The Maratha and Dhangar communities, which have taken to the streets demanding reservation to enhance their economic prospects, seem to have a long way to go to uproot social evils such as dowry and child marriage.
While almost 80 per cent of the Maratha population is engaged in farming, overall, the community constitutes 33 per cent of the state’s population. Though it has been a politically dominant class, the community has been unable to uproot the evils of dowry.
“The Maratha reservation will address the economic problems of the poor within the community. However, a bigger challenge that prevails is the issue of dowry. Unfortunately, everybody is shying away from speaking on the issue in public,” said a Maratha Kranti Morcha, which is spearheading the agitation demanding quota in jobs and educational institutions.
The data, compiled by the Morcha, showed that the expenditure incurred by an average low income and poor Maratha family has doubled in the last 10 years when it comes to dowry.
A Morcha member said: “The dowry amount ranges from Rs 7 lakh to Rs 50 lakh, depending on the profession of the groom. The lower-middle class Marathas too often have to bear an expenditure of Rs 7 lakh to R 10 lakh for a daughter’s wedding. Even in the remote villages, a small and marginal farmer spends Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3.5 lakh on a daughter’s wedding.”
Explaining the reason for the issue taking a back seat, the member added: “Dowry has attained a status symbol. So, it is difficult to get consensus from across the community.”
Moreover, since dowry is taken within families with mutual consent, no organisation can enforce anti-dowry guidelines strictly. “There have been cases where farmers have sold their their land to meet the expenditures while getting their daughters married,” a Morcha member said.
The member added that during the silent rallies held by the Marathas between 2016 and 2017 in support of reservation, they had included fight against dowry among their charter of demands, but failed to elicit a positive response within the community.
Meanwhile, the Dhangar community, which is also fighting for quota under the Scheduled Tribes category, seems to be plagued by the evil custom of child marriage.
Community leaders attributed this to high illiteracy, coupled with lack of awareness.
Vikas Mahatme, who is at the forefront, fighting for Dhangar reservation, said: “The biggest challenge faced by the Dhangars is child marriage. In rural Maharashtra, child marriage among the community members is rampant. The percentage of girls getting married before 18 years is huge.”
“Low literacy rate and age-old traditions and beliefs, which are ingrained in people for generations, make it hard to eradicate the problem,” he added.
Mahatme said that the lifestyle of the Dhangars (shepherds), who are members of a wandering tribe, needs to be stabilised, with dedicated areas marked for them to work in open fields where sheep and goats can graze. Along with it, they have to be forced to be admitted to schools.
Another concern voiced by him relates to the practice of animal sacrifice in the name of God, even among the poorest Dhangars. “I understand animal sacrifice is not confined to the Dhangars alone. But it is widely practiced among the community members in the name of religion and god. It is an outcome of blind faith.”
“I have reservation against waste and unscientific methods. There is nothing wrong in the community celebrating festivals or cooking meat. In the past, villages used to organise celebrations, during which people would congregate to cook and eat that meat together. Now, every family is sacrificing a goat or sheep in the name of god. This leads to huge waste of meat that remains unconsumed,” Mahatme said.
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