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Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019

Silent no more: Maratha outfits intensify stir to raise pressure on Fadnavis government

This time, the protests are neither silent, nor entirely peaceful.

mumbai Updated: Jul 22, 2018 08:56 IST
Surendra P Gangan
Surendra P Gangan
Hindustan Times
The Marathas’ silent rally in Mumbai in August 2017.
The Marathas’ silent rally in Mumbai in August 2017.

Nearly a year after the last of their peaceful, silent protests across the state, several Maratha outfits have once again started increasing the pressure on the Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra to fulfil its demands quickly. This time, however, the protests are neither silent, nor peaceful.

The Maratha protests were triggered in 2016, by the brutal rape and murder of a minor girl in Ahmednagar. The community’s main demand at the time was the death penalty for her attackers. The protests have since grown into a statewide movement, with demands now including reservations in government jobs and education, a revision of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the construction of the Shivaji statue in the Arabian Sea, and freeships to economically backward Maratha students. Between August 9, 2016, and August 9, 2017, the community had held 58 massive silent marches in several parts of the state — the last a massive rally in Mumbai.

Those protests had remained peaceful. On Saturday, however, some protestors damaged state buses in Marathwada, and incidents of violence were reported in Parbhani and Hingoli too.

Organisers of the original movement said they fear the control of the protest is now slipping out of their hands.

“Despite assurances after our last silent march in Mumbai, there is hardly any progress, and this has led to anguish among the youth of the community,” said Virendra Pawar, a Maratha leader. Other community leaders said many more outfits were participating in the protests this time, which means lesser control of the movement.

For instance, in  Solapur, community leaders have threatened to stop Fadnavis from conducting a customary ceremony at Pandharpur’s Lord Vithal temple on Ashadhi Ekadashi on July 23 — as a tradition, the chief minister his wife have been performing the first puja of Vithal-Rukmini deities on the day. This tradition is important to the Warkari sect, which has a large following in Maharashtra, and the Maratha outfits’ move could create tension in the region. Meanwhile, a sit-in protest by the community at Parli, in the Beed district, has entered its fifth day.

“Until the government’s representatives meet us at Parli and announce what they are doing to fulfil all our demands, we will not withdraw our protests,” said Abasaheb Patil, who is leading the sit-in. “The community has been protesting across tehsils in Beed, in Solapur, Aurangabad and Osmanabad over past four days. We have been appealing to the members to not deviate from peaceful means of protest, but a majority of Maratha youth are upset over the delay in reservation in education and jobs despite assurances over two years.”

The government continues to maintain that it is working on fulfilling the community’s demands. Revenue minister Chandrakant Patil, who heads a government-appointed committee to deal with the demands, said, “The government has left no stone unturned to fulfil the Marathas’ demands. At least 10,000 youth from the community have been given a letter of intent for interest-free loans to start businesses, the government has allocated ₹1,600 crore for scholarships to five lakh students in 605 courses.” Patil added that the decision over reservations has to be taken by the high court.

Some community outfits have also demanded a stay on the recruitment for 36,000 government jobs, as part of the state’s decision to hire 72,000 people for various government posts. Fadnavis had announced in the legislature earlier this week that his government was committed to providing a 16% reservation to Marathas — as decided by the previous Congress-NCP government but struck down by the high court that is still hearing the matter. He said 16% of the posts will be kept vacant for Maratha candidates until the HC’s decision on the quota issue.

Community leaders, however, want the entire process to be stopped. “The announcement has no legal basis, and hence we have demanded the entire process of recruitment be put on hold,” said Vinod Patil, who is also a petitioner in the case.

Meanwhile, another organiser who had been involved in all 58 marches last year, as well as the community’s deliberations with the government, said the movement has already slipped away from their hands.

“Unfortunately, the protest has gone out of our hands and we fear it may turn violent. There are som young and new leaders, who are not in the mindset of adhering to the original format of silent protests despite our attempts. We fear any untoward incident may mar the momentum that we have built through the 58 silent rallies,” the organiser said.

Another community leader said the government delaying the appointment of agencies to conduct surveys by the Maharashtra State Backward Classes Commission had worsened the problem. “Had these surveys and public hearings been conducted within the time-frame, the hearing in the high court would have gathered momentum. In the current scenario, the commission is not expected to submit its report before October,” he said.

The commission, headed by retired high court justice MG Gaikwad, has been asked to submit its report on the community’s socio-economic status. The report is expected to play a key role in the quota decision. The panel is conducting live hearings in all districts and surveys in more than 700 villages to collect data on the living standards of the Maratha community.

First Published: Jul 22, 2018 01:18 IST