In the vanguard of the protests across Maharashtra for over 40 days by the Marathas — often accused of being highly patriarchal — are women, who are emerging as the face of the movement.
From the use of the posters of an angry Maratha girl trying to make a point, to the exclusive reliance on them to address rallies, women are right at the forefront in the protests.
“The decision to ask women to speak at rallies is to ensure that the trauma inflicted on their psyche after the Kopardi killing is brought before the public,” said Prakash Baviskar, one of the organisers of Wednesday’s rally at Navi Mumbai.
Here too, like at most other rallies, girls addressed the community. A ten-member all-women delegation, including five college-going girls, were the ones who handed over the memorandum detailing the community’s demands to the Konkan divisional commissioner.
“In today’s scenario, Maratha girls can’t go out alone in the evening. Tomorrow, when I grow up and take up a job, things would be even worse. Who would take care of us then? We want reservations and steps should be taken to ensure our security,” 14-year-old Harshali Sable, who presented the memorandum to the divisional commissioner, told The Indian Express.
Though there were seniors advising the girls on what they should say, the speeches, delivered in a screeching tone, reflect the angst among the community over quotas in the education system. “A Maratha girl, even if she gets 90 per cent marks in her exams, will not be able to get admission into a college while someone from another community with 60 per cent will. How is this fair? What wrong have we done?” said Aishwarya Kane, a 17-year-old who was part of the delegation.
The girls also spoke about the plight of Maratha farmers who were suffering due to the drought and about young Maratha men who they said had been framed in atrocity cases.
“Our fathers are committing suicide due to crop failure and our brothers are being framed and put behind bars,” said 17-year-old Sneha Khandekar. When asked if she knew of anyone from her family who had committed suicide due to crop failure or had been framed under the atrocity Act, Khandekar replied in the negative.
Community leaders claimed that even though the girls may not seem very articulate, they were voicing the perceptions of the community.
“We agree that these girls may not be very articulate or have the understanding about why the community is raising these demands. However, you cannot choose to ignore what they say because they are voicing the sentiments of the community. They repeat what they hear in their houses. Today, in Maratha households, there is genuine resentment about the way the community has been treated by successive governments,” said an organiser of the event.