Water crisis fears in Delhi over Jat caste unrest

Jat protesters in Haryana Image copyright Manoj Dhaka
Image caption Protesters from the Jat community have damaged a key water source to the Indian capital

The Indian capital Delhi is on the brink of a severe water crisis after a key supply was cut during protests over jobs in a neighbouring state.

Demonstrators from the Jat community damaged equipment in the Munak canal, a major source of water to Delhi.

The city has introduced strict water rationing. Some areas could run dry on Sunday, officials warned, and schools will not open on Monday.

Protesters want guaranteed jobs under India's caste quota system.

Why India needs a new debate on caste quotas

The land-owning Jat community is relatively affluent and has traditionally been seen as upper caste.

But in March 2014 the Congress-led national government said that it would re-categorise Jats as Other Backward Castes (OBC) opening the way to government job quotas.

This was quashed by the Supreme Court in 2015. It ruled that Jats should not be entitled to OBC status as they were not a backward community.

Jats argue this ruling put them at a disadvantage - they insist job quotas should be similar to those granted to lower caste people.

They also say they are disappointed that India's BJP government has not pushed for their OBC status to be restored.

Image copyright Manoj Dhaka
Image caption The army is reported to have opened fire on demonstrators
Image copyright Manoj Dhaka
Image caption A curfew and army deployment have failed to stop the violence

At least nine people were killed as violence continued on Saturday.

Protesters went on the rampage despite a curfew and the deployment of the army, which is reported to have opened fire on them in the districts of Rohtak and Jhajjar.

The violence has forced the closure of several key roads and national highways, and paralysed the railway system in north India.

The bus service between India and Pakistan has been affected, too, with passengers left stranded.

On Friday protesters in Rohtak hurled rocks at security forces while blocking traffic, attacking vehicles and attempting to set the finance minister's home on fire.

The Delhi government has approached the Supreme Court seeking its intervention in the water crisis.

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has said that the government is ready to agree to the demands of the protesters "within the ambit of the constitution".

Opposition parties have called for Mr Khattar's government to be sacked by the central government and for presidential rule to be imposed on the state.

Caste system and quotas: Politician and writer Shashi Tharoor

India's constitution, adopted in 1950, inaugurated the world's oldest and farthest-reaching affirmative action programme, guaranteeing scheduled castes and tribes - the most disadvantaged groups in Hinduism's hierarchy - not only equality of opportunity but guaranteed outcomes, with reserved places in educational institutions, government jobs and even seats in parliament and the state assemblies.

The logic was simple: they were justified as a means of making up for millennia of discrimination based on birth.

In 1989, the government decided to extend their benefits to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) - those hailing from the lower and intermediate castes who were deemed backward because they lacked "upper caste" status.

As more and more people sought fewer available government and university positions, we witnessed the unedifying spectacle of castes fighting with each other to be declared backward.

The Indian government's position on caste

  • The government has divided people from lower castes into three categories as part of its affirmative action policy to offer quotas in jobs and educational institutes
  • The communities listed as the Scheduled Castes (SCs) are essentially the lowest in the Hindu caste hierarchy, locally referred to as Dalits
  • The Scheduled Tribes (STs) are the people who mostly live in remote areas
  • The OBCs are educationally and economically disadvantaged but do not face so much exclusion or isolation

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