11/03/2023, 19.19
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Protest in Maharashtra over reservation and quotas for disadvantaged groups

Yesterday, activist Manoj Jarange Patil ended his latest hunger strike, but announced that he would continue political action until the Maratha community is granted government benefits. The problem reflects crisis in farming and legal limits to reservation quotas.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Activist Manoj Jarange Patil yesterday ended a hunger strike that lasted almost ten days after meeting a delegation from the Maharashtra State government with whom he discussed the inclusion of the Maratha community in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs/STs) and Other Backward Castes (OBCs) category, giving its members the right to reserved quotas in education and public sector.

The Marathas have been asking for decades to be included in government programmes; large-scale protests occurred in 2017 and 2018 for more aid from the state.

This is not Jarange-Patil’s first hunger strike.  Since August, the activist's actions rekindled the issue, sparking violence against local lawmakers (including attempts to set fire to their homes) and the resignation in protest of lawmakers who support the quota expansion.

Jarange-Patil went on his hunger strike on 29 August but ended it soon after, giving the Maharashtra government 40 days to change the situation.

He resumed his hunger strike on 25 October, and yesterday asked the local administration to include the Maratha in the government's reservation by 2 January. Two days ago, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde reiterated his support for the Maratha community, but the situation is not easily dealt with on the short run.

The Maratha are one of the largest communities in India and are influential both locally and nationally. It represents 33 per cent of the state population (known by the ethnonym Marathi, like the language) and includes a variety of castes, today divided into two main subgroups, the Kshatriyas (warriors) and the Kunbi (peasants, of lower rank, who already enjoy reserved status).

While more diversified occupationally in the past, nowadays the vast majority of Marathas are farmers, mostly with small plots of land, usually less than two hectares.

As a result of drought caused by climate change, economic hardship due to lower agricultural yields have increased in recent years, especially in the Marathwada region, which has become the epicentre of political unrest.

It is to the benefit of residents of this region that the government would extend reserved quotas for disadvantaged groups.

Manoj Jarange Patil said that he would not end his protest until the OBC status is granted to the entire Maratha community.

In 2018, the state government – which included the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena at the time – granted 16 per cent reservation to Marathas in education and jobs. This was later reduced to 13 per cent for government jobs and 12 per cent in education by the Bombay High Court.

In 2021, however, the Supreme Court of India struck down the state law providing for reservations, ruling that under the limits imposed in 1992, each state can reserve only 50 per cent for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs/STs) and Other Backward Castes (OBCs) and 10 per cent for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS), a limit that has been debated several times and that should be revised on the basis of updated caste censuses according to some political leaders.

Maharashtra currently reserves 62 per cent of posts in education and public sector employment.

The first protest over Maratha quotas took place in 1982, when trade union leader Annasaheb Patil committed suicide after his demands were not met by the government.

In the decades that followed, the castes that benefited from government quotas came out against the inclusion of the Marathas, fearing that such a "powerful" group would affect their quotas, a situation similar to what sparked violence between the Kuki and Meitei communities in the north-eastern state of Manipur.


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