Indian church leaders denounce newly enacted quotas

Politically influential group receives preferential treatment after violent campaign as Christians get sidelined
Indian church leaders denounce newly enacted quotas

Indian residents from the Jat community block the Chandigarh-Shimla highway as security personnel look on amid violent caste protests in Panchkula on February 21. (Photo by AFP)

Church leaders in India have termed as a "gross injustice" the Indian government's decision to grant quotas to an influential agricultural caste group in northern Haryana state.

The government's nod to granting the Jat community quota in educational institutions and government jobs under the category of backward class came after the members of the community went on a violent statewide protest.

Backward class is a term used by the government to classify castes that are educationally and socially disadvantaged.

Sixteen people lost their lives and more than 150 were injured as protesters went on a rampage torching shopping malls, schools, government offices, police stations and buses over the weekend. Curfew was installed in nine cities across the state with shoot-on-sight orders issued.

They sat on the railway tracks in the state, forcing the railway department to cancel more than 200 trains and rescheduling about 800 others. The agitators even cut the water supply of the canal, which supplies water to Delhi, affecting 60 percent of the water supply to the national capital.

The Jat people also have a sizeable number in other north Indian states like Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. However, they are politically influential in Haryana as they are the predominant caste group.

Taking stock of the situation, the federal government late Feb. 21 conceded to the demands of the community and agreed to introduce a Jat quota bill in the assembly session next month.

"This proves that with muscle power, you can do anything. Giving reservation to such an influential class is a gross injustice to people who really deserve these special rights," Father Savari Muthu, spokesman of Delhi Archdiocese, told ucanews.com.

He said that the way the Jat community received their quota, "it has [now] become easy for every community to demand it and have it by indulging in violence."

Father Gyanprakash Topno, spokesman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, condemned the large-scale violence unleashed by the Jat community.

"It is very unfortunate. The loss of lives and property looks like that there is no rule of law in the country," Father Topno told ucanews.com. 

The priest said that "there is a way of protesting and putting forward your demands to the government. The way these demonstrators went on vandalizing property is very condemnable."

Father Jas, a parish priest in Rohtak, one of the affected districts of Haryana, told ucanews.com that the whole agitation was very preplanned.

"The situation is very bad. Everything is burned out on the streets," said the priest who goes by only one name, adding that the Jat demonstrators did not harm any property belonging to fellow community members but targeted only those properties owned by non-Jats. 

The priest said that though the agitation has stopped, he fears that things might worsen as "there is a simmering anger among non-Jats as they became the victims of the violence and suffered huge losses for no fault of theirs."

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