After the Marathas, it is now the turn of the Dhangar (shepherd) community to launch an agitation seeking quota in jobs and educational institutes under the Schedule Tribe (ST) category.
Under the banner of Dhangar Sangharsh Samiti Maharashtra Rajya (DSSMR), the community leaders in Maharashtra plan to hold a statewide agitation from 10 am to 6 pm on Monday.
At a DSSMR meeting held in Mumbai on Saturday, local leaders across western and northern Maharashtra, Marathwada and Vidarbha regions were directed to mobilise the community and identify strategic locations in their respective districts and villages for the stir. While it was emphasised that no one should resort to violence during the agitation, a clear directive was also issued that the Dhangars should go all out to display their might.
DSSMR leader and Rajya Sabha MP Dr Vikas Mahatme said, “The Dhanger protest is to highlight the long-pending demand of the community to enlist it and provide benefits under the ST category. The agitation was necessary following unrest among the community members, especially the poor, who believe their voice is not being heard by the government.”
“It is time to show the community’s strength by taking to the streets. The government promised to fulfil our demand, which had remained only on paper. It should not test our patience,” said a local leader.
August 13, the scheduled day of agitation, also marks the death anniversary of Ahilyabai Holkar, who belonged to the Dhangar community and for almost three decades ruled the Malwa kingdom — which now constitutes parts of central and western Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
At present, the Dhangar community is listed under the Vimukti Jati and Nomadic Tribes (VJNT). While the Centre has already provided ST category status to the community, it has misspelt Dhangar as Dhangads. Due to this typographical error, the community has been deprived of benefits under the ST category.
The community, with one crore members, has been demanding its rights for more than two decades. However, successive governments in the last two decades have had to exercise caution as many ST leaders and elected members had opposed the community’s inclusion in the ST category.
Of the 52 per cent reservation available in Maharashtra, while Scheduled Tribes have seven per cent, Scheduled Castes have 13 per cent and Other Backward Castes (OBC) have 19 per cent reservations, while VJNT and special backward and others together form 13 per cent of the total quota.
The growing assertion of Marathas over the last three weeks, leading to street protests, has also invited sharp reactions from across the OBC communities. Insiders indicated that smaller communities, who are socially and politically weaker, have started seeking their rights for quota in jobs and education. Similar to the Dhangars, there is another community called Gosavi, which has demanded patronage from the government.
Other Backward Caste Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti (OBC ASS) chief Anil Mahajan said, “If the Marathas are enlisted in the OBC category, we will vehemently oppose it. We will not allow their inclusion in the OBC category.”
“We are awaiting the Maharashtra State Backward Caste Commission report on Maratha reservation. We are not against 16 per cent reservation to the Marathas. But it should be given in some special category. If the Centre gears up for constitutional amendments to provide 16 per cent reservation to the Marathas under the OBC category, it will invite backlash from the existing OBC communities across the state and the country,” he added.
The Maratha leaders in Parliament have suggested that a constitutional amendment would pave the way for providing a 16 per cent reservation to the community under the OBC category, thus taking the overall quota percentage in Maharashtra from 52 per cent to 68 per cent. This has been recommended on the pattern followed by Tamil Nadu.
However, a state OBC leader said, “Since the Supreme Court has capped reservations of the state at 52 per cent, the Centre’s decision is likely to be challenged in court. It will lead to the scrapping of the additional 16 per cent quota. The inclusion of Marathas in the OBC category would be stayed since it would need the backing of the commission and the Constitution. This would amount to accommodating Marathas within the existing 19 per cent quota enjoyed by the OBCs. Thus, the existing OBCs would be disadvantaged as their share would partly spill over to the Marathas.”
At a meeting last week, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had assured the Dhangar community that the government was positive about their demands and was awaiting a report from Tata Institute of Social Sciences to ensure that its inclusion in the ST category would not be legally challenged.