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Muslims in India: Shariah compliant Islamic index launched in India

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  • Zafar Khan
    Shariah compliant Islamic index launched in India By Indo-Asian News Service on Thursday, June 26, 2008
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 28, 2008
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      Shariah compliant Islamic index launched in India
      By Indo-Asian News Service on Thursday, June 26, 2008

      http://www.freshnews.in/shariah-compliant-islamic-index-launched-in-india-30170

      The EW India Islamic Index comprising publicly listed companies, which are Shariah compliant, was launched here Wednesday to attract Gulf-based investors and make investment “moral and ethical”.


      The EW India Islamic Index excludes companies engaged in alcohol products, conventional financial services like banking and insurance, gambling, hotels, pork-related products, and all other business which the Shariah board considers unethical.

      The EW all-share index consists of 1,425 companies from 10 sectors and 85 different industries.

      Speaking at the launch here, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said the index would act as a guiding factor for all financial institutions and corporate houses for judicious and ethical usage of assets in business.

      Former Chief Justice A.M. Ahmadi said it would benefit Indian banks and other financial institutions in planning their businesses in Gulf countries.

      “It is said that to lend money on interest or to receive money on interest is a sin (under Islamic laws), therefore Muslims should avoid such practices,” he said.

      The index will also be used for tracking investment potential in India.

      The EW India Islamic Index is a subset of EW All Share Index which has a market capitalisation of Rs.5.6 trillion, which is 99.5 percent of the total market capitalisation of India.
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      Can the Muslim speak?
      27 Jun, 2008, 0258 hrs IST, ET Bureau

      http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/Editorials/Can_the_Muslim_speak/articleshow/3170012.cms

      There are all sorts of chimeras in India. But some illusions are more real than others. Take the ‘Muslim vote’, for instance. Now, whether there exists such an entity could be debatable, given that members of the community tend to vote much like everyone else, along regional and caste lines.

      However, as a category this just has to be the most favourite among politicians. And now, the Marxists have also fallen prey. Forget all about the inherent atheism members of this breed are supposed to possess, faith and all its categories are fair game in India.

      CPI(M) politburo member M K Pandhe has just cautioned the Samajwadi Party that it may lose Muslim support if it goes with the government on the Indo-US nuclear deal. A Congress wag countered this saying after all the nuclear deal may actually be executed by Hassan Obama and not Bush!

      Apart from the scorn heaped upon the spectacle of a communist shamefacedly contributing to the communal discourse, hardly anyone has pointed out that the fact is the ‘Muslim vote’ has been deployed as a perfectly plausible plot. And that, indeed, is the rub.

      The wider problem, of course, is the general acceptance of this category. So, forget the fact, as the Sachar committee pointed out, that the Muslim community remains largely backward and uneducated. We can all happily be led to believe that your average poor Muslim is completely unconcerned about his economic travails.

      What he is most concerned about is matters related to nuclear technology and our international relations with the US. That, you can be sure, is what the Muslims will be thinking about as they make their way into the polling booth in, say, that remote dusty village in Gonda or Bahraich in UP.

      There was some global poll or the other that said the US was actually quite admired in Muslim countries. But, as our politicians assure us, India’s Muslims are a different lot. Everybody seems to know what they really want, except no one seems to be really asking them.
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      Challenge to secularism and Indian democracy

      The Indian democracy is under threat. With the political leaders trying to create a social rift on the basis of caste and community. As Modi continues his doctrine of Hindutva in Gujarat, Kerala is slowly creeping up on Islamic fundamentalism..

      http://india.merinews.com/catFull.jsp?articleID=136533

      GUJRAT AND Kerala are both headed by persons who are ideologically imbalanced fundamentalists. Kerala chief minister VS Achuthanandan is committed to communism which has Stalin as its hero. Gujarat is headed by Narendra Modi, a fundamentalist of Hindutva, drawing inspiration from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Modi’s reputation is stained by the fact that, as head of the state government in Gujarat between February, 2002 and May, 2002, he was responsible for the communal nature of state institutions at that time. The state department’s detailed views on this matter are included in its annual country reports on human rights practices and the international religious freedom report. Both reports document the violence in Gujarat from February, 2002 to May, 2002 and cite the Indian National Human Rights Commission report, which states there was "a comprehensive failure on the part of the state government to control the persistent violation of
      rights of life, liberty, equality, and dignity of the people of the state."

