The Maratha protests, which have spread across Maharashtra, after the Kopardi rape – the accused being Dalit men – are reaching a tipping point. The Marathas feel the present scenario tilts the balance a little too much in favour of Dalits and the protests are to highlight three major demands — reservation for Marathas, a modification of the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and punishment for the Kopardi rape accused. Here is all you need to know about the protests
What are the Maratha silent protests about ?
Maratha silent protests that going on across the state but have been more pronounced in Marathwada, that is considered the state’s caste cauldron, were triggered by the brutal rape and murder of a minor girl from the community. The three accused in this case are Dalits. The protests seem to be guided by hardline Maratha organisations like Maratha Seva Sangh but an attempt is on to keep them apolitical and even leaderless. Politicians across parties have been shunned by protesters.
While the agitators have demanded a death sentence for the accused, their central demands also include long pending reservation for the community in the employment and education sectors, review of the Atrocity Act, government jobs for anyone from families of farmers who committed suicides in the last ten years, implementation of the Dr Swaminathan report.
Who are Marathas ?
Marathas form nearly 32-40% of the state population. They traditionally belong to the warrior caste but also include members of the kunbis or the peasant class. (Maratha-kunbis have reservations within the OBC block) The community has been politically and socially influential – 13 of the 18 chief ministers of the state were Marathas – and have controlled the rural economy by holding co-operative bodies including banks and sugar co-ops under their command. But the fruits of this wealth has not seeped through the community. On one hand you have education, sugar barons and wealthy farmers exporting their produce and on the other, there are also lakhs of farmers holding small land holdings hit by the ongoing agrarian crisis. While OBCs and other castes have made progress in education, the Maratha community has not found edge here. They attribute this to lack of special reservation.
What is the history of Maratha reservation ?
The demand for Maratha reservation dates back to the 1980s but picked pace in 2008 with late chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and NCP chief Sharad Pawar lending tacit support to this demand made their respective parties’ Maratha legislators ahead of 2009 polls. However, the Backward Class Commission, which examined the demand, rejected it with the issue being kept in limbo.
Earlier, the Marathas had demanded reservation along with the OBC block but after the OBC leaders objected, they called for a separate reservation.
Ahead of the 2014 polls, Congress and NCP, in a rush set up a committee chaired by senior Congress leader Narayan Rane to re examine the issue and survey the community. The report, of course, found reservation favourable and an ordinance was issued granting Marathas 16 per cent reservation four months before the polls.
This ordinance was stayed by the high court the same year with the judges opining that they did not find the Maratha community backward. The court also said that such a reservation would take over all reservations in the state — over 50 per cent — which went against the apex court ruling. The final order in a clutch of these petitions is pending.
The Fadnavis government has supported the reservation demand and a committee under education minister Vinod Tawde has been set up to bolster the state’s demand.
What could this lead to ?
The Maratha protests threaten to polarise the state in a way that has not been seen in a long time. For starters, it has pitted Marathas against Dalits over the demand to review the Atrocity Act and claim that it has been heavily misused. The ongoing protests are also leading to an insecurity among the OBC community that is now looking at coming together to stage similar protests. The BJP-government is clearly rattled and the Opposition has sharpened its attack on the government.