On the Ongoing Maratha Agitations in Maharashtra

Suresh Sawant and Rahul Vaidya

shocking Kopardi
rape and murder
case happened on July 13th in Ahmednagar
district of Maharashtra. Spontaneous protests over this brutal gangrape and
murder however soon took a casteist turn. The word spread that victim belonged
to Maratha community, Maharashtra’s biggest
and politically dominant community; and what is worse; the perpetrators
belonged to the Dalit community. The dual narrative of honor of women as well
as the caste fuelled the protests which have been spreading like a wildfire
across Maharashtra. Already, there have been
massive agitations at Ahmednagar, Osmanabad, Aurangabad, Jalgaon, Beed. Similar rallies
have been planned in Latur, Parbhani, Solapur, Amravati and many other districts. The final
rally will be held in Mumbai. These agitations have witnessed crowds over a lac
at every location- with significant number of women participating.

far, the agitations have been largely peaceful. However, the underlying
casteist tone is discernible through invocations of demands for Atrocities Act
to be changed/ revoked as well as demand for Maratha reservations getting a
fresh lease of life. Both the demands are indirectly aimed at Dalits targeting
the entire community using this incident as backdrop. What is more, the Maratha
organizations and their political backers, (mainly from NCP of Sharad Pawar)
are fishing in troubled waters by raking up such provocative demands. Other
politicians like Raj Thackeray of MNS, Uddhav Thackeray of Shiv Sena are not
behind. They have also tried to gain political mileage by calling for
revocation/ alteration of Atrocities Act.

these developments have naturally resulted in growing disquiet among the
Dalits. There is a word around that Dalit counter-agitations are being planned.
However, ultimately all these developments are going to undermine the aim of
‘unity of the oppressed’, which Mahatma Phule called ‘Stri-Shudra-Ati-shudra’
and in which he included both the Kunbi-Marathas as well as Dalits.

is with such concern; Suresh Sawant has warned about the false
propaganda being carried out even by established and seasoned politicians like
Sharad Pawar and has appealed to Ambedkarite, progressive community about how
should be its response at present.

note was originally in Marathi. Here’s the translated version below):

Pawar’s Dangerous move
the Namantar movement, Sharad
Pawar played a key role in negotiating with wealthy Maratha leaders-activists
who were staunch opponents of ‘Namantar’ (name change of Marathwada University
to Dr. Ambedkar University) and ultimately he succeeded in carrying out the
Namantar (to be precise, Namvistar- name extension; since the name was changed
to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University) in 1990s. As a Chief Minister,
he had ensured that there would be no repeat of instances of burning down Dalit
households (as had happened during 1978 when the issue first erupted).

short, Sharad Pawar is not a politician with a feudal mindset. He is supporter
of market capitalism and neo-liberalism. 
However, his politics and party organization is dependent on feudal
powers. His recent wager on Atrocities Act is testimony to that:-

raised the issue of ‘misuse’
of Atrocities Act
through his comments over ongoing Maratha Agitations for
justice for Kopardi case. This is a serious wager with plenty at stake for
everyone involved. His argument that ‘Atrocities Act is misused to settle
scores between two Savarna parties where Dalits are used as pawns’ is
technically not putting the blame for misuse on Dalits. He is free to argue
that ‘I don’t maintain that Dalits register false complaints under this Act’.
It is notable that wherever there are Maratha caste agitations, the placards
invariably carry the slogans calling for amending the Atrocities Act. Sharad Pawar
is backing up this demand. The atrocities against Dalits and tribals are going
up in Maharashtra over the years. The
percentage of ultimate punishments under Atrocities Act is extremely low-just
about 5 per cent in Maharashtra. Despite being
aware of all this reality, Sharad Pawar is playing this dangerous game of
fuelling the fire of casteist tensions. 

he is also very well aware that there is no constitutional provision and
support for the demand of reservations for Maratha community. However, in his
obsessive pursuit of political maneuvering, he has supported this demand of
Maratha reservations.

