Lakhs of Maratha women, men and children took part in a peace march in Kolhapur on Saturday, despite the freeships offered to students from poor families by the Fadnavis government just days earlier. The message was clear: the community stands firm in its demands — reservation in government jobs and education, a repeal of the Atrocities Act and death for the culprits in Kopardi rape case that triggered the protests.
On Thursday, in a bid to ease tensions in the Maratha community and reduce the intensity of the ongoing protests, the BJP-led state government announced various schemes and freeships for professional courses for economically backward class (EBC) students from all the communities. The steps were an attempt to extend reservation on the basis of financial backwardness.
A protest march in Kolhapur is significant as the city in western Maharashtra was the seat of the Maratha empire and a major source of inspiration for reformist movements in 19th and 20th centuries, thanks to steps taken by Shahu Maharaj, a descendent of King Shivaji.
Saturday’s march saw women and girls at the forefront, Marathas from the neighbouring districts of Sangli, Satara, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg and from villages on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border also joined in.
Two descendants of King Shivaji, Udayanraje Bhosale (an NCP MP from Satara) and Chhatrapati Sambhajiraje (Kolhapur) alsop took part. Sambhajiraje, who was recently nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the BJP at the Centre, said he would talk to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the community’s demands.
This is the first time in the recent past that royal families of Kolhapur and Satara, both descendants of Shivaji, came together for an occasion.
In Kolhapur, the march began at six places and culminated in a public meeting at the historic Dusserah Chowk. Some of participants had come by bullock carts. Roads in Kolhapur were swamped with people coming in from outside the city since Friday night. Shops and educational institutions were closed and traffic jams were observed on some parts of the Mumbai-Chennai national high way.Leaders from several political parties and organisations also participated. The four-hour peace march eneded with a group of girls submitting a memorandum of their demands to district collector Amit Saini.
The community will next protest in Thane city on Sunday. In Marathwada’s Beed district, meanwhile, Dalits united and took out a massive peace march to protest the demand for the repeal of the Atrocities Act. They were dressed in white and carried blue flags. Sources said preparations for the march was on for more than a month, soon after the Maratha protests took the state by storm.