PRECISELY a year since the Maratha community launched a series of large, silent gatherings to demand reservation for members of the community in jobs and education, lakhs of silent protesters will march from Byculla in south-central Mumbai to Azad Maidan in south Mumbai Wednesday, reiterating their demands. With organisers anticipating upward of 2-3 lakh people participating in their last silent march or ‘muk-morcha’, government and police officials are prepared to tackle any disruption to normal movement of traffic in central and south Mumbai, with thousands of vehicles already arriving in Mumbai from various parts of the state Tuesday evening.
This is the 58th protest since the community began its rallies last year.
The organisers claimed that they had to rework their preparedness for the morcha after sensing a tremendous response from Marathas across the state. “Earlier, we thought around 25,000 vehicles would come to Mumbai. Now, we have reworked our plans and are making preparations for parking of 50,000 vehicles. While the Mumbai Port Trust has given permission to us to use the open plots in Wadala and Sewri, the police authorities are also helping us by removing the vehicles parked on the sides of roads in some areas,” said Santosh Suryarao, a member of the organising committee. He claimed that up to 25 lakh people might participate in the Mumbai morcha, though police said this number appeared inflated.
Nanasaheb Kute, another member of the committee, said they had also increased the total number of volunteers for the morcha. “We have decided to increase volunteers to 15,000 from 6,000. These volunteers will guide people on parking, reaching the protest route and informing them about other facilities,” he said.
A team of five girls will offer tributes at August Kranti Maidan at 9 am. Tributes will also be offered at Hutatma Chowk and at the Ambekdar statue in Fort. After offering tributes to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj at Byculla Zoo, the morcha will start at 11 am. “More than 50,000 people have already reached Mumbai. Azad Maidan is only reserved for women. If there is no space, the male protesters will stand on the streets. Besides, we have set up three war-rooms to coordinate various things for the morcha,” said Virendra Pawar, a member of the Maratha Kranti Morcha.
Das Shelake, a member from Solapur, said many participants had also boarded trains from various parts of the state. “Most of the vehicles have been already booked. In some areas, people are struggling to get vehicles to reach Mumbai and so many, including me, are travelling by train. The railway officials have increased the number of bogies of some trains,” he said.
The silent morchas were launched on August 9, 2016 in the wake of the rape-murder of a girl from the Maratha community in Kopardi village of Ahmednagar district.
The primary demand initially was death penalty to the accused in the case. Subsequently, silent morchas were held across the state to include demands regarding amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to stop its “misuse”, a demand fuelled by a perception among members of the powerful Maratha community that the law, enacted to protect the lower castes from discrimination, was being misused to target them. Demands for reservation in educational institutions and government jobs were also reiterated.
Stating that unemployment among the Marathas was a pressing issue now, Suryarao said this was the last such morcha and the government should take note of it. “We know that the reservation issue and the trial in Kopardi case are pending in court. But there are several other demands that should have been addressed. For example, we have demanded setting up of ‘Saarathi’, an institute on the lines of Babasaheb Ambedkar Research and Training Institute, to provide scholarships to needy Marathas and vocational training for employment.
Also, we have demanded hostels in every district for children from the Maratha community, and funds for the Annasaheb Patil Corporation to help the economically backward Marathas,” he said.
Manoj Gayate, from Aurangabad, said the state government should immediately address the demand for a minimum support price for farm produce. “There is lot of uncertainty in the farm sector. Irrespective of whether the farm produce is increased or decreased, we never get the adequate price for it, and this increases the debt burden on farmers,” said Gayate, who quit farming five years ago and is now a civil contractor.
“My 10 acre land in Bilda village in Phulambri is being cultivated by my uncle now. He is also not able to get anything from it,” he said.
Meanwhile, police authorities said it had not yet given permission for the morcha till Tuesday evening. “Their application is pending with the zonal DCP,” said Rashmi Karandikar, Mumbai Police’s public relations officer.
The Central Railway authorities made elaborate arrangements for crowd management at key stations.
“Based on inputs on the number of people who will go back to their destinations after the rally, probably after 2 pm, we will run additional suburban services as per requirement. For long distance trains, one extra general coach will be attached to seven trains,” said a senior official. Nearly 75 staff of Railway Protection Force (RPF) will be deployed at major stations, including CSMT, Byculla, Wadala, Kurla, Vashi and others.
Many Ganesh mandals, Dahi Handi mandals, Mumbai Dabbawala Association, Maratha Medico Association and a few other organisations have extended their support to the rally.