AROUND 45 km from the Parbhani district headquarters in Marathwada, where protests demanding reservation in education and jobs have crossed 19 days, it’s a show of strength by numbers — only five students have turned up in a zilla parishad primary school of 37.
This is Takalgaon village in Pathri taluka where the Sakal Maratha Sangh, which is spearheading the Maratha protests, took a decision four days ago to not send their children to schools as part of the agitation.
In Pathri, over 15,000 children — about 9,000 from the Maratha community — get free education from Class 1 to Class 10 in 105 zilla parishad schools. “But all Maratha parents have taken the decision that the school boycott will continue till our reservation demand is fulfilled,” says Vaijanath Mahipal, Takalgaon sarpanch.
Officials and local residents estimate that almost 80 per cent of Marathas in Pathri are farmers. “They spend a minimum of Rs 10,000 and some up to Rs 4 lakh for their children to pursue professional courses, including engineering. But after completing their studies, the youths remain jobless. And they refuse to work in the fields,” says an official.
“There is a growing feeling among the community in rural areas that educating children serves no purpose if they don’t get jobs,” says the sarpanch.
At Takalgaon, the one room that is used for Class 1 and Class 2 is empty, the blackboard blank.
The only students in the school are seated on the front row in the other room, for Class 3 to Class 5. The two teachers, Yuvraj Ramrao Waghmare and Sandeep Ambatpure, are teaching them Marathi and Mathematics.
On the playground outside, with trees and fields forming the backdrop, Bhagyashree Tayanak is enjoying the “holiday” but wants to be back in school. “My parents told me not to go to school till we get reservation. But I like studies and want to become a collector,” she says, smiling.
Bhagyashree’s father, Digambar Tayanak, a marginal farmer, explains what he is up against.
“I sold three acres of fertile land to raise Rs 40 lakh to fulfill my sister’s dream of pursuing a course in medicine. But despite securing good marks, she failed to get an MBBS seat in the open category. She is now pursuing BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurveda Medicine and Sciences) in Bidar, Karnataka. And I am left with just five acres of land. What will be the fate of my two children without reservation?” he asks.
Across Pathri, residents are not impressed by the Maharashtra government’s 50 per cent fee concession scheme in 605 courses to help the economically weaker sections, including among Marathas, with an annual income of less than Rs 8 lakh.
“The government has announced grand schemes. But when students seek admission, colleges demand full fees. This has generated huge unrest,” says Dr Jagdish Shinde, a child specialist who runs a small clinic here.
These days, Shinde divides his time between attending to patients and joining the protesters under a makeshift tent in Pathri. “It is a fact that reservation will not provide jobs to all. But at least it will help students in education,” he says.
On Monday morning, hundreds of Maratha children held a demonstration outside the Pathri tehsil office, raising pro-reservation slogans and holding Sakal Maratha Sangh placards.
Among the organisers is Nitin Narayan Shinde, a teacher at a private unaided college. “In rural areas, the Marathas want their children to study and get good jobs. But even after spending huge amounts, we are jobless. What is the way out?” he asks.
There is also an undercurrent of tension over quotas for SCs, STs and OBCs, who together get 52 per cent reservation in colleges with lower fees, and in government jobs.
According to protesters, the government should provide the Marathas with “16 per cent quota immediately”, beyond the existing 52 per cent. They also want the fee concession scheme to cover all government and private colleges.
However, a senior district official from an OBC community points to concerns over these demands. “The Marathas have the right to seek reservation. But our concern is the government should ensure a separate quota for them. And we feel that they should not drag their children into quota politics,” says the official.
The protesters, meanwhile, continue to gather in large numbers outside the taluka gram panchayat office, staging demonstrations round the clock.
At the education section inside, there is rising despair. “It is a very unfortunate development. The students have stopped coming to schools. We are requesting parents to reconsider their decision because this boycott will end up affecting their children’s future,” says an official.