Caste Protests Cut Water to India’s Capital, Hit Industry

India deployed thousands of troops in a northern state on Sunday to quell protests that have severely hit water supplies to Delhi, a city of more than 20 million people, forced factories to close and killed 10 people. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

By Douglas Busvine

NEW DELHI, Feb 21 – India deployed thousands of troops in a northern state on Sunday to quell protests that have severely hit water supplies to Delhi, a city of more than 20 million people, forced factories to close and killed 10 people.

The rioting in Haryana by the Jats, a rural caste, is symptomatic of increasingly fierce competition for government jobs and educational openings in India, whose growing population is set to overtake China’s within a decade.

Rapid urbanization is putting pressure on water supplies after two years of drought, with the mega-city around the capital New Delhi relying on Haryana to meet much of its needs.

“No water available now. Still no hope to get it,” Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said in a tweet on Sunday morning.

The city government ordered schools to shut on Monday and rationed water supply to residents to ensure that hospitals and emergency services have enough.

The home ministry deployed 50 army columns—or 4,000 troops—and 5,000 paramilitaries from the Border Security Force in an overwhelming show of force to restore order.

It said the situation was returning to normal and roadblocks set up by protesters were being cleared, adding that “all measures” should be taken to avert a disruption in Delhi’s water supplies.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh was expected to meet leaders of the Jat community—which makes up a quarter of the population in Haryana and numbers more than 80 million in northern India—in a bid to defuse the crisis.

Haryana’s police chief said the death toll had risen to 10 and 150 more had been injured. “We are trying to identify the conspirators and take action,” Director General of Police Yash Pal Singal told a televised news conference.

WATER STATION ATTACKED

Protesters have attacked the homes of regional ministers, torched railway stations and staged sit-ins on tracks, blocking hundreds of trains. They sabotaged pumping equipment at a water treatment plant that provides most of Delhi’s water.

Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, India’s biggest car maker by sales, suspended operations at its plants in the state after the protests disrupted the supply of some components.

With many road and rail links cut, the government announced that extra flights had been laid on to destinations in northwest India.

The unrest poses a threat to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of jobs and growth for the aspirational Indians who elected him in 2014 with the largest majority in three decades.

Modi, who has previously faced criticism for ignoring unrest that does not fit with the upbeat narrative of his nationalist government, avoided reference to the protests in a visit to the state of Chattisgarh.

He unveiled a statue and spoke on efforts towards rural and urban development.

Modi wants to attract foreign investment to back his ‘Make in India’ drive to create 100 million manufacturing jobs by 2022. At the current rate India may only create 8 million jobs in that period, by one independent estimate.

The Jat protests echo a similar movement last year in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, where the Patel community demanded a greater share of scarce government jobs and college places that are now reserved for people from lower castes.

Hardik Patel, the 22-year-old leader of the Gujarat unrest, became a national sensation after drawing half a million people to one rally. The authorities cracked down on Patel, who was charged with sedition in October.

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