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Class violence leaves 35 dead in India

  • Story Highlights
  • 35 killed in three days of riots over class discrimination in western India
  • Members of Gujjar community involved in clashes with police
  • Discrimination based in centuries-old caste system outlawed in India
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NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- At least 35 people have been killed in three days of riots over class discrimination in the west Indian state of Rajasthan.

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Members of the Gujjar caste protest in India in 2007.

Members of the Gujjar community -- part of India's centuries-old, complex social caste order -- have engaged in clashes with police officers, who have opened fire in four districts, CNN's sister network, CNN-IBN reported.

They are demanding a bigger share of government jobs and education benefits.

On Sunday, Gujjar leader Kirori Singh refused an invitation to hold talks with government officials, saying that his community will continue a protest blockading regional rail tracks.

Hundreds of supporters took turns camping on rail tracks in the Rajasthan city of Bharatpur, as the bodies of those killed by police fire lay in a field nearby, the station reported.

India's constitution outlaws caste-based discrimination, and barriers have broken down in large cities. Prejudice, however, persists in some rural areas of the country.

As a result, the Indian government has put in place an affirmative action plan that sets aside job and educational quotas for the disadvantaged groups that it classifies as Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes.

These communities, the government believes, needs extra assistance to overcome centuries of discrimination.

Gujjars -- a farming and trading tribe -- are classified by the government as an "unscheduled tribe." They are part of the caste system that do not face as much exclusion or discrimination in society.

But the community feels it has been economically and educationally left behind and it wants to be reclassified at a lower level -- as a scheduled tribe.

As a scheduled tribe, it can gain access to government jobs and benefits, as well as a shot at university seats allocated to the disadvantaged.

The demonstration commemorates the anniversary of a Gujjar protest last year around the same time that claimed at least 25 people.

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