      Mahatma Gandhi, who won us the Independence, does not figure in the ideology of both. Nor does his picture hang in the politburos of the two. At the Communist Party headquarters in Kolkata, you can see the pictures of Marx and Engels. At the RSS headquarters at Nagpur, photos of Shivaji and Maharana Pratap Singh are on display. Even when I have inquired about the reason for the absence of Gandhi’s portrait, they have simply shrugged their shoulders as if he does not fit into their scheme of things.

      What I found most disturbing was the incipient Islamic fundamentalism beginning to creep into Kerala. Some 40 years ago, Gujarat had its first Hindu-Muslim riot. From then onwards, Hindutva forces have constantly pushed their way in by using weapons such as propaganda and at times through communal riots to be where they are. They have more or less achieved their objective as the Gujaratis themselves do not distinguish between Hindutva and Indian nationalism. Why Vallah Bhai Patel was against Muslims? There is certain misinterpreted concept which the Gujarat fundamentalists follow.

      The disturbing trend in Kerala can still be stopped by liberal Muslim leaders. Instead, money is sought from abroad to finance fundamentalists to help them buy the best properties at key places. The Left is unhappy. They are the ones fighting against fundamentalists, the BJP hardly figures anywhere.

      What I am expressing my horror at is the manner in which Gujarat has undergone a change. It was a secular society before the communal riots in 1969. Today, it is the stronghold of Hindutva. I am concerned that Kerala may also go the Gujarat way and become home for Muslim fundamentalists. The recent Deoband ’fatwa’ against terrorism has made the entire Indian Muslim community think.

      However, the terrorists have brought back the vocabulary as if they are fighting against ‘idol worshippers.’ The Indian Muslims have preferred to stay away from the debate which the terrorists are trying to degenerate into an anti-Hindu campaign. India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had said that fundamentalism among minorities could be curbed. But if the majority community take up fundamentalism, the country would then go fascist.

      India has, by and large, followed his principles of secularism. But where probably the nation has failed is in Gujarat, which is behaving as if pluralism does not suit the genius of India. In this kind of atmosphere, institutions adjust themselves to the wishes of the master. I saw the fear of Modi all around. He has been taunting the Centre to take action against him for the Gujarat carnage. The Centre was too timid to do so. Now he is blessing action against writers who point out that things have not returned to normality and that the state remains divided on communal lines.

      For example, political psychologist Ashish Nandy wrote early this year that "Gujarati Muslims too are ‘adjusting’ to their new station. Denied justice and proper compensation, and as second class citizens in their home state, they have to depend on voluntary efforts and donor agencies. The state’s refusal to supply relief has been partly met by voluntary groups having fundamentalist sympathies..." I experienced this when I was at Ahmedabad earlier this week.

      What Nandy has stated is the truth without any embellishment or exaggeration. Things are in fact worse. This is a blatant attack on freedom of expression. How can a free Press, an integral part of a democratic society, exist if Modi is so touchy about even the mention of the riots in which 2,000 Muslims were killed? I am encouraged to see that some 170 intellectuals, including academics, writers, film makers, journalists and activists, from all over the world have issued a joint statement condemning the anti-democratic forces "that claim to speak on behalf of Hindu values sometimes and patriotism at other times, especially in Gujarat, but who have little understanding of either".