community, accounts for massive 32 per cent of population in Maharashtra, and
culturally identifies itself with ‘Kshatriya’ varna of Hindu hierarchy. However, this
community is not evenly placed in economic terms. A portion of it is holding
plenty of resources, while a large section remains in poverty, and deprivation.
Demand for ‘Reservation for Maratha community’ is used as a tool to distract
this poor section from holding the ruling class i.e. the rich section of
Marathas responsible for its plight. Further, there is false propaganda that
reservations for Dalits and other oppressed sections are responsible for the
plight of poor Marathas. It will take a long time for the poor Marathas to see
through this lie. Hence, by supporting Maratha reservations, and selectively
invoking Atrocities Act, people like Sharad Pawar are stoking the casteist fire
they might not be able to douse in the end. 

should Ambedkarite community respond to the ongoing Maratha Agitation in Maharashtra?
response to ongoing Maratha agitation
across Maharashtra, preparations seem to be
underway to organize counter-agitation of Ambedkarite sections. However, this
step is absolutely unwarranted. In fact, this move is most likely to prove
dangerously counter-productive. I would not like to argue that there should
never be such mobilization of Dalits and Ambedkarites. However, this certainly
is not the right time.

Kopardi rape case is extremely condemnable and the guilty should be punished as
quickly and as severely as possible. However, relentless propaganda is going on
that ‘the guilty are Dalits and they raped a Maratha girl as revenge’. This has
been vitiating the minds of Maratha community. Already the poison of religious
polarization is being spread. This addition of casteist propaganda and hatred
will lead Maharashtra into complete anarchy.
It is necessary to reflect on following points before any hasty action or

       Today the Maratha agitations are going on in a peaceful and
disciplined manner. This is certainly a significant praiseworthy fact. Their
demands are addressed to the government. Their proclaimed target is not any
specific Dalit persons or neighborhoods. However, these agitations and
mobilizations do not have any recognized leader. The similar is the situation
with Ambedkarite sections. The acceptability and recognition of past leaders is
extremely low and no new leadership is emerging in sight. Such times are
precarious in that if any mischievous elements seek trouble, then these
peaceful agitations will turn violent in no time. No leadership will be there
to control them. Since these mobilizations don’t have recognized leadership,
appeals by any other established leaders will not be heeded. And this anarchy
would cause the greatest damage to the minority Dalits living off the village
       It would be worthwhile to recall how the Dalit neighborhoods
were attacked during the Namantar Movement in 1980s and 1990s. Dalits emerged
stronger out of all the violence, bloodshed, and destruction of property and
life during those times. They didn’t buckle down. Dalit Panthers’ committed
urban-rural activists and their militancy inspired them through the Namantar movement.
That is lacking today. The middle-class, vocal section among Dalits is active
on social media (and sometimes, in academic debates and conferences). However,
this is not translated into activism on the ground. Many of them don’t have
spare time to meet their relatives living in urban slums. Sometimes, this
section participates in prominent agitations such as the one that took place
condemning the demolition of Ambedkar Bhawan in Mumbai. This section has lost
the habit of foot- soldiering for enlightenment and building mass organization.
On the other hand, even though his economic status has improved, fundraising
for agitations and movements remains difficult as ever. Maratha agitations have
solid backing of funds from the vested interests. Ambedkarite movement
definitely doesn’t have such power.

Rupwate used to say ‘the only tangible path to ensure no atrocities against
Dalits is to have a solid unity between Savarna and Dalit progressive,
egalitarian sections’. However, such unity crumbles fast in the
caste-communally charged and vitiated atmosphere. Hence rationalists and
progressives belonging to all sides should proactively intervene to diffuse

