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20,000 Maratha bikers hit Mumbai streets

Leaders say full-fledged protest will cripple the state’s capital hub, but it will be their last resort

mumbai Updated: Nov 07, 2016 13:47 IST
Manasi Phadke
Sunday’s rally started in Chunabhatti and concluded opposite CST.
Sunday’s rally started in Chunabhatti and concluded opposite CST. (Pratik Chorge/HT photo)

In a precursor to a grand show of strength in Mumbai, the Maratha community on Sunday staged a silent bike rally to press for their demands, mainly 16% reservation in education and government jobs. The bike rally in Mumbai is the first deviation from the usual silent gatherings.

The rally started around 10am from Somaiya Grounds in Chunabhatti and concluded at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) in South Mumbai. According to the participants, nearly 20,000 bikes ridden by men and women from across Maharashtra took to the Mumbai’s streets to draw attention to their demands.

Maansingh Pawar, a Maratha leader from Aurangabad, who started the protests said, “Today’s bike rally in Mumbai was just a warm up for raising our voice in the state’s capital. We have been thinking about organising a full-blown rally in the city, but that would be our ultimate move that we will resort to if push comes to shove.”

He added, “A full-fledged protest will shut down the city, and no one wants that to happen considering it is the state’s economic hub. So a protest in Mumbai will be our last resort. As of now, there’s no final decision on it.”

The protestors followed the code of conduct laid down by the organisers with almost all riders wearing helmets and pillion riders sporting saffron turbans. There were no speeches made at the rally and all participants took a U-turn after paying respects to a large Chhatrapati Shivaji banner installed opposite the CST station. The rally saw participation from youngsters and women from the city and Thane alike.

“I think we are losing out on higher education opportunities because of the quota system, which enables everyone else to access better colleges and professions of their choice. I am here to express solidarity,’’ said Pratik Deshmukh, a Science graduate and a local from Priyadarshani circle, who joined the rally from it starting point in Chunnabhati.

Sunday rally witnessed participation from Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) Mumbai chief Ashish Shelar, who later stated that the agitation was not against the government.

The Maratha community has been staging protests across Maharashtra for the last few months, demanding reservations in education, government jobs and a revision of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act alleging its misuse.

In the last two months, Marathas have staged protests across cities such as Aurangabad, Thane, Pune, Nashik, Solapur, Kolhapur and Nagpur, among others. The community also planning to stage a silent protest on December 14 during the winter session of the state legislature in Nagpur.

With several Maratha organisations lending support to the protests, the community has also formed a panel of judicial experts to help strengthen the state’s case for Maratha reservations in the Bombay high court.

Commenting on the issue, Vinod Tawde, state education minister and in-charge of the state committee for Maratha reservations, said, “After the Mumbai bike rally, a delegation of the community comprising legal experts, retired judges and academicians should ideally come and meet chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and state government representatives to further discuss how the state can present its side to secure reservations for the Maratha community.”