By Lilly Paul, Khalid Madavana, Mithlesh Akodia, Surbhi Mishra and Khushboo Singh:
In July, a 14-year-old in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district was brutally gang raped. The aftermath of the incident saw Marathas taking to the streets in huge numbers in Amravati to express their disappointment with the lack of ‘appropriate’ action against the accused. A lot of women participated in these silent protests with saffron and black flags to show their resentment at the administration’s attitude over the incident.
Some of the banners at the silent protests said, “Reservation is not employment, reservation is registration” and “One Maratha is equal to one lakh Marathas.”
It was a clever tactic to portray that women were spearheading the agitation to demand capital punishment for the accused. The three accused in the incident belonged to the Dalit community. The reason why the most prominent demands of the agitation include the scrapping of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The protests that were organised in various districts of Maharashtra have a few things in common. The organisers and every person involved with the Maharashtra Kranti Morcha (the organisation behind these protests), ensures that no information is leaked. They are cautious enough not to reveal the leaders or the political parties involved. Not one of them claims to be anything but a worker of the organisation.
Here are excerpts from an interview with Sachin Chaudhary, one of the organisers of the Maratha Mook Morcha.
When was your organisation found? What objectives does the organisation want to achieve?
The ordinary people of Maharashtra found the organisation. In July, a girl from Kopardi village of the Ahmednagar district was brutally gang raped. The administration didn’t take any appropriate steps. She belonged to the Maratha community which is why we are all disappointed.
Moreover, for the past 50-60 years, Marathas have been facing a lot of problems. We are being suppressed everywhere. These silent marches are us raising our voices against what happened to our sister. The marches started from Aurangabad and will happen across Maharashtra.
The sole aim of these marches is to get justice for the girl? Aren’t there any other demands involved?
No, the Kopardi incident acted like an instigator. The prime cause is to get justice for our sister, but there are other demands too. 90 percent of the farmers are from our community, and they are suffering due to droughts. Every time a farmer commits suicide, it is a Maratha that’s dying. And therefore we need reservations in employment and educational institutions. Marathas are being subjected to injustice by the misuse of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, and we demand that it be amended.
But how will reservations in employment and educational institutions help the farmers?
No, no, we mean that the families of those farmers will benefit from the amendment in the future. A farmer’s son will be able to go to a good college. Apart from that, it will also help the other people of our community who are disadvantaged.
Marathas constitute about 35 percent of Maharashtra’s population. Moreover, ten chief ministers of Maharashtra were from the Maratha community which means Marathas have been influential both in terms of political power and population, then why do you think the community is ‘disadvantaged’?
We agree that Maharashtra has a huge Maratha population but a Chief Minister or even a Prime Minister belonging to a particular community is not reason enough to guarantee that they’ll work for the community. As you know, our constitution is secular. Therefore, it has never happened that they gave Marathas any special privilege nor have we asked for it. We haven’t received any special facilities. Today we have been denied justice which is why we are protesting.
Even though political parties have approved your demand for reservations, it has never been approved by the Court because your community isn’t considered ‘disadvantaged’. Why do you think the Maratha community will be given reservations?
Our constitution can be amended, and the parts in question can be modified to give Marathas reservations. Moreover, the existing laws are very old, and inclusions/exclusions are always possible. We admit that we were not in need of reservations in the past, but we need it now. So if the government and other representatives want, Marathas can get reservations.
Do you have political support?
No, not at all. These are rumours. There is no political party involved in our protests, but Marathas are in every field. Therefore, leaders belonging to political parties can be found here, but that doesn’t mean it is a particular political party that’s supporting us. They are just individuals supporting our cause.
How are you funding these massive protests in different districts of the state?
As you can see, there are boxes kept in front of the office. Ordinary people are donating for the cause. They are sponsoring as well. We haven’t received funds from political parties.
Today, the Maratha community is asking for reservations. The Jats of Haryana and Patels of Gujarat are also demanding for the same. If you are granted reservations, they too will have to be given reservations.
Why not? The constitution of our country says that there must be revisions in the reservation policies and the community which is socially disadvantaged must be given reservations. Today we need it, and all the others who need it must be granted reservations too.