      The ball is now in the court of the Gujarati middle class, whether living in the UK, the USA or in India itself. They must speak out because it is their name that is being dragged through the mud and it is they who are being blamed for changing their values to chauvinism and narrow-minded obscurantism. At the same time, they should ensure the rehabilitation of Muslims who were ousted from their villages and were not being allowed to return. I met many who want to go back to their homes and who are willing to forget and forgive if given a chance to restart their lives.

      Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is busy devising strategies for the next general elections and coining slogans for electioneering. Probably, the Gujarat example goes down well in some Hindi-speaking states. It’s a pity that the BJP has no compassion when it comes to the Muslims. But I don’t expect even a modicum of rethinking from a party which has dreams of establishing a Hindu Rashtra and anointing Modi as the Prime Minister after LK Advani. In the context of the Gujarat, Tehelka exposed India’s needs to wake up and take notice. I am not asking about taking notice of the act because that has been known to all for long through works like Rakesh Sharma’s Final Solution. India needs to take notice of the reactions of a section to the expose. It is utterly sad that some of the reactions show a destruction of the moral meta-narrative in a section of the Indian society. But it is also heartening to find so many common voices pouring
      in from everywhere condemning the acts in the most vehement terms. These are the voices, talking from their heart, who bring sanity to India and to any discourse in India. They are the ones who make this country survive. But I look here in this post at the disturbing reaction by a section and to question them on where is their moral reference point from which we should talk with them.

      I recall the example of Bhindranwale, a Sikh fundamentalist, in Punjab. He could have been dealt with otherwise and the marching of forces into the Golden Temple was not justified. After all, the place is the Sikhs’ Vatican. At that time the Sikh community should have asserted itself and blocked Bhindranwale from occupying the space which belonged to the nation.

      New Delhi’s failure to take on communal forces has created an atmosphere in Gujarat where even a person like Nandy cannot highlight the truth. Mind you, it has taken 40 years for Gujarat to be what it is today, a purely Hindutva haven. This may happen in Kerala and Islamic fundamentalists may clone Gujarat. New Delhi has so far stood helpless in the case of Gujarat. That is to be deplored. Would the Centre remain inactive in Kerala and other parts where extremists use Modi as their role model to propagate communalism? Modi and the rise of his party have many similarities with Adolf Hitler and rise of Nazis in Germany. Modi’s victory bodes ill for this nation.

      In a state where Mahatma was born, we have a leader now who confesses his targeting of Muslims, and yet, people vote him back into power. Hitler used to openly confess his contempt for Jews and yet people backed him. Modi is a bachelor, like Hitler. He is (supposedly) not corrupt (like Hitler). He is vegetarian (like Hitler) and has contempt for meat-eaters. He goes after his agenda which he makes it clear right in the beginning (like Hitler) and it involves targeting certain sections blaming them for all ills of the society. The economic prosperity in the land is high (like under Hitler), and his goons are ready to target and kill one community (like under Hitler) with protection from the state apparatus. Like Hitler, Modi practices and spends lot of time on mastering his oratory. Like Hitler, he creates an image and persona that is much more than the party and the ideology.

      Modi is in-your-face candid about his crimes (like Hitler) which people see as a sign of honesty in comparison to other weak and corrupt leaders who push the same agenda but are not honest about it. Congress and Left have no better track record when it comes to protecting the interests of minority religions in this country. Their record is same or even worse compared to that of Modi. The difference is that Modi just accepts what he does. A known, strong and honest criminal is better than a hypocrite, weak and dishonest criminal – that seems to be the attitude of the Indian people.

      Seriously, India is in a lot of trouble. I know many Muslims personally, who keep saying that India is no longer a place where Muslims can stay. So far, I thought they were exaggerating. But it seems that in certain parts of India it is true - particularly Gujarat and Maharashtra. I meet Indians (non-Muslims) from these states and am shocked at the hate they spew against Muslims. At the same time, it is paradoxical to hear about our supposedly great tolerant culture. Modi is a problem for civilised society.
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      Jaipur Muslims Fear Backlash
      IslamOnline.net & Newspapers
      Fri. May. 16, 2008

      http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1209357636407&pagename=Zone-English-News/NWELayout

      CAIRO — As Indian police stepped up search for suspects in this week's bombings in the tourist city of Jaipur, Muslim residents are worried about a backlash, fearing that they are targeted as suspects because of their faith.
      "They hassle us just because we are Muslims. It's very wrong," Daulat Khan, 60, a Bangladeshi migrant worker, told the Washington Post on Friday, May 16.

