New Delhi - The protests supporting reservations for the Maratha community in Maharashtra are gaining steady momentum. The rallies quickly caught the government's attention due to the movement's extensive legal history. This week saw the protests turn violent as many politicians' houses were burned down while curfew was imposed in various districts. According to a report by ANI, an all-party meeting concluded on 1st November with the announcement that all political parties are on board with providing reservation for the community.
It was also determined that the reservation should adhere to legal guidelines and should not unfairly disadvantage other communities. The Chief Minister also urged the public to uphold peace and collaborate with the government in its initiatives. During the gathering on Maratha reservation, led by CM Shinde, leaders also adopted a resolution, appealing to activist Manoj Jarange to terminate his indefinite hunger strike. He emphasized that activist Jarange should work alongside the government to secure quota benefits for the Maratha community.
The chief minister further appealed to the community by saying, “A committee has been formed of three retired judges. The Backward Class Commission is working on a war footing. Soon, decisions will be made to provide justice to the Maratha community. There is a need to give time, and the Maratha community should also exercise patience."
Sanjay Saxena, the Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) in Maharashtra, made a visit to the Beed district to assess the situation following significant outbreaks of violence. According to the news agency PTI, a total of 99 individuals have been apprehended in relation to the disturbances in Beed, and the situation is presently manageable. Following the incidents on 30th October, a curfew was enforced, and Internet services were discontinued in Beed district. According to a report in The Times of India, the suspension of Internet services in Beed and Jalna will remain in effect until November 2nd. Fortunately, no casualties in these protests have been reported so far.
On 31st October, the Maharashtra government issued an order instructing relevant officials to provide new Kunbi caste certificates to eligible members of the Maratha community. This move is aimed at enabling them to access reservation benefits within the OBC category.
A government resolution (GR) has directed officials to translate old documents that refer to Kunbis and are written in Urdu and the 'Modi' script, which was used to write Marathi in earlier times. These documents will be digitally archived, authenticated, and subsequently made available to the public. But Maratha Quota advocate Manoj Jarange expressed displeasure. Press Trust of India reported him saying, “Don't be selective in granting reservation. Give Kunbi caste certificates to all Marathas. Officials should not distribute these [Kunbi] certificates [as declared by the government]. The government should accept the first report of the Justice Shinde committee and convene a special session of the legislature to decide on the Maratha quota."
On 30th October, two Members of Parliament (MPs) belonging to the Shiv Sena, led by Eknath Shinde, namely Hemant Patil and Hemant Godse, declared their resignations. Additionally, two Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), one affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the other with the Congress, also expressed their intention to step down.
Jarange had started a hunger strike from 29th August to 14th September but after a positive response from the government, called it off. When the promises were not delivered on time, the activist launched the second part of the protests. Jarange is fasting in Antarwali Sarati village of Jalna district since 25th October, demanding the Maharashtra government “to call a special session of the state legislature and give reservation to the Maratha community."
The Maratha community's reservation protest escalated into violence on 30th October as demonstrators attacked the residences and offices of multiple lawmakers in Beed and Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar districts. As a result, a curfew has been enforced in the Beed and Dharashiv districts of Maharashtra.
On 29th and 30th October, the protest took an intense turn as demonstrators set fire to the residences of two sitting Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLAs, Prakash Solanke (affiliated with the Ajit Pawar faction) and Sandeep Kshirsagar (Pawar faction) in Beed district. Additionally, the offices of former NCP MLA and minister Jaydutt Kshirsagar were also set ablaze.
In Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar, protesters threw stones at the office of BJP legislator Prashant Bamb in Gangakhed. Stones were also hurled at the district council and municipal council offices in Majalgaon, as well as another government office in Ashti tehsil in Beed district. Furthermore, protesters obstructed the Solapur-Akkalkot state highway by igniting tires.
The demand for reservation traces its beginning to the 1980s. The call for Maratha reservation initially emerged in 1981 when Annasaheb Patil, the leader of the Mathadi Labour Union, organized a demonstration in Mumbai to advocate for this cause. However, the issue lost momentum following Patil's passing.
