A weeklong protest by members of the Dhangar community for their inclusion in Scheduled Tribes (ST) category turned violent on Monday after agitators burnt a state transport bus and damaged a police van.
Since the past few days, a large number of demonstrators of the Dhangar community (shepherds by profession) has been protesting at Baramati (in Pune district), the hometown of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar.
To press for their demand for reservation and quota in higher education and jobs, 16 members have been on a fast for the past seven days.
The Maharashtra government, which recently announced extending 16% quota for Marathas and 5% for Muslims in jobs and education ahead of the assembly elections, has been facing opposition from within over extending similar benefits to the Dhangars.
Senior ministers Madhukar Pichad and Padmakar Walvi have been vocal against including Dhangars into the ST category. According to tribal welfare minister Picchad, tribals fear that inclusion of Dhangars into ST category will eat into their quota.
"The government shouldn't take any step that will violate the constitution. To prevent injustice from happening on tribal community, we are meeting President of India who is the guardian of tribal's rights," said Pichad, a tribal himself.
Dhangars currently enjoy reservation under Nomadic Tribe (NT) category, and is entitled to 3.5 % quota as per norms.
However, the community members demand that their caste be included in the ST category, which enjoys 7 % quota. Moreover, since NT category is not recognised at the central level, the community members feel that they have been deprived of jobs in Union government services.
At the central level, the ST list includes "Dhangad" community, while Dhangars - with an 'r' - have been excluded from it.
On Saturday, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan's meeting with the senior ministers and representatives of Dhangar community had remained inconclusive.
Later, during his visit to Karad, Chavan accepted that tribal ministry was opposing Dhangar community's demand. "Inclusion of Dhangars into ST category is a complex issue involving constitutional provisions. I appeal all the protestors to remain calm."
Dhangars constitute around 10% of the total population in Maharashtra having influence in more than 30 assembly segments of western Maharashtra.