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

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Distress in Marathaland

The Marathas, Maharashtra’s dominant community, have been protesting against the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and demanding reservations for themselves and a hike in minimum support prices. This study reveals that these demands do not address the source of Maratha distress—stagnation of farm incomes and the failure of the government to improve agricultural productivity. Poor farmers, whether Maratha or Dalit, have the same grievances, and therefore, a caste-based mobilisation may actually be counterproductive. 

We are grateful to the anonymous referee for very helpful comments..

Maharashtra witnessed the state’s dominant community, the Marathas, who form a third of its population, marching silently for a number of demands in September. The ostensible trigger was the brutal rape and murder of a Maratha girl by a Dalit youth in a village called Kopardi.1 The size of the crowds and the intensity of feeling, however, suggest that it is much more than a reaction to a single ugly incident. This mass movement is an outpouring of a deeper pool of discontent.

The marches are truly unprecedented. Judging by the numbers, they have found universal appeal across the Maratha community. The poor are marching side by side with the rich. What is especially noteworthy is that young women and men are in the vanguard and the netas (leaders) have been consigned to the back rows. In fact, some of the marchers have claimed that “this is a protest of the deprived against the privileged.” The whole set-up, including the exemplary discipline they have displayed, is completely uncharacteristic of mass movements in India. However, the demands of the movement remain somewhat unclear. Normally, a mass movement begins to further a specific cause, its demands articulated at the outset. The Marathas, on the other hand, began marching first, their demands being voiced almost as afterthoughts. The three demands raised so far are: stop the abuse of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 legislate reservations for Marathas; and raise minimum support prices (MSPs).

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