Violent protests in northern India over caste-based quotas in jobs and education have left four people dead and nearly 80 injured, officials said.

Members of the Jats farming community have been protesting in Haryana state, with mobs setting fire to vehicles, buses and shopping malls, despite curfews overnight on Friday and an army presence. 

The Jats are demanding quotas in government jobs and institutions of higher education for their caste.

One person was killed when police opened fire on protesters on Friday in Rohtak city, the epicentre of the protests. Three more people had died in the hospital overnight, state official DK Behera said.

"The situation is really tense with the clashes raging for the second day and protesters setting shops on fire in marketplaces," Behera said. 

Army brought in

Protesters also set a railway station on fire in Jind city and targeted petrol pumps in several other towns.

The army used helicopters to bring in troops to the worst-hit districts, including Rohtak, Jhajjar and Bhiwani, where a curfew was imposed.

The agitation had reached Delhi with protests being reported at some colleges as protesters also blocked a highway that links the national capital to some northern cities.

Talks between community leaders and the state government failed on Friday with the leaders adamant on continuing the agitation until legislation was passed that met their demands.

Haryana chief minister ML Khattar appealed to the Jats to end the protests, saying the violence was creating disharmony in the society.

India has an affirmative action policy which includes quotas for the lowest castes who have faced discrimination for centuries.

Over the years, the government has expanded the quotas to include other communities that are economically or socially disadvantaged.

Protesters run, some with sticks, during a pro-caste quota protest in Rohtak [AP]

Source: DPA