The Maratha Kranti Morcha (MKM) has renewed its demand for a review of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which, it claims, has been “frequently misused”.
The umbrella outfit of Maratha organisations, however, pointed out that it had made this demand much earlier, and it was not triggered by the clashes between Maratha and Dalit groups during the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon on January 1. A 30-year-old Maratha man, Rahul Phatangade, was killed in the clashes. Leaders of the Morcha also said they did not want the Act to be repealed and were only asking for amendments to prevent it from being “misused”.
“The Maratha and Dalit communities do not have many differences with each other. Whatever differences we had pertained to the misuse of the Atrocities Act, which was already under consideration of the state government… but yes, the recent incident at Koregaon Bhima and neighbouring areas has created some distance between the two communities,” said Shantaram Kunjir, one of the coordinators of the MKM.
The Marathas were angry with the state government for failing to prevent “victimisation” of the community under the Act, said Kunjir. “We have been demanding that the brazen misuse of the Act be stopped. Now, an FIR is filed without any prior investigation… we have been demanding that unless a thorough investigation is conducted by a panel, no FIR should be registered. For years, we have seen that false cases or those on flimsy grounds are filed under the Act,” he said.
MKM leaders said they had not asked for a repeal of the Act as they realised its importance for the Dalit community. “While it is a fact that false cases under this Act have become common, it is also true that members of the Dalit community are still harassed by certain elements, and therefore we do not want a repeal. We are only demanding that false cases should be stopped and for that, the state government can amend some provisions of the Act,” said Ajay Bhosale, another leader of the Morcha.
Kunjir said the Morcha would be forced to launch an agitation if the government failed to amend the Atrocities Act. “Though the government has conceded to our other demands, this particular thing continues to bother us. We hope that the government acts soon and helps bridge the distance between the two communities,” said Kunjir.
He said efforts were already being made to “repair the damage” to the ties between the two communities, in the wake of the violence on January 1. “We have had three meetings with Dalit leaders… and have also decided to hold a meet on communal harmony,” said Kunjir, adding that a coordination committee was being set up to facilitate these efforts.
The violence had hit all residents of the affected areas, he said. “Not just the Maratha community… even other communities, including the Dalits, also suffered. Over 130 vehicles and several shops… were torched in the violence. The local Maratha population bore the brunt of it,” he said.
Kunjir said the Morcha had urged the state government to provide compensation to everyone affected by the violence. He emphasised that the Marathas were not “blaming the Dalit community” for the violence, as it seemed to be the work of “outsiders”. “Local residents, including members of the Maratha and Dalit communities, do not seem to be responsible for the violence… outsiders tried to create problems,” he said.
“If proper (security) measures had been taken (by the police), following the alert by local residents, we don’t think the violence would have broken out,” said Kunjir.