Members of a leftist band that advocates the rights of the underprivileged doused a moving train car with gasoline and set it on fire, killing 47 people, news reports said Wednesday.
A survivor said he and other terrified passengers stampeded for the train's exits as the fire swept through the car Tuesday night. Fourteen people were injured in the blaze, according to the news reports.The blaze came just hours after six higher-caste students killed themselves by poisoning, hanging or immolation to protest an affirmative action for the lower castes announced by Prime Minister V.P. Singh, Trust of India reported.
Radicals were calling for a strike Wednesday in support of the plan, which reserves half of the government's vacancies for low-caste Hindus.
The train torching was the worst incident linked to Singh's Aug. 7 announcement of the policy.
United News of India said 47 people were burned to death when the passenger train car was set ablaze near Hyderabad, 590 miles south of New Delhi.
The news agency initially reported that 60 people were killed.
It quoted official sources as saying 45 bodies had been recovered and more were trapped in the charred rail car.
United News and newspapers quoted local officials and witnesses as saying the fire was set by members of the People's War Group. The group is part of the so-called Naxalite movement, which often resorts to kidnappings and violence to press its claim as an advocate of the rights of oppressed peoples.
The Hindu, a daily newspaper based in the southern city of Madras, said 10 to 15 members of the People's War Group boarded the train at Cherlapalli and handed out pamphlets protesting a Supreme Court injunction suspending implementation of the plan on which Singh's job proposal is based.
The activists then poured gasoline on the floor of a passenger car, ignited it and jumped off the train, The Hindu said.