200K pro­test­ers bring Mum­bai to halt

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

An es­ti­mated 200,000 pro­test­ers brought In­dia’s fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal Mum­bai to a halt yes­ter­day as they de­manded set quo­tas for gov­ern­ment jobs and col­leges amid un­em­ploy­ment and re­duced farm in­comes. Many busi­nesses in the south­ern part of Mum­bai were closed and traf­fic was di­verted as the pro­test­ers, largely from ru­ral ar­eas of western Ma­ha­rash­tra state, de­scended on the bustling cap­i­tal in a sea of saf­fron flags and ban­ners.

A spokesper­son from Mum­bai po­lice told AFP an es­ti­mated 200,000 peo­ple par­tic­i­pated in the march, which brought rail and roads to a stand­still as pro­test­ers from the Maratha com­mu­nity pressed their de­mands. “We want reser­va­tions for the Maratha com­mu­nity in gov­ern­ment jobs, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tutes, and bet­ter farm loan waivers,” Bhaiya Patil, one of the or­ga­niz­ers said.

In June, the gov­ern­ment in Ma­ha­rash­tra agreed to write off loans to farm­ers es­ti­mated to be worth nearly $5 bil­lion af­ter 11 days of protests that stran­gled sup­plies to Mum­bai. Ma­ha­rash­tra is one of sev­eral largely agri­cul­tural In­dian states that have suf­fered dis­ap­point­ing rains and crop fail­ures in re­cent years. More than 1,417 farm­ers killed them­selves in Ma­ha­rash­tra in 2016, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures.

De­mands for quo­tas for highly sought-af­ter gov­ern­ment jobs and uni­ver­sity places have es­ca­lated as un­em­ploy­ment has risen and con­di­tions in ru­ral ar­eas wors­ened. In­dia re­serves places for lower castes to try to bring vic­tims of the coun­try’s worst dis­crim­i­na­tion into the main­stream, but the pol­icy causes re­sent­ment among other com­mu­ni­ties, who say it freezes them out. Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Chief Min­is­ter Deven­dra Fad­navis re­sponded yes­ter­day with a prom­ise for “reg­u­lar in­ter­ac­tion” with the Maratha com­mu­nity through a com­mit­tee. In­dia has nearly 260 mil­lion farm­ers and farm la­bor­ers and over half the pop­u­la­tion lives in ru­ral ar­eas, but agri­cul­ture ac­counts for just 17 per­cent of its gross do­mes­tic prod­uct. Farm­ers around the coun­try have been press­ing for more gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance, of­ten through protests. — AFP

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