      At least 80 people were killed and 200 wounded when a series of simultaneous bombings rocked Jaipur, one of India's top tourists resorts, on Wednesday, May 14.

      A previously unknown group, the Indian Mujaheddin, claimed responsibility for the attacks.

      Following the blasts, Indian police questioned dozens of Bangladeshis in the city, home to thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers.

      Police said at least 30 have been taken into custody but that no arrests have been made.

      Similar roundups of Muslims took place after train bombings in Mumbai in July 2006 that killed nearly 200 people.

      Pankaj Singh, Jaipur's police inspector general, said police are trying to be sensitive in questioning of the Bangladeshi community.

      "At the same time, we're talking to anyone who may be suspicious and not keeping with the laws of the land."

      Police distributed on Friday sketches of three dark-skinned men, who are in their mid-20s, for involvement in the coordinated blasts.

      The three men are believed to have bought bicycles used in the explosions on a busy shopping street in the capital of India's Rajasthan state.

      The sketches were based on descriptions "from the people who sold them the cycles," the state's top police official, Amarjot Singh Gill, told AFP.

      Indigent

      Bangladeshi migrants workers say they have nothing to do with the bombings.

      "We are a poor community," Khan, wearing a bright blue lungi, the flowing, skirtlike wrap worn by Bangladeshi men, said in his neighborhood Bagrana.

      "We don't have the funds to orchestrate this kind of thing or the time."

      Nearby, rail-thin men broke rocks in the hot sun while their wives stirred pots of boiling rice and swatted away flies.

      Many said they had lived in Jaipur for decades, some with official work visas, others illegally who escape the grinding poverty in Bangladesh but had found only slighter higher wages in India.

      "You are welcome," said M.K. Laskar, a tobacco and cigarette dealer, waving in the police officers fanning out in their dozens among Bagrana's concrete houses.

      "We have nothing to hide here."

      Following Wednesday's attacks, Muslims and Hindus alike rushed to donate so much blood for victims.

      Neighbors also attended interfaith prayer ceremonies.

      Many Bangladeshis, however, believe that India, which invited them in to provide cheap labor, is now cracking down on the community.

      "Is this some sort of a joke?" asked Laskar as he watched neighbors work in the sweltering heat, digging water holes and rebuilding their homes.

      "All of a sudden India doesn't want us anymore?"
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Muslims Too Are Victims of Terrorism
      Aijaz Zaka Syed, aijaz.syed@...
      Wednesday 11 June 2008

      http://www.arabnews.com/?page=7§ion=0&article=110787&d=11&m=6&y=2008

      “I am puzzled at your silence and the silence of Arab News on the Jaipur blasts,” wrote in an intelligent reader based in the US. Venkat is an Indian techie, (not his full name) and this message came soon after the terror attack on Jaipur in India. The Jaipur incident took place on May 13. I wrote back to Venkat pointing out that this newspaper had run an editorial and several letters on Jaipur condemning the attack in strongest terms.

      Back home in India, numerous Muslim organizations and public figures have vehemently protested the attack that killed 62 people. But their voices couldn’t have reached Venkat or the larger Indian society. Because the marginalized, ghettoized and semiliterate community that I come from has lost its voice — literally. Even when an anguished Indian Muslim speaks his mind on issues like terror and the larger concerns facing the community and the country, the media have little time or patience for these sound bites. The media are more interested in burning the “usual suspects” at the stake of public opinion even before they are judged by a court.

