Maharashtra Dalits plan agitation to counter Marathas


Mumbai: Maharashtra’s social fabric is coming under increasing strain with Dalits planning to launch their own agitation to counter an ongoing one by Marathas for puportedly amending the Scheduled Caste Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 to prevent its ‘misuse’. 

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The Maratha agitation is gathering momentum as it moves closer to the state capital where it is expected to culminate with a massive procession in the last week of October. The protest marches by Marathas in Aurangabad, Beed, Solapur and Jalgaon among other places have forced the Maharashtra government to finally take cognisance and attempt to address their grievances. On Tuesday Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis held meetings with BJP functionaries, including MPs and MLAs to discuss the issue and evolve a way out of a possible crisis.

While the chief minister’s exercise was inconclusive, the government could run into another problem. There are now rumblings about Dalits in Maharashtra taking out counter morchas to challenge the Marathas. This pits not only Marathas against Dalits but also Hindu Dalits against Buddhists as various leaders of the communities take positions against each other on the issue.

Marathas feel the cases registered against them under the Scheduled Caste Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 are unjustified and used to score political brownie points or settle personal scores. But now, after NCP chief Sharad Pawar also made out a case for modification of the law to include safeguards against its misuse, Dalits are alarmed.

But the planned counter morchas has brought Dalit leaders and those from the RSS and BJP into direct confrontation with each other. Speaking to media, president of the Bharip-Bahujan Mahasangh, Prakash Ambedkar has openly accused the RSS of attempting to pit Dalits against Marathas, “The RSS and the BJP are in power in both the Centre and Maharashtra. It is their job to find a solution within the ambit of the government for the grievances of all communities. But this is a deliberate attempt to create chaos between various communities,” he said.

Ambedkar is attempting to unite OBCs and Dalits under one banner and will kick off with a demonstration for Dalit unity along with Left parties in New Delhi. Ambedkar’s statement comes after BJP MP from the Rajya Sabha, the head of its scheduled caste wing, Amar Sable, gave a public call for a counter morcha by Dalits to challenge the Marathas.

“If the Marathas are holding morchas for reservations there are no issues. But if they want the repeal of the Atrocities Act, that is unacceptable,” Sable says while accusing Ambedkar of systematically targeting the BJP and the RSS in recent months.
Ambedkar, however, is curt about not wanting to react to Sable’s allegations. But he goes on to ask, “Who are these Dalits who will be holding the counter morchas?” He has appealed to “Ambedkarite Dalits” (read Buddhists) not to participate in the demonstrations and says, “The Matang Samaj is not part of it, nor is the Charmakar Sangh. Even the Kakkaya Mahasangh is not participating in these demonstrations.”

While Ambedkar will not say it in as many words, there is enough indication that it is not just Buddhist Dalits who are wary of becoming part of this counter morcha against Marathas. The other communities all belong to the Hindu fold and that he says “is a clear indication that the retaliation does not have popular support and many Dalits do not want to be part of the RSS game plan to pit communities against each other.”

However, there is a confluence of views between Ambedkar and Sable in one aspect. The latter points out that the atrocities law is a central Act and there is no way the state governments can interfere with it or even amend its provisions. Ambedkar criticizes Pawar saying, “If he really wanted amendments to the Act, he is such a veteran politician and parliamentarian, he should have brought it up in the Lok Sabha. 

In the last parliament session there was a major discussion on this act. If its provisions were really unjust, why did not various political parties move for amendments in the Lok Sabha? Calling the Act unjust is just political posturing to mislead the people.”

Ambedkar says he is very clear. “Any Dalits joining this counter morcha are not Ambedkarite in spirit and ethos. They are just stooges in the hands of the ruling dispensation.” But Dalit activist Tushar Jagtap has a different view. “Even if a morcha is retaliatory, every community and citizen has the right to demonstrate within the ambit of the law and the Constitution. 

So long as there is no violence, why should anyone be stopped from demonstrating for or against any issue? But it is the responsibility of the government to make sure that that violence does not happen during these demonstrations. However, over the past months, one notices, that neither the Centre nor the state governments in Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat or even Maharashtra have been able to control these agitations.

It is either their administrative failure or they are mere passive observers not realising the consequences of their inaction.’’ Jagtap does not name anybody but it is clear who he means when he says, “Politicians and leaders who have lost elections and grassroots support should not be allowed to create unrest between various communities (read Pawar and NCP). We must guard against them at all costs.’’

Jagtap has a startling observation about the course these demonstrations are taking. “Traditionally in Maharashtra, Marathas and Brahmins have benefitted by association with each other. But, of late many Maratha organisations had been raging , sometimes violently, against Brahminism (though not against individual Brahmins). There is some unseen hand that has shifted the focus of Maratha ire towards Dalits and away from Brahminism. All communities must guard against those mischief makers who are pitting them against each other.” Meanwhile the distrust between Marathas and Dalits looks inevitable.