India caste protests: Haryana police seek rape claim leads
The chief of police in Haryana has appealed for any leads after reports that at least 10 women were raped during the recent caste protests in the northern Indian state.
Director General of Police YP Singhal said the police would take action if they received any information.
At least 30 people died and vehicles, shops and buildings were damaged.
The demonstrators were mostly from the Jat community who were protesting against India's caste quota system.
They say it puts them at a disadvantage in government jobs and at state-run educational institutes.
The Jats are currently listed as upper caste but want job quotas similar to those granted to lower castes.
"We can't confirm reports of any rapes, but we will take action if we receive any complaints," Mr Singhal told a press conference on Friday.
"We are willing to investigate but we need information," he said, asking those who had any leads to come forward.
A newspaper report on Wednesday said rioters set fire to dozens of cars on a highway connecting Haryana to Delhi during the protests, forcing their occupants to flee. The rioters then stripped and raped 10 women in the nearby fields, it added.
News television channels showed images of clothes strewn along the highway and media reports quoted local people as saying there were reports of large-scale atrocities.
Media reports alleged the police and administration authorities had advised the victims to not register any complaint to "save their honour" - charges denied by senior police and administration officials.
On Wednesday, the Punjab and Haryana High Court asked the state government to investigate the allegations.
On Thursday, the high court said the victims could directly lodge complaints with the chief judicial magistrate if they did not want to go to the police.
Large-scale violence began in Haryana on 19 February and for the next few days, members of the Jat community went on the rampage, setting fire to vehicles, shops and building belonging to non-Jats.
Demonstrations were also held in Delhi, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Overland transport links to Haryana were brought to a halt by the protests, despite a curfew and the deployment of the army.
More than 10 million people in the capital, Delhi, had to go without water after the protesters also sabotaged a key canal supplying water to the city.
The protests were called off on Monday after Jat leaders accepted a government offer.
State authorities say the situation is now under control, all roads have been secured and the violence has subsided.
Why are the Jats angry?
- The land-owning Jat community is relatively affluent and has traditionally been seen as upper caste.
- They are mainly based in Haryana and seven other states in northern India.
- Comprising 27% of the voters in Haryana and dominating a third of the 90 state assembly seats, they are a politically influential community. Seven of the 10 chief ministers in Haryana have been Jats.
- The Jats are currently listed as upper caste but the demonstrators have been demanding inclusion in caste quotas for jobs and education opportunities that have been available to lower castes since 1991.
- In March 2014 the Congress-led national government said it would re-categorise Jats as Other Backward Castes (OBC), opening the way to government job quotas.
- But India's Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the Jats were not a backward community.
- As jobs have dried up in the private sector and farming incomes have declined, the community has demanded the reinstatement of their backward caste status to enable them to secure government jobs.