New Delhi – Ethnic Maratha groups called off their day-long strike in India’s financial hub of Mumbai on Wednesday afternoon as protesters turned violent on the city’s outskirts, burning police vehicles and stoning buses.
Groups fighting for the rights of ethnic Maratha people have been holding protests demanding quotas in government jobs and educational institutions and concessions for farmers from their community, including the waiving of loans and better prices for crops.
Thousands of protesters from the community blocked roads and shut shops on the outskirts of Mumbai, waving saffron flags and shouting slogans of “Victory to Shivaji,” a 17th century Maratha warrior king.
Television images showed buses and cars stranded for hours on the Eastern Expressway, which is one of the busiest roads between Mumbai and Pune.
A local train route in Mumbai’s Thane suburban area was blocked by protesters, an officer at Mumbai’s police control room said.
There were incidents of protesters throwing stones at state-run buses in several areas.
Police vehicles were also set on fire.
Shops were forced to shut down in pockets of Raigad district adjoining Mumbai, NDTV news channel reported.
Police had to fire tear-gas shells to disperse violent protesters in the Navi Mumbai suburb and launched baton charges in other areas, NDTV reported.
Leaders of the Maratha Kranti Morcha (Maratha revolutionary front) held a press briefing late afternoon to say they were calling off the protest as they did not want Mumbai’s residents to be inconvenienced as they returned home from their offices.
“We are Marathas, we don’t hurt anyone. Our bandh (shutdown call) was successful: women and children, they were all out on the roads. But in the wake of the violent protests, we have to call off the protest,” Virendra Pawar, convenor of the Maratha Kranti Morcha, Mumbai, said.
Groups of protesters, however, continued to block roads hours after the leaders’ announcement.
Similar protests in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state had turned violent on Tuesday, with people torching vehicles and injuring policemen.
A protester in Aurangabad also committed suicide by jumping into a river near a protest site.
Marathas, who comprise one-third of Maharashtra state’s 116 million people, are mainly engaged in agriculture, a sector in which incomes have been steadily going down.
But the community is politically powerful with several key leaders active in the state, of which Mumbai is the capital.
India has an affirmative-action policy which includes quotas for the lowest castes, members of which have benefited under the system for centuries.
Over the years, governments have expanded quotas, often with large voting groups in mind, to include other castes and ethnic communities that are economically or socially disadvantaged.