of such counter-agitations, meetings and conferences (preferably titled
‘Dalit-Adivasi atrocities and reservations review conference’) should be
organized across the state of Maharashtra as
possibly the first step of intervention. Experts should be invited to
participate in such meetings to discuss the real situation of how Atrocities
Act and Reservations are being implemented. The spokespersons of ongoing
Maratha agitations also should be invited for such conferences. Such
conferences need to deliberate over objective examples of misuse of Atrocities
Act, statistics for the same, as well as section-wise proposal for any
amendment necessary in the Act itself. It is also quite important to
investigate into the socio-economic pressures faced by Maratha and Dalit
communities as well as other oppressed sections of the society. What is more,
there is a need to explore how these pressures are rooted in the present system
of governance policies, as well as the interests of the ruling classes. 
would like to mention another point here which is necessary to recognize how big
the challenge is. 
term ‘Ambedkarite’ stands only for ‘neo-Buddhists’, at least such is the
situation today. Non-Buddhist Dalits would not participate wholeheartedly in
any such struggle today. The agitation of landless Dalits by Dadasaheb Gaikwad
during 1960s was a glorious exception where Buddhists, non-Buddhist Dalits and
Savarna landless laborers were united under the banner of Republican Party and
Communist Party. After this struggle, the establishment leadership of
Ambedkarite movement sidelined Dadasaheb Gaikwad and ensured that no such
attempts at united agitations are made so that the non-Buddhists would not
claim their share in the spoils. Mocking Mang, Chambhar, Dhor etc. non-Mahar
Dalit communities which didn’t convert to Buddhism, keep insulting them like ‘it
was our Babasaheb, from Mahar community who got reservations, which you are
enjoying’ were routine which resulted in alienating the non-Buddhist Dalits.
Certainly the attitude of these other castes towards Dr. Ambedkar, their
leaders’ behavior etc. are also responsible for the rift. However, the Buddhist
community didn’t follow its elderly responsibility of carrying every section of
oppressed along. Hence, today, the Mang community formally places its
allegiance to the slogan of ‘Jai Bheem’ however, it is more assertive
internally over ‘Jai Lahuji’. In fact, this community has been demanding
separate set of reservations for itself as it alleges that Buddhists corner
away all the reserved seats. Chambhar community doesn’t even formally align
itself with Ambedkarite ‘Jai Bheem’. In fact, the Chambhars in
Maharashtra routinely complain that they have been
mistakenly placed in the scheduled caste category.

and Shiv Sena took into account this discomfort and unrest among the
non-Buddhist Dalits about the Buddhists and got them on their side. In order to
show how they treat all castes equally and not follow any casteist preferences,
they gave significant representation of non-Buddhist Dalits in their ministries
as well as assembly elections. RSS is appeasing the Buddhists on one hand. It
is portraying that there is significant ideological convergence between RSS and
Dr. Ambedkar turning him into its campaigner- volunteer of sorts. On the other
hand, it is trying to wean the non-Buddhist Dalits away from Buddhists by
invoking and asserting their ‘Hindu’ identity. Although Dalits and tribals are
on similar footing in terms of atrocities act as well as reservations, the
tribals are miles away from Dalits in terms of their political consciousness
and leadership. These are the weak links as well as challenges lying in front
of Ambedkarite movement today.

community must ponder over this situation seriously. The activists should
conduct regular meetings in their localities and take into cognizance the unfolding
situation after Maratha Agitations. Our war is that of systemic transformation.
It is a long-term, all-encompassing and holistic war. This war aims to
emancipate all the oppressed sections (which includes Maratha community as
well). The unfolding situation due to Maratha Agitation is an episodic rift. We
should ensure that there are no compromises over the objectives of long-term
war of emancipation. We should also ensure that we do not lose any of our
allies and weaken our strength in such episodic battles. This is the sort of
matured response warranted today.                                                         
Dalit social reformers, writers and academicians are planning a conclave next
week to discuss the unrest within the community sparked by the recent Maratha
rallies. Community leaders have appealed to the Dalit youth not to take to the
streets to counter the Marathas demanding the scrapping of The SC & the ST
(Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

A report in ‘Scroll’ covers the different aspects
of this agitation: ‘The Maratha mobilisation in Maharashtra
is about more than the rape and murder of a teenager

Suresh Sawant is a noted marathi journalist. 
Rahul Vaidya is an independent researcher based in Delhi.

1 thought on “On the Ongoing Maratha Agitations in Maharashtra”

  1. One clarification: The note above was written by Suresh Sawant in Marathi. I translated it and wrote an introduction to contextualize it.

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