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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 May 2006, 06:45 GMT 07:45 UK
Strike in protest at India quotas
College students on an anti-reservation protest in Delhi
College students have protested against the move
Doctors and medical students have called for a general strike in India in protest against a controversial affirmative action plan.

Shops in the Indian capital Delhi have shut down in support of the protest.

The Indian government plans to reserve half of state-funded professional college places for lower caste students from next year.

But the move has sparked an outcry, with critics saying it will lead to a drop in college standards.

The protest by doctors and students has lasted two weeks and has disrupted services in many hospitals in Delhi and some other cities.

On Tuesday, the government announced it would go ahead with the plan despite the protests and would introduce a bill in the next session of parliament.

The call for a general strike is in response to the announcement with the medical students and staff asking traders, resident associations and other professional groups to join them.

"This is an attempt to widen our agitation. We are seeking the support of the all sections of the society," Safal, a protesting medical student told the Press Trust of India.

Caste 'quota'

At present, 22.5% of college places are "reserved" for Dalits, or untouchables, who are at the bottom of India's caste hierarchy, and tribal students.

Under the new plan, 27% of places will also be set aside for lower caste Hindus known as other backward castes (OBCs) and other socially disadvantaged groups.

The plan has the support of millions of low-caste Indians who make up more than 50% of the country.

Despite laws banning discrimination, India's lower castes remain at the bottom of society and are poorly represented in major professions.

See doctors and medical students protesting in India

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