Nearly two decades ago, I was teasing a Hindi journalist friend about the dismal social order in his state. My uncle, who was a civil servant in one of the Hindi-speaking states, used to constantly complain that most of their time was spent baby-sitting young couples of mixed castes who had eloped with each other, causing severe law and order problems.
My friend was not amused. His eyes flashed as he snapped, “The same happens in your state (Maharashtra) as well. The only difference is that here they are far more sophisticated and subtle.”
At the time a top-notch Maratha royal was embroiled in an appeal to the courts to overturn the marriage of his adult daughter to a Dalit. She had married him quietly when she had turned 18 but instead of setting up home with him, she returned to her parents’ home the same day out of fear of the consequences. It was only when her father came up with a royal match for her that she produced her marriage certificate and declared that she was already spoken for.
All hell broke loose but this Maratha royal was a gentleman. So, instead of killing anybody, he chose to appeal to the court to have the marriage declared illegal because, he tried to make out, his daughter had been a minor by a day at the time of the wedding. But the girl denied the claim and told the judge she had married her husband of free will.
Her father then appealed to the high court but knowing that a similar plea will fail again, this time he threatened his daughter with dire consequences. “You either tell the judge that you were misled and duped into marrying him or you will never see him again.’’
She had to save the life of the man she loved and so she did as her father asked. The court annulled the marriage and she was swiftly married off even as she sent a letter to her first husband, “I would rather want you to live and thrive than be dead. As for me, I am already dead.”
I believe the Marathi film Sairat, which has startled everyone in the industry by raking in Rs100 crore or more, was loosely based on the above story though the protagonists in the film meet a more gruesome end. The film has had such unusual success because practically every community in Maharashtra — barring the 20 per cent Marathas — have found resonance with the story.
Several political scientists have observed that the disillusionment today with Marathas is at an all-time high in Maharashtra.
That is the chief reason which contributed to the resounding defeat of both the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party during both the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections of 2014 . The Marathas are seen as a rural elite who do little for the masses and have spent decades in various governments only strengthening their own bases by crushing all others.
The brutal rape and murder of a 14-year-old kabbadi player last week in Jamkhed taluka of Ahmednagar district, known for large-scale Maratha atrocities against Dalits, has only added to this impression.
For barely two years ago, in May 2014, the reverse had happened. A 14-year-old Dalit boy, Nitin Aage, had been hanged from a tree by the brother of a young Maratha girl for merely talking to her in school. Although the culprits were arrested nothing much came of it but then the NCP, seen as a party of Marathas, found their candidates lose badly in the Assembly elections. Both murders took place in the same taluka, though different villages, and though now the police authorities are downplaying the brutality perpetrated by the rapists, I believe NCP leader Ajit Pawar and others are exaggerating the incident not out of any concern for the murdered girl but because it suits their politics.
Jamkhed is the constituency of former minister of state for home Ram Shinde who was recently promoted as a cabinet minister and allocated the water resources department. As home minister, his writ ran high in the district. He belongs to the OBC shepherds community and his grip on the district was such that the dominating Marathas could do very little to combat his influence.
Now, they have found a handle to beat back the non-Marathas. That is some cynical use of a brutal rape to regain political supremacy. No wonder the Marathas are fast losing ground today.