India Sends Army to Quell Caste-Stoked Protests Near Delhi

  • Maruti Suzuki forced to halt production at two plants
  • Capital set to lose water supply as protesters block canal

India sent troops to a northern state where protests for caste rights turned violent as mobs torched vehicles, shut off a canal supplying water to the capital, and forced the nation’s biggest automaker to halt production.

Protests entered their third day in Haryana state bordering the capital of New Delhi, where more than 3,000 troops have been deployed to impose order, according to army headquarters. Including paramilitary officers and police, the total number of security personnel in the state rose to 5,000, the Press Trust of India reported, citing an official it didn’t identify.

The demonstrations are being led by members of the Jat community, who are demanding benefits such as government jobs and college admission under India’s affirmative action policy. Giving in to their demands could embolden other groups, including the Patels who took to the streets in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state in August in a similar explosion of caste-based violence.

“I appeal to the people of Haryana to maintain law and order,” Manohar Lal Khattar, the state’s chief minister and a member of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party party, said in a tweet. No one will benefit from damage to public property, he said.

Maruti Factories

The unrest disrupted supplies of components for Maruti Suzuki India Ltd., the nation’s biggest carmaker, forcing a production halt Saturday at factories in Manesar and Gurgaon that jointly produce about 5,000 vehicles a day, according to a statement from the company. The shutdown continues, spokesman Puneet Dhawan said by phone Sunday.

One civilian was killed yesterday when troops opened fire on rioters in Jhajjar, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of New Delhi, according to the army. Press Trust of India said at least 10 have died and 150 were injured, citing Yash Pal Singal, Haryana’s top police official. Singh didn’t answer calls to his mobile, and a person answering his office line hung up.

India’s caste system is a method of social stratification, based largely on Hindu beliefs of purity. The government’s reservation system guarantees a wide range of benefits -- such as school placement, access to state jobs and certain welfare programs -- to lower castes and indigenous tribes.

The Jats, who comprise nearly 30 percent of Haryana’s population seek to be included in a designation known as Other Backward Class. Last March, the Supreme Court had rejected a move by the government to include the Jats in that category.

Water, Transport Disruptions

Haryana surrounds the capital on three sides. The Ministry of Civil Aviation on Sunday organized seven additional flights by Spicejet Ltd., Air India Ltd., Jet Airways India Ltd. and InterGlobe Aviation Ltd. from Delhi to Amritsar, Chandigarh and Jaipur to help transport passengers as the protests locked down roads, highways and railways through the state.

Officials said Delhi was set to lose its water supply after protesters on Saturday morning took over a canal that provides about 70 percent of the capital’s needs. Taps will run dry by Sunday night unless supply is restored, the Times of India reported, citing Delhi Water Minister Kapil Mishra.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said he was seeking the army’s help to reopen the canal. Schools would be closed Monday and water would be rationed, he said in a tweet as he appealed to residents to save water.

The Supreme Court will hold a hearing on Monday to review a petition by the Delhi government to seek central government intervention in restarting water supplies, the Press Trust reported, citing a lawyer representing the Delhi government.

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