These silent marches are one of the most spectacular events in the history of Independent India. Not a single major city was left out in the first phase with literally hundreds of thousands of Marathas - men and women, young girls and boys - participated in it. In the second phase now the smaller district places like Nandurbar and many others have now seen this unprecedented event.
We need to understand this ongoing event from at least three perspectives. The first is about the march in itself and the immediate reactions that it gave rise to. The second is the issue of reservation for the Maratha community. The third is about the Atrocities Act which is also at the center of it.
The second is the issue of reservation for the Maratha community. The third is about the Atrocities Act which is also at the center of it.
About the march itself: It all began rather abruptly. Backed by the millions who participated, it took everyone by surprise. Within a fortnight all shell-shocked people, political parties, leaders, other communities, all kinds of organizations, in fact, the entire state of Maharashtra felt churning from within and from the bottom by this march.
It took as much time to realize the many special features of this march. One was, of course, the massive numbers. Second was that it was a silent march. No slogans, no breach of the peace or civic discipline, no torching vehicles, no political and other interminable speeches, except for young girls speaking at places. Five young girls handed over the memorandum to the highest official in the place where the march took place to be sent to the Chief Minister for the six main demands.
There was or were no leaders who walked in front. This was the most astounding fact about it. That such an event is possible without a leadership is inconceivable to most. Yet it happened and continued to happen week after week for over 6 weeks now. The tremendous significance of massive, more than or equal to 50% participants being young girls, middle-aged women was slow to dawn on people.
The spontaneity of how people came to participate with no million dollar propaganda going should have alerted everyone that something deeper was on the anvil but did not. It later came to light that this idea had united the entire spectrum of the society which by exclusions could be defined as the non-Brahmin, non-Vaishyas, non-Dalit, Neo-Buddhists and other Scheduled Tribes who have remained Hindus but all considered the lowest castes.
As was claimed later and it appears to be the full unadulterated truth is that each and every caste that was considered to have belonged to this second of the four-fold system of Hindu Society the Kshatriyas, the warriors, one time or the other through history came together making it truly a Complete Maratha Society walking in it. This is neither a small wonder. It struck at the very root of sub caste egos within a class which everyone thinks is the bane of the Hindu Society. This is something most welcome in the immediate future and in the longer run of the events.
Immediate reactions: Among all the other forward castes the first reaction was that why should this historically ruling and dominant caste, the people who are already so far forward should take out a march and now demand for reservation. Is it not demeaning to them, to their otherwise known fierce self-respect, bordering on arrogance to make such demands?
Most natural, given that these so-called Marathas (more about it later) constitute nearly 50% of the state population wanting reservations, makes the whole idea of reservations ridiculous. But it was not just the forward castes who felt threatened. The traditional recipients also saw this as an intrusion on their reserved forests, particularly the Dalit and others. Their immediate fear of losing a large chunk of the reserved quota upset them.
In addition, there was a palpable confusion in the minds of all about what exactly do they want? Reservations or the repeal of the Atrocities Act or are they demanding the already delayed justice in the Kopardi rape and killing of a young Maratha girl by Dalits? As would be natural to expect no one wanted to go near, get into the depth of it and understand the whole phenomenon, without exception.
The traditional leaders who did not find them in the vanguard wondered. Others like Vanjaris, Dhangars (shepherd, pastoral communities) OBC, NT, Party leaders, had a considerable difficulty in defining their stand vis a vis the entire community that united there on the streets. The blue-blooded Maratha organizations like Sambhaji Brigade, Maratha Mahasangh, were not distinguishable.
Then who caused all this to occur? Prakash Ambedkar, one of the many Dalit Faction Leaders in Maharashtra interpreted it as a ploy the Chief Minister of Maharashtra himself had employed. He went on to say that the fact there is no leader indicates that someone else, the RSS has taken over the whole movement. Without being able to hide much of his ill will towards the true Kshatriya class, the 96 clans as they are known, he said, served the Adilshahi, Nijamshahi, and other small Muslim rulers in the Deccan while the others within them like the 92 clans, the very large sections of Kunbis, they fought with Shivaji Maharaj, wanting to discredit the first group. The ugly factionalism within Dalits i.e. Mahars or the
The ugly factionalism within Dalits i.e. Mahars or the Dr. Ambedkar’s caste followers surfaced when without mincing words Ambedkar said Ramdas Athavale has now wedded to a different bride, a remark uncalled for in the present issue.
