To break the barriers growing along caste lines in Maharashtra, Republican Party of India (A) president and Union Minister of State for Social Justice Ramdas Athavale has convened a conclave of Marathas and Dalits in Kolhapur on November 11. The RPI has decided to hold meetings of Marathas, Dalits, OBCs and Muslims across the state to negate the “growing bitterness among people based on caste and community”.
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The call for caste-community unity comes in the wake of growing isolation of Marathas, as Dalits-OBCs-Muslims have united and threatened rallies across the state. The Kranti Maratha Morcha wants reservation in jobs and education and changes in the Atrocities Act. Whereas, Dalits-OBCs are taking to the streets to protest against any changes in the Act, they also stress that their quota should not be affected if Marathas are given reservation. According to Athavale, “Maharashtra has always displayed its progressive outlook and had been a pioneer in social engineering in the past. Our effort is to unite Marathas and Dalits to restore social harmony.”
Since August 9, Maharashtra has seen more than three-dozen rallies of Marathas across 36 districts. This was countered by Dalits uniting with OBCs to outnumber the Marathas. Two months later, Dalit-OBCs were joined by Muslims. The Dalit-Maratha unity call is seen as a move to end the ongoing agitation from across sections that led to the isolation of the Maratha community, with Dalits-OBCs-Muslims joining hands at the district level. Another reason was that the division on caste lines instilled a sense of bitterness in rural Maharashtra, which was not healthy for the state.
According to Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh president Prakash Ambedkar, “In any civil society, reactions are natural. When one community repeatedly displays its aggression on streets (Marathas), the others are bound to react.” He said, “As a result, polarisation has taken place on the lines of 33 per cent Marathas versus 67 per cent Dalits-OBCs-Muslims.” A Kranti Maratha Morcha functionary based in Aurangabad said, “Maratha rallies were never intended to go against Dalits, OBCs or Muslims. But if such polarisation takes place because of our rallies, we have to undertake course correction.” After all, Marathas’ isolation in a complex and diverse culture does not auger well for our generation next, he observed.
He said, “Every agitation has its own time period. If we stretch it far it would boomerang. As a result, Dalit-Maratha unity is a good move and there are two factions which believe they should pull down the curtains on the agitation after December 14 rally at Nagpur.” “Some believe they should keep the protest alive for unity within the community.” The leaders across mainstream political parties including Congress, NCP, BJP and Shiv Sena admitted there is a sense of fear and bitterness in villages because of caste-community rallies. Lokesh Kamble of BR Ambedkar Marathwada University said, “The caste conflict affected villages where people are dependent on each other socially and economically.”