Over the last few days, cities and towns across Maharashtra has witnessed massive Maratha Morchas, with every rally surpassing the last in terms of participation. Seamless coordination and minute planning marks the rallies which saw the powerful Maratha community take to the streets to ask for among other things social and economic reservation and a re-look at the Schedule Caste (SC) and Schedule Tribe (ST) (prevention of atrocities) Act ,1989. Lost in the crowd however, is the strong participation of the agrarian community, most of whom joined the march to highlight the agrarian distress and demand for proper remuneration for their farm produce.
The brutal gangrape and murder of a Maratha girl in the village of Kopardi of Ahmednagar district had acted as the trigger to redraw the faultlines between the Maratha and Dalit communities in the state. Maratha leaders have now asked for a re-look in the Atrocities Act, which they say is being used to target them. While these two demands of the community have received attention – the third and by far the most important for most of the rural participant- has not received much space. The campaign literature being distributed to mobilize crowds lists the following as the third demand – “provide for loan waivers to stop farmer suicides and take in consideration the input costs while determining the market price of agricultural commodities”. The second point has a striking similarity with the recommendations of the MS Swaminathan Commission which had asked for a relook at the way minimum support price is calculated.
Compromising 40 per cent of the state’s population, the Maratha community has traditionally been the land owners in the state. Powerful both in politics and cooperation, the present assembly has over 50 per cent Maratha MLAs and an equal number of MP s from the state are from the same community. The Congress NCP government had in fact decided to give socio-economic reservation to the community and categorised it in the other backward communities (OBC). The move has been challenged in the courts and a final order is still awaited.
When it comes to agriculture, around 78.6 per cent of the operational land holdings belong to marginal and small farmers with land holdings less than or equal to two hectares of land. The agriculture Census and the Economic Survey of the state states that 7.5 per cent and 6.3 per cent of the operational holdings in the state belong to SC and ST community. It is the Maratha community which populate the ranks and files of agricultural community across the state who have now taken to the street to join this phenomenon of caste based unity.
The genesis of these marches, coincidentally started in Aurangabad- the largest of the eight districts of Marathwada. The message of loan waiver and a realignment of the basic economics of agriculture produce, needless to say, reverberated strongly with the farmers and farm labourer given the agrarian distress prevalent in the area.
Marathwada, over the years has seen a sharp increase in number of farmer’s suicide while Vidbharbha has seen a slight dip.
In Marathwada, farmer leaders, many of whom are affiliated with farmers unions like Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, said it is the Maratha community which has suffered the most during the droughts. Being marginal farmers many in the community, especially the womenfolk have become farm labourers to augment their incomes. Social media, and word of mouth has been the medium to mobilize the crowd.
During the days of the morchas, villages in Nanded, Parbhani, Latur had seen locked doors as most of the villagers left to participate in the movement. The movement has been apolitical in nature, but for the participating farmers, it has become a strong medium to voice their concerns. Many farmer leaders had privately talked, albeit ruefully, on how such a movement to highlight the agrarian issues would have changed the course of agricultural economy. Till date, they are not able to do it, it is the ongoing Maratha Morcha which has become their medium to draw to attention to the distress which they say has engulfed them completely.
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