The resurgence of the demand for Maratha quota in employment and education was catalyzed by the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations in the late 1980s.
In 1997, a significant protest advocating for Maratha reservation in government jobs and educational institutions was orchestrated jointly by the Maratha Mahasangh and the Maratha Seva Sangh.
The significant momentum for the Maratha reservation movement occurred in the lead-up to the 2014 Maharashtra Assembly election. Prior to these elections, the government under Prithviraj Chavan issued an ordinance announcing a 16% reservation for Marathas in government jobs and education, based on the recommendations of the Narayan Rane Committee. Additionally, a 5% quota was allocated for Muslims in jobs and education. However, this decision faced legal challenges, with the Bombay High Court issuing a stay order.
The BJP-Shiv Sena coalition, led by Devendra Fadnavis, contested this decision in the Supreme Court in November 2014. In December of the same year, the Supreme Court declined to overturn the Bombay High Court's interim order.
On July 13, 2016, a 15-year-old girl was subjected to a brutal incident involving torture, rape, and murder in Kopardi, located in Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district. This tragic case swiftly took on caste-related dimensions, sparking widespread outrage throughout Maharashtra. It's noteworthy that the victim belonged to a Maratha family, while the three individuals found guilty of the crime belonged to the Mahar caste, a Dalit community.
In the immediate aftermath of this heinous crime, Maharashtra witnessed the emergence of the Maratha Kranti Morcha, a series of silent rallies. These rallies brought together tens of thousands of Marathas in cities including Ahmednagar, Beed, Aurangabad, Thane, and Mumbai, spanning a total of 50 cities. These rallies persisted intermittently for over 8 months across the state.
Although the initial catalyst for these rallies was the rape and murder of the 15-year-old girl, the protesters articulated broader demands, which included: • Ensuring the prosecution and justice for the three individuals responsible for the girl's murder. • Amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. • Advocating for reservations for the Maratha community in state-operated educational institutions and government positions.
Continuing the pursuit of Maratha reservation, the Fadnavis government took a significant step by establishing the State Backward Class Commission in June 2017. The purpose was to conduct a comprehensive study of the social, financial, and educational circumstances of the Maratha community. The commission presented its findings in November 2018, coinciding with the unanimous passing of a bill by the Maharashtra legislature the same month. This bill proposed a 16% reservation for Marathas in both educational institutions and government positions.
However, this decision was challenged in the Bombay High Court within a week. In this instance, the Bombay High Court declined to grant an interim stay on the quota decision. Following hearings with all the petitioners involved, the high court reserved its judgment in March 2019. The Bombay High Court ultimately issued its ruling in June 2019, several months before the Maharashtra Assembly election.
The high court upheld the constitutional validity of Maratha reservation but, guided by the recommendations of the State Backward Classes Commission, reduced the quota from the originally proposed 16% to 12-13%.
As anticipated, the Bombay High Court's decision affirming the Maratha quota law faced a legal challenge in July 2019 when it was taken to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, in response, referred the case to a larger bench for consideration. In May 2021, a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, presided over by Justice Ashok Bhushan, invalidated the provisions of the Maharashtra law that had granted reservation to the Maratha community. This action was taken because the total quota in the state would have exceeded the 50% limit established by the court in its 1992 Indra Sawhney (Mandal) judgment.
The Marathas, a diverse group that includes peasants and landowners, constitute roughly 33% of the population in the state of Maharashtra. Although most Marathas speak Marathi, it's important to note that not all Marathi speakers belong to the Maratha community. This politically influential community accounts for nearly one-third of the state's population. Historically, they have been recognized as a 'warrior' caste, often possessing extensive land holdings. Since the establishment of the Maharashtra state in 1960, 12 out of the 20 chief ministers, including the current CM Eknath Shinde, have hailed from the Maratha community.
Over the years, issues related to land division and agricultural challenges have contributed to a decline in prosperity among the middle class and lower middle-class Marathas. Nevertheless, the community continues to play a significant role in the rural economy.