What IS the Maratha Agitation all about?

Mumbai, 06 Nov: Manoj Jarange-Patil, a prominent Maratha quota activist, recently ended his second phase of 9 – day indefinite hunger strike on November 2, after engaging in discussions with a government team. Jarange-Patil had initiated the hunger strike in support of the Maratha quota demand. During his strike, he was visited by a team of retired high court judges, including Sandeep Shinde and M. G. Gaikwad, along with other officials. Although he decided to halt his fast, he emphasized that the state’s chain of protests and agitation would persist. Furthermore, he issued a warning, stating that if the promises made regarding the Maratha quota demand were not kept, Marathas from across the state would resort to protests again in Mumbai after January 3, 2024.

The concept of reservation as a policy aims to rectify injustices faced by certain marginalized groups. However, it has been a topic of debate due to the challenges it presents in achieving absolute equality.

The Maratha community traces its origins among the 96 different clans. Although various historians have defined these clans differently, the Indian government established an authoritative list in 1956.

Manoj Jarange-Patil, hospitalized a day after he ended his 9 day hunger strike (Instagram)

The Indian Constitution recommends reservations for Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), and Other Backward Classes (OBC) like Mali, Teli, Dhangar etc. based on social and educational backwardness. Kunbi, a subcaste of Marathas, already gets reservation benefits under OBC category although Marathas are considered socially forward, and no special initiatives were taken to uplift them within this framework. Ironically, during the 1960s, some Maratha leaders and organizations opposed the reservation system, which created anti-Maratha sentiments in the minds of intellectuals and the judicial community.

The issue of Maratha reservations resurfaced publicly as a hunger strike in Maharashtra from August 29 to September 14, posing a significant political challenge for the Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government.

With increasing agrarian distress, as evidenced by the rising number of farmer suicides, Marathas are compelled to seek enhanced representation in higher education and the service sector of the economy, which includes professionals such as architects, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and engineers.

Marathas facing farm distress, often due to low yields from small landholdings and recurring droughts, are the driving force behind the demand for reservations. This is particularly evident in the Marathwada region, which has become the epicenter of the Maratha caste agitation.

In 2014, the Bombay High Court invalidated the previous Congress-NCP government’s decision to grant 16% reservation to Marathas in jobs and education. The court was responding positively to a Public Interest Litigation that questioned the timing of the notification, which was issued just months before the 2014 Maharashtra assembly elections.

Subsequently, the Maratha reservation faced legal challenges, leading to the Supreme Court’s Constitution bench in May 2021 striking down the law passed by the Maharashtra government in 2018 that provided for Maratha reservations.

In response to the ongoing agitation, the government is considering granting reservations to Marathas in the Marathwada region by providing them with Kunbi certificates. However, Jarange – Patil insists that the protests will not cease until all Marathas in Maharashtra receive the benefits of reservation.

Written by St Pauls Insitute (SPICE) postgraduate journalism students, Anupama Alok Ghosh and Yukta Sakpal

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