MUMBAI: Wednesday was the completion of one year of the silent protest marches by the Maratha community of Maharashtra. The Maratha Kranti Morchas represent the churn going on among intermediate caste groups in several parts of India, for instance, the Jats in Rajasthan and Haryana, the Gujjars in Rajasthan, the Patidars in Gujarat and the Kapus in Andhra Pradesh.
Seen together, these communities are united by a demand for reservation, regardless of the fact that they enjoy reasonable access to resources and social status. In each state, they represent a challenge to the ruling coalitions headed by the BJP or its allies.
In the context of Maharashtra, the Maratha protests, triggered by the gang-rape of a minor girl from the community on July 18, 2016, could pose a challenge to the government of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in the months ahead.
The first of the 58 Maratha Kranti Morchas was taken out in Ahmednagar on August 9, 2016, in the aftermath of the Kopardhi gang-rape. It was the first time that the community came together on a non-political platform to make demands such as reservation and a reining in of the Atrocities Act. Within a span of a couple of months, 30 such protest marches were taken out across Maharashtra. The latest was held in Mumbai on Wednesday when more than half a million people marched.
As in other protests by intermediate caste groups in other states, the Maratha rallies have remained steadfastly apolitical, a quality that confounds the traditional political parties. The Congress and the NCP, parties that traditionally enjoyed the support of the Maratha community in Maharashtra, made initial advances to claim leadership of the agitation but backed off in the face of fierce opposition from the marchers.
While professing to be apolitical, it was significant that the flare-up of the morchas last year happened at a time when Maharashtra was in the throes of local body elections, which were seen as a sort of a mid-term vote on the performance of the Fadnavis government. The results were not too encouraging for the Congress and NCP: the Marathas did not vote for them despite the two opposition parties joining hands against the BJP. The BJP was able to retain the support it had earned in the 2014 Assembly election.
However, the agitation polarised non-Marathas social groups -- mainly other backward classes (who account for more than one-third of the state’s population) and backward caste voters.
During the post-demonetisation period in November 2016, the agitation saw a lull. After the protest march at Nagpur during the winter session of the Assembly, there were small, localised rallies to keep the issue burning. But Wednesday's big march in Mumbai, coming after a gap of eight months, has again boosted the marchers' fervour.
Congress leader Narayan Rane said on the eve of the Mumbai march, “If the government doesn’t agree to all the demands, future battles will be fought in the way that the Marathas have always fought.
In the popular reckoning, the Marathas are not an economically or socially underprivileged community. But its leaders have in recent years been making a case for its inclusion in the reserved category. In a report submitted to the state government in 2014, Narayan Rane said, “The Marathas are mostly farmers and labourers who depend on the employment guarantee scheme. Their economic condition is pathetic. Maratha students are poor and often don’t have money to complete their education and struggle to get good jobs.” The committee, headed by Rane, recommended a 16 per cent quota for the Marathas and the BJP government brought in a proposal to grant it to them. However, as with other such political tactics in other states, its risks coming up against legal hurdles. A similar decision by the UPA government in Maharashtra was quashed by the court.
As a response to the court setback, a committee was constituted under education minister Vinod Tawde to gather evidence of the social backwardness of the community. However, there was a new twist to the issue when talk began of constituting a backward class commission that would review the committee's findings. Not much has been done on that issue in the past few months, though the government has given some educational sops to students of the community. However, the leadership of the community is not quite satisfied with such measures.
On the strength of the Mumbai march, the agitation looks poised to increase in intensity and political heft. This likely to test the political acumen of Fadnavis, a Brahmin, as he steers his party towards the next Assembly election in the state.
1. Speedy prosecution and punishment of the culprits in the Kopardi rape and murder case.
2. Reservation in education and government jobs.
3. Implementation of recommendations of the M S Swaminathan Committee.
4. Amendment to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 to stop its misuse.
5. Stop to the exploitation of farmers through land acquisition
6. Help for families of farmers who have committed suicide.
7. Relaxed guidelines for giving caste certificates to Kunbi, Maratha-Kunbi and Kunbi-Maratha people.
8. Address injustice done to government officers and workers from Maratha, OBC and general category in terms of promotions.
9. Reactivate the Annasaheb Patil Economic Development Corporation.
10. Autonomous Institute for the all-round development of the Maratha community, named after Shahu Maharaj.
11. A memorial for Shivaji in Mumbai.
12. Restoration of Shivaji's forts.
13. Memorial for Shahu Maharaj at Kolhapur.
14. Land for a Maratha Bhavan in each district.
15. Development of hostels for 500 Maratha students in each district.
16. Hostels for dependents of farmers, project-affected and dam-affected people.
17. Extend the EBC scheme to families with income below Rs 6 lakh.
18. Concessions to Maratha students like those given to SC/ST students.
19. Resolve the Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute.
20. Stop distortion of history and defamation of the Maratha community and its revered personalities.
Jalgaon, Dhule, Nashik, Ahmednagar, Pune, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Aurangabad, Jalna, Parbhani, Hingoli, Latur, Osmanabad ------
Who are the Marathas?
The Marathas constitute around 36 per cent of Maharashtra's population. Eleven of the 18 chief ministers to the state have been from this community.
However, their representation in government jobs is 15 per cent, and 12 per cent in technical courses and higher education. About 73 per cent of the community falls in the middle-income group. Fifty per cent of land sellers and 67 per cent of borrowers in the state are Marathas.
The Marathas dominate 16 of the 36 districts of Maharashtra. Their population in these districts is 48 per cent of the total population of the district.
The community controls the dairy and sugar industries in these areas and controls about 90 per cent of the professional colleges.
The trigger: Kopardi gangrape
On July 13, 2016, a 15-year-old Maratha girl from Kopardi village in Ahmednagar was gang-raped and murdered by four students, allegedly from a Dalit community.
The incident took place when the victim was returning after meeting her grandfather. She was accosted by three men who raped her before throttling her to death. There were many injuries on her body. The rapists broke her limbs before throttling her to death.
The incident triggered a series of silent protests by the Maratha Kranti group. For over a month, marches were held in Akola, Nanded, Beed, Osmanabad, Aurangabad, Jalgaon and Jalna districts.
Similar quota demands in other states
Jats in Haryana: The Jats have been agitating for inclusion in the other backward class (OBC) category in Haryana, Rajasthan UP, and the National Captial Region.
Patidars in Gujarat: This influential community in Gujarat has been on the war path for quotas since 2015, lead by a young politician Hardik Patel. The Patidars, like the Jats of Haryana, demand inclusion in the OBC category.
Gurjars in Rajasthan: Gurjars are included in the OBC category in Rajasthan. But they want Scheduled tribe status. Their protests have often turned violent.
Kapus in AP: The Kapus are an agrarian community in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, whey they constitute more than 25 per cent of the population. They have been demanding reservation for three decades, led by their leader Mudragada Padmanabham.