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Over 20 lakh turn up at Maratha rally in Pune

The Maratha ‘Muk Morcha’ (silent agitation) held in Pune on Sunday saw an unprecedented participation by members of the community.

According to police estimates, more than 20 lakh members of the Maratha community took part in the rally, the latest in a series of protests being held across the State against the rape and murder of a minor Maratha girl in Kopardi in July.

The agitation commenced at 10.30 a.m. with the garlanding of the statue of King Sambhaji (Shivaji’s son) in the Deccan area. Participants came from various areas to the Alka Talkies roundabout, where the rally kicked off. All the bridges on the Mula-Mutha river were chock-a-block with marchers.

Leading the march were school and college girls, followed by other women protesters. Doctors, advocates and people in varied professions also took part.

Lack of jobs

Apart from justice in the Kopardi case, protesters also sought an end to the misuse of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. They also highlighted the plight of farmers and lack of job opportunities for the Maratha youth.

“In many instances, we find that students with no merit get ahead taking advantage of reservation while we lag behind despite working hard,” said Shobha Mhaske, a student, before the start of the rally.

Two parallel Maratha rallies held at Yavatmal and Washim districts — both farmer suicide belts — focused on farmers’ issues.

Women’s safety

The Pune event saw the participation of several notables, including steeplechase specialist Lalita Babar. “I strongly identify with the issue of women’s safety,” she said, referring to the Kopardi rape-murder, remarking that she was “proud to be a part of the march.”

“The demands of our community are neither unrealistic nor irrelevant,” said Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MP Udayanraje Bhosale, an important Maratha leader from Satara, who participated in the rally.

“Nothing has been done to mitigate the travails of farmers, with successive governments failing to check the wave of farmer suicides. All the compensation and subsidies have only benefited the rich. It is the duty of all elected representatives of the Maratha community to participate in these marches,” Mr. Bhosale said.

However, politicians were clearly relegated to the rear of the rally — an indicator that the Marathas were disappointed with the former for failing to the address their problems. Senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar, who was present at the march, wryly displayed the ‘Muk Morcha’ (silent agitation) sign when asked for his comments.

More than 5,000 police personnel were deployed to maintain order.

The rally concluded in three hours, with demonstrators marching to the city’s Council Hall area. Women marchers presented the demands of the community to the Pune District Collector.

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