      Evidence be damned. Justice can go take a walk. Who cares who really is responsible for the Jaipur attacks? Or the Hyderabad blasts? Or the Mumbai bombings? I wish friends like Venkat could read Urdu dailies. For they’d see how Indian Muslim views these despicable acts targeting innocent people. The minority community is as outraged as fellow Indians over the spilling of innocent blood. In fact, it’s all the more anguished because the responsibility for these heinous acts is being laid at its door. Prominent Urdu dailies are full of commentaries by Muslim leaders and intellectuals condemning the Jaipur tragedy and growing incidents of this nature. How much of this has found its way into the English dailies or perennially hysterical Hindi news channels? Little. No wonder Venkat is “puzzled” over our silence.

      This is precisely why one has been shouting out, for what it’s worth, to tell the world that such outrageous actions have nothing to do with Islam. Terrorism is an extremist and nihilistic death cult. There cannot be a greater absurdity than linking it to a faith that celebrates life and hope and advocates peace, justice, reason, balance and moderation in everything its followers do.

      This is what I tried to argue after the 7/7 London bombings. Even as we have repeatedly assailed the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and widespread human rights abuses as part of the terror war, we have never shied away from taking on the extremists who claim to speak on behalf of Islam and yet shed innocent blood. In fact, we see these elements as the greatest threat to Islam and Muslims because they kill in the name of our faith and distort its humane teachings. Which is why we have constantly pleaded with Muslim intellectuals and leaders to raise their voice against this lunatic fringe.

      God knows we can’t afford to lose this battle of hearts and minds. We really need to make some noise; making it clear to the world that this is not the Islam we know (no apologies to Bush). That said, I find these expectations from Indian Muslims to prove they are not with the terrorists every time there’s an attack of this sort rather disconcerting. Why do we have to prove our innocence and loyalty to the land that has been our home for more than a thousand years every time there’s an incident like this?

      Indian Muslims have paid and continue to pay an incalculable price for the original sin of the country’s partition. How long are we supposed to carry this cross on our shoulders? This is especially unfair to people born after the partition. The people of my generation and even those from my parents’ generation never had a role to play in the division of the country, whatever the geopolitical and historical factors contributing to it. Why then is this burden of historical guilt thrust on us time and time again?

      It’s the shadow of this guilt that has been the bane of Indian Muslim’s existence. Weighed down by this shame, he has put up with every injustice and insult all these years. This is why while his fellow Indians confidently demand their share of the pie, he is content in his ghettos and grateful for crumbs — or promises of crumbs — the politicians throw his way. He is elated when his identity as an Indian is recognized at the time of polls and is wooed by political parties. But times are a-changing. Today’s Muslims aren’t prepared to be treated like second-class citizens in their own land. We love this great land as much as the next Indian. Nobody has any right to lecture us on patriotism. And we aren’t ready to stand there, our heads bowed in shame, and take the blame every time some nut out there goes berserk.

      Trust me, it does hurt us too when innocent people suffer. I still can’t get the image of that young woman in a new sari, henna still fresh on her hands, out of my mind. She lay there on the road, next to a young man, maybe her husband. She looked as if she was in a deep, peaceful sleep. My heart went out to her and her loved ones. She didn’t deserve to die this way. And those who did this to her must be brought to justice and must be made to pay for their crimes.

      But don’t blame a whole community when it’s not even established who is responsible for this outrage. And please don’t expect us to apologize. For we too are victims of terrorism. After Jaipur, RSS and BJP men went on the rampage targeting Muslim homes and small businesses in the old city. But how many of us know that at least eight of those killed in Jaipur were Muslim? All of those killed in Makkah Masjid blast in Hyderabad and many of the victims of the Gokul chaat joint, again in Hyderabad, were Muslims. Many of those killed in the Mumbai train bombings were from the minority community. In fact, if there’s one community that has suffered the most at the hands of terrorists, it is the Muslims. Just look around, from Pakistan to Afghanistan and from Iraq to Palestine, it is Islam and its followers who are at the receiving end, whatever the causes. Not to mention the disgrace it has brought to the fair name of a great faith, distorting its
      humane and liberating teachings, perhaps forever. But this goes beyond religious identities and ideologies. Terror knows no faith. And we are all its victims, whether we are Muslims, Christians or Hindus.

