In one of the biggest protest rallies in the history of Mumbai, over three lakh members of the Maratha community hit the city streets, bringing it to complete standstill for a day.
The protesters walked in the 58 Maratha muk kranti morcha (Silent revolution march) from Byculla to Azad Maidan near Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus with demands ranging from hanging of alleged rapists in Ahmednagar’s Kopardi rape case to reservation in educational institutes, silently. The Mumbai silent march had postponed at least twice after it was originally planned in January 2017.
Despite Byculla being the starting point of the march, the traffic of the rally had reportedly reached up to Chembur. The Azad Maidan, where young girls from the community spoke with absolute vigour and aggressiveness, was occupied even before the rally began its walking at 11 AM. With crowd spilled over all sides of the ground, the young men and women – who had come from all parts of the state – stood in groups to listen to speeches. All areas surround the ground, such as Metro cinema, fashion street, hutatma chowk were closed for regular traffic and witnessed large number of protesters walking with saffron flags and wearing Gandhi caps which said, ek maratha, lakh maratha (one maratha, lakh maratha).
Last time, the Marathas walked on city’s roads was under the leadership of Annasaheb Patil on March 22, 1982. Over a lakh protesters had walked up to Mantralaya with community’s demands around 35 years ago. Wednesday was the repeat of it. Apart from these two rallies, Mumbai has witnessed the famour Riddles March under the leadership of Ambedkarites and the Workers’ march during the mill strike, which brought the city to standstill.
On July 13, 2016, in Kopardi village, Ahmednagar district, 300 km. southeast of Mumbai, a 15-year-old girl was allegedly gang-raped and murdered by three drunken men. The girl was found with her her private parts mutilated, hair pulled out, hands and teeth broken. She died before she could be taken to hospital. The three men were arrested a few days later.
The tragedy was a trigger for protest. From the first rally in Aurangabad, last year, these silent rallies have particularly avoided political leaders by not letting them use the podium. On Wednesday, 11 girls from the community were asked to present speeches. In almost identical speeches, all girls raised the issues of Maratha reservation, harshest punishment to an accused in Kopardi gang rape case, implementation of Swaminathan Commission and minimum support price for all crops. The girls questioned state government’s delay in pronouncing judgment in Kopardi case after one year, despite the CM’s assurance of hanging the culprits within six months.
The start of the rally was no less than controversial, after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA and Mumbai unit chief Ashish Shelar was chased out of the ground as protesters asked him to represent the community in legislature and not show off his political clout in the rally. “His duty is in legislative assembly. This is not a political stage,” said one of the men, who chased him away.
Not only Mr Shelar, but protesters torn off political posters hanging in the surrounding area, claiming not political party should take the community for granted. A person who was carrying a photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also asked to keep it folded. Later, political leaders from all parties participated in the rally at different stages, but without party banner.
However, in a first, the delegation of the rally was accompanied by a group of political leaders as it held a meeting with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who later made a presentation in the state assembly. Congress MLC Narayan Rane on Tuesday had informed that the legislatures will be joining the delegation as ultimately it will be the legislative house that has to make laws and needs to be taken in to confidence.