Marathas, Dalits, Muslims | When State action and inaction speaks volumes
For the Marathas, the governments have fought till the Supreme Court. But for the Muslims, declared backward by an official committee, no politician has tried to reserve a measly 5 per cent seats in government educational institutions, despite the court’s approval.
When did we last hear of a home minister, from any state in India, apologise for a lathi-charge which resulted in no deaths? The chief minister even offered to hold a probe into it. When was the last time top police officers of the rank of superintendent were punished for a confrontation with protesters during which 40 of their own men were injured?
Which is this exceptional government that believes in the people’s right to protest? Under this same government, in April, police lathi-charged elderly women protesting against the oil refinery proposed to be built in their village (Barsu) in Maharashtra’s fertile Konkan region.
Neither then, nor in his previous term, when hearing-impaired protesters were lathi-charged, did any apology follow from Devendra Fadnavis; nor was any policeman sent on leave. No bureaucrats were sent to the scene to mollify hurt sentiments.
It’s not the government that’s changed; it’s the category of protesters. In Maharashtra, you don’t fool with the Marathas. That became clear during the agitation for Maratha reservation that swept the state in 2016-2017. Though the agitation supposedly kept its distance from political parties, it was an open secret that all political parties facilitated its massive rallies — including the then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena government.
In 2017, perhaps for the first time, schools in Mumbai were shut for a protest rally that had nothing to do with them. Main roads were closed off; mobile toilets and drinking water facilities set up, and parked vehicles cleared enroute. This was in a city where ordinary protesters who dare to gather outside the only designated protest site are whisked off in police vehicles even before the protest begins.
The Marathas constitute 32 per cent of Maharashtra’s population. Twelve out of the 20 Chief Minister since Maharashtra was formed in 1960 have been Marathas; from 1967 to 2004, they comprised 40 per cent of the Assembly. The community controls 54 per cent of the state’s educational institutes; and comprised between 60-75 per cent of management in universities.
Sugarcane is a water-guzzling crop, but in drought-prone Maharashtra, sugarcane production dominates the rural economy thanks to the powerful politicians that own sugar factories — 82 per cent of them are Marathas. Yet, the community wants to be included in the OBC category, to avail of the advantages of reservation. Ironically, the tone of the Maratha rallies in 2016-2017 was anti-reservation.
Speeches questioned the ‘merit’ of those who’d benefited from reservation. On social media, the Dalits were asked why they needed to celebrate Ambedkar Jayanti. Indeed, the rallies made no bones about their animosity towards the Dalits, with a major demand being the dilution of the SC and ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 to neutralise its ‘misuse’. What connection did the atrocities Act have with the demand for reservation? Incidentally, barely 6 per cent cases filed under the Act have been found to be fake. Significantly, while the demand for reservation was made throughout 2009-2014, the agitation took on a life of its own only after a Maratha teenager was raped and brutally killed by three Dalits in July 2016.
The decline in agriculture over the last decade has led to an intensified demand for Maratha reservation. Maharashtra leads the country in farmer suicides, and notwithstanding their dominant political status, the Marathas constitute most of these farmers. But the cap on reservation, and the fear among OBCs that the Marathas would encroach on their quota, has made implementation of the demand difficult.
As a desperate measure just before the 2014 assembly elections, the outgoing CongressNationalist Congress Party (NCP) government announced 16 per cent Maratha reservation in education and jobs in June 2014. Simultaneously, it announced 5 per cent reservation in the same fields for the Muslims, who had been found to be backward by a state governmentappointed committee. The Bombay High Court stayed the Maratha quota, but upheld the Muslim quota, not in jobs, but only in educational institutions.
Almost a decade later, the Muslim quota is yet to be implemented. There was no way the BJPShiv Sena alliance which took charge of Maharashtra in November 2014 was going to give the Muslims reservation, but even the Congress-Shiv Sena-NCP Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government that succeeded it in 2019 didn’t work towards it.
As politicians of all shades bend over backwards to assuage the Marathas after last week’s lathicharge on them, what would the Muslims be feeling? For the Marathas, successive governments have fought till the Supreme Court. But for the Muslims, declared backward by an official committee, not a single politician has tried to reserve a measly 5 per cent seats in government educational institutions, despite the court’s approval.
The political establishment kept silent on the anti-Dalit overtones of the Maratha agitation. It remains silent on the denial of the Muslims’ rightful claim to reservation. The silence sends its own message.
(Jyoti Punwani is a senior journalist.) (Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.)
Courtesy : DH
Note: This news piece was originally published in deccanherald.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Right