The Maratha agitation in Maharashtra has been gaining momentum for months. The scale of rallies in several cities has forced most political leaders, including Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, to be sympathetic to their demands.
None of this is sitting well with Maharashtra's Dalit and OBC community, who have faced years of discrimination at the hands of the Maratha community.
Turning the tables
The Maratha community has claimed that is underdeveloped because it has been deprived of opportunities in education and government jobs and several analysts have agreed with that notion.
But another darker is issue fuelling the present anger: the gang rape and murder of a Maratha minor at Kopardi in Ahmednagar. Because of the incident, the community has amped up its demand that the of SC, the ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 be amended.
"The main reason for the so called unrest in the Maratha community is the gang rape and murder of a Maratha minor girl by Dalit youths. It is the classical example of the ruler mentality of Maratha community. Underdevelopment and economical crisis come after this," said veteran journalist and political analyst Ganesh Torsekar.
The community claims that Dalits and OBCs have grossly misused it to settle scores with the upper castes. At rallies across the state, girls have been put centrestage to mobilise people against Dalits with claims to have lost admissions to medical and engineering colleges due to reservation. They highlight the Kopardi gangrape and appeal to fellow Marathas to rise up.
The Dalit point of view
But after four months of being hit out at over the issue, Dalit scholars have started to speak up against the glorification of the victim of Kopardi gang rape.
To send the message that even Dalits and OBC can unite and stage a show of strength, a huge rally will be held on 24 October. Dalit organisations are demanding capital punishment for the accused in Kopardi gang rape and murder case and that the Atricities Act be strengthened further. The organisers are expecting more than five lakh people to participate in the rally.
Noted author Pradnya Pawar questions the intentions of Maratha community behind the glorification the victim and the demand to amend the Atrocities Act. Pawar, who was chairperson of the literary convention organised by Marathi Sahitya Parishad at Patan in Satara district, in her presidential speech, asked some pointed questions, which rattled the Maratha community and prompted local Shiv Sena MLA Shambhuraje Desai to retaliate.
"These rallies are setting new benchmarks of participation. But what are the main issues of the rallies? Kopardi gang rape is the prime issue. It is the same Ahmednagar district that has seen several inhuman atrocities on Dalit people. The Maratha community has nothing to say about those incidents. They are not worried about the respect and dignity of women from other communities, except Maratha. Their own women are important and other objects of exploitation. This is completely unacceptable," Pawar said.
The huge rallies have caused the Dalit and OBC communities in Maharashtra to counter by taking out their own rallies after some initial hesitation. In fact, some even sympathised with the Maratha cause at the beginning.
"We are not against reservation to Maratha community. But it should not be at the cost of our share of reservation. Government can create a Special Backward Class category for Marathas and give them reservation," said Shrawan Deore, an OBC activist and one of the organisers of OBC rally held in Nashik last week.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu