Marathas storm SoBo in silence, CM Devendra Fadnavis blinks
More than two lakh Marathas demanding reservation in jobs and education marched on South Mumbai roads on Wednesday morning, but couldn’t quite make the impact they had promised.
While schools stayed shut and traffic on the roads along the route was affected, it was business as usual for most Mumbaiites. And as the community grandly announced this would be their last and biggest silent rally, the road ahead for the movement is riddled with confusion.
Responding to this show of strength, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a package of incentives – much of which was a repetition of schemes announced last year.
Some of the decisions announced include extending benefits of concessions in fees to 605 vocational courses, so far applicable to OBCs, to Maratha students. The state also announced skill development training to three lakh students from farmers families and offered interest free loans of up to Rs 10 lakh to start new ventures and Rs 5 crore to set up hostels for Maratha students in every district. The government also announced a cabinet sub-committee headed by revenue minister Chandrakant Patil to discuss issues related to reservation with community leaders every three months.
Perhaps one of the most important announcements and the only one dealing with the community’s fundamental demands was the promise of setting up of district level committee to review the cases filed under the Atrocity Act. But these incentives didn’t quite match up to the community’s expectations.
The rally, bathed in hues of black and orange, began at 11am at Byculla zoo and ended at Azad Maidan around 5pm. But the city remained largely unaffected thanks to 2,500 traffic policemen who were helped ably by 10,000 community volunteers to ensure a smooth rally.
Protesters joined in from the city and across the state with some community members coming from as far as Tamil Nadu and Panipat to show solidarity to the cause.
The rally reached Azad Maidan at 1pm, where 20 young girls took centrestage and addressed the crowd from the dais. And as with every other Maratha rally, another delegation of five girls went to meet the state government’s representatives, this time to Vidhan Bhavan to meet the chief minister, to discuss the community’s 22 demands. The most fundamental of these demands remains reservation for the community in jobs and education, death sentence to those accused of rape and murder of the minor girl from Kopardi and dilution of the Atrocity Act to avoid its misuse. Akshata Karande, one of the girls who addressed the crowd at Azad Maidan, said, “The government can take this rally as a threat if they can’t understand our requests. We know how to take our rights.”
Pooja More, who also spoke at Azad Maidan, said, “If you [government] can’t punish the accused for the rape and murder of the Kopardi girl, hand hem over to us.” The crowd was also made to take an oath saying they will not allow any injustice against women. However, despite the aggression, the next step for the community remains unclear and uncharted.
There was a mixed response to the sops announced by the state, a’though the initial mood at the rally after the decisions were read out by one of the girls was that of elation and celebration.
“It was disillusioning for us as the government failed to give us anything concrete. It has been pointing to the case pending in the court, but it has no answers as to when the Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes (MSCBC)will submit its recommendations. Similarly, the government took six months to issue an order of the appointment of Sarthi, the institution constituted for research and policy formulation for the community. There is nothing new. These are the same assurances given to us during our Nagpur march in December,” said Bhaiya Patil, one of the organisers.
The opposition in the state legislature also panned the government’s incentives.