      — Aijaz Zaka Syed is a senior journalist and commentator based in Dubai.
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      Indian Mujahideen claims responsibility for Jaipur blasts
      Randeep Ramesh in Delhi guardian.co.uk, Thursday May 15, 2008

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/may/15/india

      A little-known Islamic militant group claimed responsibility for a series of bomb blasts that claimed the lives of 63 people in the heritage city of Jaipur two days ago – an attack which could see top international cricketers leave the country and jeopardise India's new billion-dollar cricket league.

      The group, which called itself Indian Mujahideen, emailed video clips to two Delhi-based media organizations of a bicycle, which it said was packed with explosives that were set off at one of half a dozen sites in Jaipur, with the aim of disrupting the tourist industry.

      The claim was also sent to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), which governs the state of Rajasthan.

      The devices were designed to cause terrible damage. Explosives and ammonium nitrate were mixed with ball bearings and wired to timing devices. As many as 200 people were also injured in the bombings - the first such an attack in the state capital.

      Police issued a sketch of a man whom they want to question in connection with one of the attacks, but no arrests have been made.

      The blasts prompted security concerns about India's cricket premier league - one of the grounds is in Jaipur. The Australian star Shane Warne, the captain of the most successful team, the Rajasthan Royals, and several other leading figures have said they will not continue without guarantees about their safety.

      Warne, his fellow Australian Shane Watson, the South Africa captain Graeme Smith and Rajasthan Royal's manager Darren Berry were on holiday in Goa when the bombs exploded on Tuesday night in the heart of the Jaipur's main markets.

      The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Berry as saying there was "a real option of getting on the plane and getting out of here. It is terrifying. To think I was standing in the exact location the bombs went off only two days ago ... it was a couple of kilometres from the team hotel. The whole country has gone into lockdown.

      "These games are getting big crowds. People over here tell me this has nothing to do with cricket, it is political ... but if some people are prepared to cause this type of damage, detonating bombs in peak-hour to harm the most number of people possible ... 50,000 people come to the stadium to watch the games."

      In a markedly strong language the United States condemned what it called "vicious act of terrorism". In the past Washington's reticence to label bomb blasts in India as terrorist acts - in part due to the sensitivities of neighbouring Pakistan - has offended many officials in Delhi.

      The Jaipur blasts appear to be the work of a home-grown outfit, albeit one that may have been aided by foreign hands. Last November Indian Mujahideen said it was behind six consecutive blasts that rocked courthouses in the north Indian cities of Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad in the space of half an hour. An e-mail claiming responsibility was sent to several national television stations.

      In that email the group made it clear it wanted to establish home-grown Islamist terrorism in India and sought to distance itself from Pakistani-based groups. The group said it started its jihad after Hindu fundamentalist attacks on Muslims, pointing to pogroms in Mumbai in the early nineties and the 2002 carnage in Gujarat.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Low-caste tribe riots in Delhi for right to be 'untouchable'
      By Andrew Buncombe in Delhi
      Friday, 30 May 2008

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/lowcaste-tribe-riots-in-delhi-for-right-to-be-untouchable-836769.html

      India's centuries-old controversy over caste and discrimination brought parts of Delhi to a halt yesterday as thousands of members of an ethnic group demanded that their official status be lowered in order to provide them with better access to jobs and education. Members of the Gujjar tribe blocked major roads and highways into Delhi in sit-down protests and set fire to tyres as they vowed to create gridlock across India's capital and the surrounding area.


