility, but if we don't get our right, we will snatch it by force."

Protests continued on Wednesday, despite a government-imposed curfew and urging from India's Prime Minister Modi to restore calm in Gujarat. Modi, who was previously chief minister of Gujarat, has enjoyed the support of Patels, and they remain loyal to his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Video shows clashes between groups in Ahmedabad on Wednesday.

This is not the first time that Patels have agitated against the quota system. Patels rallied against the affirmative action policy when the government moved to implement it beginning in 1989, but ultimately failed to block it. Protests against quotas flared up again in 2006. 

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