Articulate expressions of two issues: It came to the young ladies from all over Maharashtra to explain them. The trigger to these marches was the issue of justice to the young girl raped and killed by the Dalit youths in Kopardi, in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. Why was the verdict not being given, why is it getting delayed? The fear filled effects that the rape has caused on the young Maratha girls who have now to travel a distance for their education or jobs that they may also get raped and killed, their parents taking them to these places and accompanying them back home, instructions to cover them up, not to meet the dirty gazes of others so that no one sees, the expression that such people look at their bodies lustfully and not as a person, the demand that they should be applied Islamic Law of cutting their hands or stoning them as a woman would be in those historical times in the square were expressions of genuine anger. Obviously, there was one caste on their radar.
The second was what the society had not registered till then. These girls again went in explaining that all people must understand why a traditional high-class lady of a Maratha household, who would prefer to talk from behind a curtain, who would hardly ever be visible fully to an outsider has, from the sanctum of her home come on the street? That is because the crime is so heinous. The situation is so bad. Repeatedly they exhorted to the listening society to realize this.
The other aspect was the total shunning of the natural aggressive nature of the Maratha clan and participating in the March in a completely quiet, non-aggressive manner, one girl poignantly calling it the intensity the agony assumes in quietude, not by making noise. One would be tempted to say that they were coached to use such highly mature expressions. It would be extremely unfair and does illimitable trivialization of the issue at the core.
Who after all are Marathas? How are they constituted in this class?
Before going further it would be instructive to address this central issue. Who then among all the different castes coming together are the real Marathas? Dr. Sadanand More has done an excellent analysis of this issue which I will present briefly before ending this part of the series. It will open our understanding for the further two issues of both reservation and the Atrocity Act which have now assumed as central a position as the Kopardi rape has assumed.
Since antiquity, the Kshatriyas were the ruling class and the class that ruled was anointed as Kshatriyas. Dr. Ambedkar has argued that Shudra was one among the many pronouns of the various Kshatriya castes who later came to be known as Shudras because historically they lost the ritual of the thread ceremony which remained with and for Brahmins only. Dr. More has argued that the Devgiri Yadavs, that is the Jadhavs in Marathas for many centuries now in Maharashtra, in the 14th century were defeated and plundered by Allauddin Khilaji and later others.
Once badly displaced and banished these people turned to other trades for the living. Later when the five Deccan Soobedaries were established the Adilshahi and co-realized that as Muslims they were a minority and that they could not rule without the support of the traditional warrior castes they had defeated. Over time these castes once again assumed their original class functions under them. However, they were recognized differently.
Mentioning the famous ballad of Agindas about the Shivaji Maharaj-Afzal Khan meeting wherein Afzal Khan says to Maharaj ‘you are the son of a Kunabi’ to demoralize Maharaj. Why were the Kunabis not recognized as Kshatriyas? The reason was they had lost the ritual of the thread ceremony in the interim period. Hence, the largest group among Marathas today, the Kunabis, especially the ones from Vidarbha or Konkan are Marathas.
By the same token whether it is those with 96 or 92 clans and others were and are all Marathas. The matter of thread ceremony and its importance can be gauged by the same ceremony Shivaji Maharaj before getting anointed as RAJA underwent. Dr. More emphatically argues and is convincing that in times of peace the one who does agriculture and related trades is a Kunabi; the same when he picks up the sword during war or invasion becomes a Maratha.
In spite of the lamentable, deplorable and infuriating habit of we Indians to go on dividing and re-dividing the major castes into smaller and smaller units somewhere this entire class has recognized that Kunabis, Malis, Kasars, Parits, Dhangars, they are all Marathas and they must unite, and they did. Who could be prouder than Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj of his Kshatriya or the Maratha lineage? Shahu Maharaj told Vitthal Ramji Shinde that a newborn even in his own home is first placed on the grass lest he and we forget that we are Kunabis means Agriculturists. Therefore, by the same token, all such castes should be called Marathas.
In the next part, I will discuss the situation of Marathas today, how it has come about and why did they have the ignominy to come to the street demanding different things mainly Arakshan i.e. Reservation. I will then in the third part go in the Atrocity Act and its position in the total context of these Marches. I will also need to discuss different attitudes, perceptions, hates and dislikes; the expressions thereof, and the maturity to which they have now really evolved. (To be continued...)