Dhangar protest: After Marathas, Maharashtra's shepherd community demands quota; agitation in Mumbai, Marathwada

After the Maratha agitation in Maharashtra for 16 percent quota in government jobs, the Dhangars — the shepherd community — in the state are set to launch a stir seeking reservation in jobs and educational institutions under the Schedule Tribe (ST) category.

The Dhangar community leaders will hold a statewide agitation under the Dhangar Sangharsh Samiti Maharashtra Rajya (DSSMR) from 10 am to 6 pm on Monday, reported The Indian Express.

Monday also marks the death anniversary of Ahilyabai Holkar, a Dhangar queen of Indore who ruled the Malwa kingdom (parts of central and western Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra) for almost three decades.

At a meeting of the Dhangar community leaders in Mumbai on Saturday, local leaders across Marathawada, Vidarbha and northern Maharashtra were asked to gather the community and mark strategic locations for the protests. It was made clear that violence was not to be used during the agitation, but at the same time the leaders were asked to go "all out" to display their presence.

 Dhangar protest: After Marathas, Maharashtras shepherd community demands quota; agitation in Mumbai, Marathwada

File image of Maratha protests. PTI

DSSMR leader, Rajya Sabha MP and Padma Shri awardee Dr Vikas Mahatme told the Indian Express that the stir was to highlight the pending demand of the community to be included under the ST category to avail its benefits. "The agitation was necessary following unrest among the community members, especially the poor, who believe their voice is not being heard by the government,” he said. During the recently concluded Monsoon Session of Parliament, Mahatme brought up the issue in the Upper House in July and warned that the community was losing patience and may go the of Maratha unrest.

Who are the Dhangars?

Accounting for about a crore in population (9 percent), the shepherd community or Dhangars are a nomadic tribe that live mostly in western Maharashtra and Marathwada regions. They play a crucial role in four Lok Sabha seats (Baramati, Madha, Solapur, Satara) and nearly 35 Assembly seats.

The community is currently listed under the Vimukti Jati and Nomadic Tribes (VJNT) in Maharashtra. While they have been recognised as a Schedule Tribe by the Centre, it has been misspelt as 'Dhangads', depriving the community of benefits under the ST status, according to another Indian Express report. At present, Dhangars have 3.5 percent reservation in Maharashtra.

Road blockade in Mumbai; bandh called for in Pandharpur and Solapur

Calls for bandhs have been given in Pandharpur and Solapur while a road blockade has been planned for in Mumbai's suburbs of Virar and Ghatkopar, reported The Times of IndiaIn Nagpur, the meeting will take place in the middle of the road on the Nagpur-Hyderabad Highway, where around 400-500 people are expected to gather for the protests.

A Dhangar leader Raju Barge said that over 10,000 people are expected to gather at Ghatkopar and Virar in Mumbai for the road bloackade. The Times of India report also added that the leader expect nearly 1,500 people to turn up for the agitation in Gondia in Vidarbha.

Student commits suicide in Mumbai over quota demand

In a first, a 20-year-old student from Marathwada's Parbhani district committed suicide allegedly in solidarity for the demand for a rise in reservation for the Dhangar community, reported Hindustan Times.

Yogesh Radhakishan Karke, a resident pf Gomewakdi village, was preparing for his HSC examination when he hanged himself from the ceiling in Mumbai.

Politics behind reservation for Dhangar community

Over the last two decades, the Congress, NCP and BJP have supported the inclusion of Dhangars in the ST category. STs have seven percent quota in the state. However, existing communities under the ST category are unwilling to dilute their share of the quota to accommodate Dhangars and have said that they will include it only if the overall reservation quota in increased.

While electing DSSMR leader Dr Vikas Mahatme to Rajya Sabha was a political move to pacify the shepherd community, the government is unwilling to face the backlash from other ST communities if Dhangars are given a higher quota.

On Friday, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis attempted to assure the community that the state government is "committed and taking every effort" to provide reservations to Dhangars in Maharashtra. "The government is committed and taking every effort to complete all procedures (for reservations for the community) at the earliest. We are completing constitutional formalities with a detailed report by the TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) which is expected to get done by the end of this month," Fadnavis said.

The chief minister, last Sunday, had said, during a televised address, that the TISS was preparing a survey report in connection with reservations for the Dhangar community in the state. He informed, at the time, that the TISS report would be submitted to the government by the end of August.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Aug 13, 2018 10:03:42 IST