      Some train services were suspended and many IT and outsourcing companies with offices in Delhi's satellite cities sent staff home early. In some locations, police fired tear gas at the stone-throwing demonstrators. "This will go on until our demands are met," Surjit Singh, a Gujjar protester who was standing in front of hundreds of cars, told reporters.

      According to Indian law, the Gujjars – many of whom live in the nearby desert state of Rajasthan – are classified as belonging to the country's second-lowest group, known as Other Backward Classes (OBC).

      In the complex, divisive system this category is one step up from the lowest level known as Scheduled Tribes and Castes (STC) otherwise known as Dalits, or "Untouchables".

      The Gujjars say they have been discriminated against in terms of jobs, health care and education – particularly in Rajasthan – but say that by being reclassified as STC they will be eligible for government positions and university places that are reserved for that group.

      The Indian government reserves about half of all seats in state colleges and universities for lower castes and tribal groups – a massive affirmative-action plan it says is designed to counter centuries of discrimination. Many have criticised the quota system, however, saying that it accentuates caste differences at a time when India is seeking to modernise and develop economically and socially.

      A government panel that was set up to look into the Gujjars' claims, recommended that a £40m aid package be set aside for their community but ruled out reclassifying the tribe. That plan has not satisfied the Gujjars.

      Yesterday's unrest was the latest in several weeks of confrontations between the tribe and the police; 40 people have died in violence across the north and west of India in recent weeks. In a number of villages and towns in Rajasthan, police used live ammunition to suppress demonstrations, killing dozens of people. In one case, a policeman was lynched by protesters.

      This time last year, 26 people were killed in similar demonstrations.

      In Rajasthan yesterday, protesters blocked roads with the bodies of those demonstrators who were shot dead by police. They said the bodies would not be cremated until the government agreed to their demands. "The Rajasthan government must realise the mood of the people and not delay the implementation of quotas for Gujjars," said Avatar Singh Bhadana, a Gujjar leader and MP.

      During the 1857 uprising against British colonial rule, Hindu and Muslim Gujjars fought tenaciously against the imperial troops and in support of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the ruler who proved to be the last of the Moghul emperors.

      In the aftermath of the uprising, brutally suppressed by the British, the Gujjars and about 150 other ethnic groups were then listed as "criminal tribes".

      This listing was officially lifted in 1952 under India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Two years earlier, India's constitution had outlawed discrimination based on caste though the banned practice remains widespread.

      In advance of yesterday's "martyrs' day" demonstration by the Gujjars, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje, called on the tribe to cancel their protests.

      Newspaper advertisements and a government leaflet urged the Gujjars to "use their wisdom" and reconsider the offers she has made to the tribe.

      The leader of the Gujjar demonstration, Kirori Singh Bhainsla, is one of 13 members of the tribe who has been charged with murder and rioting, relating to the death of the police officer earlier this month.

      India's complex caste system

      The origins of India's caste system are still debated but most believe it is linked to Hinduism and its different "Varnas".

      Those are listed as: Brahmins (priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (noblemen and warriors), Vaishyas (shopkeepers and traders), and Shudras (farmers and labourers).

      In addition to those, there are thousands of sub-castes. Ancient Hindu texts list those outside of the system as "Untouchables", commonly called Dalits. A law passed by the British government in 1935 was the first to give reservations to the "Depressed Classes".

      Traditionally, Dalits were forbidden to drink from the same well as other castes and were even ordered not to allow their shadow to fall on another person. In recent years, Dalits have made some advances and, in certain states, notably Uttar Pradesh, they represent a serious political force.

      Discrimination against Dalits remains considerable, even if the barriers are breaking down between the other castes. Many believe the system is standing in the way of India's progress and say the country's full potential will not be met while the caste system remains.

      Writing yesterday in The Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the head of the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, said: "Our politics is driving us into an explosive cul de sac. The recent, terrible violence is a reminder of what happens to societies when they can neither endure their current social condition, nor have the means to overcome it."
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