Gujjars make rail tracks makeshift homes

Gujjar leader Col Kirodi Singh Bhainsla arrives at the protest venue, railway tracks. Hundreds of followers join him. No 8: A three-year-old protester plays with stones as his father is on a sit-in protest. Photos/Suman Sarkar

The isolated rail tracks of Malarna Dungar railway station, 180 km from Jaipur, surrounded by vast oilfields, have suddenly become noisy after it turned into a makeshift home for Gujjars on a sit-in protest demanding 5 % quota in government jobs and educational institutions under Most Backward Class (MBC) category.

Currently, the community is getting 1% MBC quota, apart from reservation under Other Backward Classes (OBC) category.
 

 

The railway tracks are dotted with hundreds of men, women and children, living inside tents stretched on the rocky tracks for the last four days. Nothing seems to move them from the tracks, not even the night temperature that goes as low as 10 degree C. "We will not leave the tracks till the government gives us reservation. We want a safe future for our future generations," said 27-year-old Brijesh Singh, accompanied by his three-year-old son Dewan, who was clueless about the happenings around him.
 
Like Brijesh, most of the youth and elderly are holding a sit-in protest on the tracks from Friday to press their demand for 5 % quota for five communities, including Gujjars.

 

Ram Babu Gurjar, 78, who is on protest for the fifth time, is hopeful that this will be his last. "Every time the government has been making a fool of us but this time, instead of entering into talks, we have decided to leave the tracks only after reservation is granted in Rajasthan." Most of the protesters have the same story to share - of betrayal by both Congress and BJP governments.
 
3 FIRs so far
On Day 4, as many as 26 trains were diverted and 12 more cancelled due to protests on tracks. The protesters also blocked road traffic at Sikandra in Dausa, Gudla in Karauli, Asind in Bhilwara, Nainwa in Bundi and on Jaipur-Ahmedabad highway in Ajmer.
 
After clashes on Sunday, police imposed Section 144 in Karauli, Dholpur and Bharatpur area. Meanwhile, the Karauli administration pasted a notice on the house of Kirori Singh Bainsla for violation of court orders and warning against vandalism after violence erupted in Dholpur, where police tried to disperse agitating Gujjars, who were attempting to block the Delhi-Mumbai National Highway 3.

 

 
In four days of protests, so far three FIRs have been filed in connection with the Gujjar agitation. Chief minister Ashok Gehlot, appealed to Gujjar community members to vacate the tracks. He said the state government had done its part and their demand for higher quota can only be fulfilled through an amendment to the Constitution, for which the Gujjars must approach the Prime Minister and Union home minister.
 
Music, card games...  
 
As the first half of the day passes, most of the protesters are seen either taking a nap under the tents or sprawled on the tracks. The elderly are mostly playing cards, while the younger lot listen to music or play games on their mobile phones.
 
The women folk from nearby villages, who join the protest in the afternoon, carry food and water for their family members. A makeshift kitchen has also been erected,  where food is cooked and served to the protesters. "It's our duty to support our fellow brothers. We are distributing food for free and will continue to do so till the protest is on," says Gujjar, who owns a dhaba and serves food to the thousands of protesters free of cost. Every meal comes with a mandatory sweet, symbolic of the Gujjars' hope of a sweet ending to their hardship.

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