For the first time since the Maratha community began protesting three months ago, exposing social and economic fault-lines in the state, the Maharashtra government has achieved a breakthrough.
On Wednesday, it asked the protesters to discuss their demands with the government, and the protestors agreed.
After a protest march in Nagpur, a delegation of the organisers, Sakal Maratha Samaj, met chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and discussed their demands.
Education minister Vinod Tawde, who heads a government committee on reservations for Marathas, suggested to Fadnavis the organisers form a group of prominent people from the community, such as retired judges and professors, as the issues were legal, not emotional. The organisers said they will submit a response to the state, but before that, will meet on December 18 in Pune to discuss Fadnavis’ offer.
“The most important thing is, we have started a dialogue. Proper discussions are expected soon,” revenue minister Chandrakant Patil said in the Assembly.
“We will meet in Pune on December 18 and decide our next course of action,” said Bhaiyya Patil, one of the organisers of the protests. Another organiser, Amol Jadhav, said, “We had already formed a group to prepare a detailed report on our demands. We will submit the same to the government when it is ready.”
The silent protests by Marathas were triggered after the brutal rape and murder of a minor girl from the community in Kopardi of western Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district in July this year. The girl, a Class 8 student, was gang raped, tortured and murdered by three Dalit labourers when she was on her way home from her grandfather’s house. Sources said a few days after the incident, there were protests in Kopardi, but brewing angst among the Maratha community erupted and the initial apathy from politicians resulted in it spreading to neighbouring villages, and later, to the adjoining Marathwada region, seen as a cauldron of caste politics in Maharashtra.
The major demands of the community have been capital punishment for the accused in the rape and murder case, reservation for Marathas in government jobs and education, and review of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Wednesday’s protest march ended in an impromptu rally near the assembly hall in, Nagpur where the state legislature’s winter session is in progress. The organisers wanted the CM to meet them and accept their memorandum of demands.
Fadnavis asked two of his ministers, Tawde and Patil —both from the Maratha community—to meet protesters. Tawde convinced them to put forth their demands by meeting Fadnavis, which the latter agreed.
A delegation of the Sakal Maratha Samaj, led by six teenage girls then met Fadnavis at the assembly hall and submitted a memorandum of the demands. Fadnavis told them of the steps taken by his government, such as freeships for poor students from the community and a decision to build a hostel for Maratha students in every district.
He also apprised them about the steps taken by the government to ensure strict punishment for the accused in the brutal rape and murder case in Kopardi in Ahmednagar district.
During the discussions, the girls asked Fadnavis why the government was taking time to decide on their demands of reservation, when the Centre could announce its demonetisation decision in a day.
Tawde then suggested that the organisers should form a group of prominent persons such as retired judges from the Maratha community to discuss the demands with the government. Fadnavis told the delegation that they should form such a group and he was willing to discuss their demands in detail. Further discussions are expected to be held in Mumbai.
But Jadhav said, “We don’t want any leaders to lead our protests. As such, we sent a delegation of girls as our representatives to present our side. We will not depute any leaders to hold discussions with the government but would surely send them a report of experts, which would form basis for the talks.”
The development is significant for the BJP government as it has managed to open dialogue with the Maratha community groups that have been protesting.