Trupti Kadam, a Class 12 science student, was one of the five faces of the over one lakh Maratha community protesters in Latur on Monday. The remaining four were also young college going women, who handed over a list of demands to the district collector at the Latur collectorate office.
Kadam was allowed to read out the statement in front of the gathering at the collector’s office but that was the only voice heard during the four-hour march other than the national anthem with which the protesters signed off the event.
Rallies of over one lakh (with estimates going up to 4 to 5 lakhs) were also held in Jalna and Akola. The protestors starting with women and students, followed by uniformed volunteers, lawyers and then the rest shouted no slogans, littered no roads and did not have tussle with police or local authorities.
Over the last one month, 10 districts have seen such protests which are being promoted on social media through WhatsApp, Facebook and You Tube.
“Our protest is apolitical and not against any community,” said Kadam, a medical college aspirant who is awaiting results of the medical common entrance test.
“I joined because I was appalled by the brutal rape and murder in Kopardi. Ninety per cent of our community depends on agriculture. With farming failing, especially in Marathwada, our community needs support of reservation in jobs and education,” she said.
The protests have thrown political parties and Maratha leaders out of gear with many, including former chief minister Ashok Chavan to BJP president Raosaheb Danve, quietly participating in the rallies without their VIP halo. In Latur, Dheeraj Deshmukh, the youngest son of late Vilasrao Deshmukh, walked in the rally, he says in his ‘personal capacity’ to support the movement.
Monday’s rallies, like the ones earlier, were crowd-funded with politicians at the district-level also contributing to it. The BJP-led government is rattled as the protests might impact the upcoming local self-government polls. The Congress and NCP politicians are also unsure if the protests will come to their aid.
“In Nanded, funds for the rally got collected in just an hour and a half. All of us from across political parties contributed and participated in it but in our personal capacity as they don’t allow us in the forefront,” said a Congress leader from Nanded, which saw state party president Ashok Chavan and his wife Ameeta walking in the rally.
“The CM says he is open to dialogue but there are no organisers of the protests. And, why do you need a dialogue when over the last one month more than 10 charters of demands have been submitted by us. The anger is against the government and established politicians, it could go any which way,” said Pradeep Salunkhe, one of the leaders of Maratha Seva Sangh, a hardline Maratha organisation that is seen guiding the protests.
The next step for the protesters is taluka-level rallies, starting with Baramati, the home turf of Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar.