Kurmis on Tuesday blocked railway tracks in various parts of eastern India demanding Scheduled Tribe status and inclusion of Kurmali language in the eighth schedule of the Constitution, affecting train services in West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha.
Agitators squatted on railway tracks at various places, leading to cancellation, short-termination and diversion of several trains.
Train services of South Eastern Railway were partially affected due to blockades at Kustaur and Nimdih stations in Adra division, Khemasuli and Bhanjpur stations in Kharagpur division and Aunlajori station in Chakradharpur division since 4 AM, a railway official said.
The SER has cancelled 18 trains, diverted 13 and short terminated or short originated 11 other trains, he said.
Among the trains that were cancelled are 12814/12813 Tatanagar-Howrah-Tatanagar Steel Express, 12021/12022 Howrah-Barbil-Howrah Janshatabdi Express, 22861 Howrah-Titlagarh-Kantabhanji Ispat Express, 13512/13511 Asansol-Tatanagar-Asansol Express, 18183 Tatanagar-Danapur Express and 18033/18034 Howrah-Ghatsila-Howrah Express, he said.
Owing to the agitation, the SER has diverted 13288 Rajendranagar-Durg Express, 18011 Howrah-Chakradharpur Express, 12262 Howrah-Mumbai CSMT Duronto Express, 12130 Howrah-Pune Azad Hind Express, 22905 Porbandar-Shalimar Express, 12801 Puri-New Delhi Express, 12809 Mumbai CSMT – Howrah Mail.
Trains that were diverted include 15930 New Tinsukia-Tambaram Express, 18029 Mumbai LTT-Shalimar Express, 12833 Ahmedabad-Howrah Express, 12859 Mumbai CSMT-Howrah Express and 22823 Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Express, the SER official added.
Agitators also blocked a national highway in Purulia, a state government official said.
In neighbouring Odisha, hundreds of men, women and children belonging to the community staged rail roko agitations in Mayurbhanj district.
Agitators blocked railway tracks at Bhanjpur station in Baripada town, Anlajodi station in Rairangpur and Betnoti.
As a result of the stir, Bangriposi-Bhubaneswar Superfast Express and Baripada-Shalimar Similipal Express remained halted at Bhanjpur for three hours, while the Tatanagar-Badampahar DEMU and Bangriposi-Rupsa DEMU remained halted at Anlajodi and Betnoti stations respectively.
However, the agitation in Odisha was withdrawn after the local administration assured the protesters that their grievances would be taken to the authorities at the highest level.
Biju Janata Dal's Rajya Sabha MP Mamata Mahanta, who reached an agitation site, said, "I fully support the demand...Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has honoured Kurmis by sending a woman from the community to the Parliament. My participation in the stir is not political but support to my community."
Major Mahanta, one of the agitators, claimed that Kurmis were a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups, then known as Primitive Tribal Group, prior to 1950 but were removed from the ST list.
Basant Mahanta, an advocate, alleged that the state government has not recommended the inclusion of Kurmi community in the ST list despite the CM's assurance.
Around 25 lakh Kurmis reside in Odisha, mainly in Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundergarh, Balasore, Jajpur and Sambalpur districts.
The stir comes barely two days after Patnaik wrote a letter to Union Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda seeking the inclusion of 160 communities in the ST list.
Patnaik, in the letter, claimed that since 1978 the Odisha government has recommended the inclusion of 160 communities of the state in the ST list but the recommendations have not been accepted.
The chief minister said that these communities were "victims of historical injustice" due to delay in their inclusion in the ST list.
In Jharkhand, rail blockades in West Bengal affected traffic along the Howrah-Mumbai route, officials said.
Passengers at Tatanagar railway station in Jamshedpur city were seen demanding refund from railways, while others complained that the stir impacted their flights from Kolkata to various destinations.
Road traffic in Jharkhand, however, was not much impacted by the stir.