ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The 'Silence' of the Marathas

The signals of the silent Maratha morchas are loud; the Maharashtra government must act.

On 13 July, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, the daughter of poor brick kiln workers belonging to the Maratha community, was gang-raped and murdered in Kopardi, in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. According to reports, her body had been brutally mutilated. The accused are three Dalit youths who were arrested immediately. More than a month after this incident, muk (silent) morchas led by Maratha organisations began in Ahmednagar, and spread to other districts. The slow build-up is now beginning to get widespread media and public attention and on 21 September, one such morcha was held in Navi Mumbai. There are plans to hold one in Mumbai in October. The marchers have three main demands: rigorous punishment to the accused, grant of reservation in educational institutions and government jobs to the Maratha community and review of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (PoA).

As with the Jats in Haryana and Rajasthan and the Patels in Gujarat, the trajectory of the Maratha communitys economic and political fortunes has been marked by dwindling returns from agriculture, division of landholdings among succeeding generations, lack of attention to educational training of the youth and resultant resentment towards communities who have the advantage over them due to reservation. The Marathas have dominated the states political life and inevitably, the formation of the state cabinet since its inception. Maratha politicians and leaders have spawned huge educational complexes and led the states vast cooperative sector for a long time. But the youth of the poor and small landholding sections of the community, who face low returns from land and joblessness, are not willing to be content with stories of its valorous and glorious history. Marathas account for between 32% and 33% of the states population while the Dalits form 10.8% and the Other Backward Classes (OBC) 26% of it. According to unofficial estimates, 35% of the Marathas are landless labourers and their economic hardships only seem to be growing.

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