On Wednesday, Mumbai was engulfed in a sea of orange as lakhs of protesters took to the streets in a planned march. This was the 58th such protest being organised by the state's Maratha community, exactly a year after the first one took place in Aurangabad.
The trigger for the first protest was the gangrape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in Kopardi village of Ahmednagar. On 13 July, 2016, the teenage Maratha girl was allegedly gangraped and murdered by four Dalit youths, who inflicted injuries all over her body and broke her limbs before throttling her.
The incident had sparked public outrage as well as a political slugfest. It also sparked off a movement which saw silent protest marches across the state.
The main demand of the protestors was that the death penalty be given to the accused in the Kopardi case. However, the number and scope of the demands have increased over the last 12 months.
The other actions which have been demanded from the authorities are:
- Quota in education and government jobs for the community
- Dilution of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act)
- Loan waivers to farmers to prevent suicides
- Guaranteed rates for agricultural produce
The demands have received widespread social and political support across the state, with almost all the major parties of Maharashtra claiming solidarity with the protestors. The BJP government has been under pressure to fulfil at least a few of the demands, and on Wednesday, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis promised he will provide them
Devendra Fadnavis' promises
After meeting representatives of the protestors on Wednesday, Fadnavis announced that the community would get educational concessions which are currently given to OBCs. A report in DNA quoted Fadnavis as saying, "High court has sent the matter to the OBC commission. The state government has asked the commission to submit its report to the high court within the stipulated time, so that we can provide reservation benefits to the community."
The reservations issue is currently before the Bombay High Court, but Fadnavis insisted that the state government had taken a strong legal position on the issue, reported Livemint.
He, however, stopped short of announcing quotas for Marathas in government jobs.
Fadnavis also said that a Cabinet sub-committee would be formed to review the implementation of various welfare schemes meant for the community. In particular, farmers with loans of over Rs 10 lakh would receive help from the government. Fadnavis also promised that funds for skill training for 3,00,000 farmers would be given and loans under Rs 10 lakh would be made available to them.
He further allocated Rs 5 crore to each district to allow them to construct hostels for Maratha students. The government would also initiate various schemes, including providing 18 Maratha communities with caste identification cards. The process to get caste certificates will be streamlined as well, to ensure that they can be obtained with ease.
Fadnavis also said that the investigation into the Kopardi gang-rape was in its final stages. He added that arguments would soon begin in the fast-track court.
Do the promises match up to the demands?
After the meeting, the delegation of six Maratha girls who had held talks with Fadnavis announced that the Maharshtra government had "accepted all their demands", according to Livemint. There were also indications that this was the final morcha, indicating they were satisfied with the government's response.
But were the demands actually met? The chief minister did announce sops for the Marathas and it is clear that the protests have had an effect. If nothing else, they showed the sheer numerical support that the cause has, with people from across the state pouring into Mumbai to take part in the protest.
In actual terms, however, it's only an assurance that was given by the state government — nothing has actually been implemented. Moreover, reservations in government jobs, another key demand, hasn't even been promised. So, the protestors' demands are incomplete at best.
As for the gangrape case, the government can also do little, and the law will have to take its course, but at least the sheer public scrutiny on the issue will ensure that the progresses isn't delayed.
Finally, it is the farmers who come away with the most benefits as the government has sought to tackle the loan problems which have plagued them for a long time and made Marathwada a household name.
The jury is thus still out on the protests and whether they have had an impact, but at least the Marathas have made everybody sit up and take note. They also take their place alongside the Jats in Haryana, Dalit Mulsims in Uttar Pradesh, Patels in Gujarat and Kammas in Andhra Pradesh as communities whose voices can no longer be ignored.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Aug 10, 2017 16:04 PM