As the Maratha community's massive show of strength got underway, participants pinned hopes on change
Sangram Deshmukh is living up to his name. The 36-year-old set off from his Pusegaon village in Satara district for Mumbai on August 2 to join the last leg of the revolution that has consolidated the Maratha community like never before.
He arrived last evening to take part in the 58th and final Maratha Kranti Morcha today, which began last year to demand safeguards for the Maratha community following the rape of a 15-year-old girl in Ahmednagar's Kopardi village allegedly by three Dalit youths.
"I am a simple farmer, sweating it out in my farm. We need reservation for our children so that they can get good education," said Deshmukh, echoing several participants' reason for joining the morcha.
Bhaiyya Patil, a public relations professional who was shooting Deshmukh for a Facebook live update, said the Marathas' shows of strength over the past year inspired him to do his bit for his community. "I run a Twitter account and a Facebook page, named Maratha Kranti Morcha, Maharashtra. The Twitter account has 34 lakh followers. Given how the Maratha community has come together for its rights, we will taste success soon."
All hands on deck
Participants began arriving last evening -- organisers expected around 85 lakh to take part today while the police pegged it at a modest 5 lakh -- and organisers as well as police personnel pulled out all the stops to ensure that the rally went without a hitch.
Parking facilities were made at the premises of the Mumbai Port Trust in Sewri.
People from other communities also pitched in -- from guiding vehicles entering the city to arranging food and water for arriving protesters. Members of NGO Rehmani Group set up stalls at Jijamata Udyan in Byculla to distribute dates and water for free to the protesters. Hours before the protest began, many other Muslim community members put up benches to provide refreshments.
The Marine Drive promenade turned into a temporary resting place for the protesters last night. Pics/ Satej Shinde
Taking no chances
The police hurried to finish barricading and shutting down several routes by 5 am. "We need everything in place before the march starts," said Vasant Wakhare, senior inspector of Azad Maidan police, last night. "Going by how the 57 morchas went, we don't expect any untoward incident. But, we are leaving nothing to chance."
Protesters who arrived in the dead of the night slept on Marine Drive promenade. Many others hanged around the Gateway of India and the Jijamata Udyan, where the protest was to begin.
Pratik Patil, from a group of 10 students from Nanded district, summed up most participants' aspirations. "I don't know what will happen after the morcha, but we want to be part of a change."
The Maratha Kranti Morcha wants not just death penalty for alleged Kopardi rapists, but also reservation for Marathas in government-run educational institutions and jobs, a blanket farm loan waiver, and amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to ensure that it is not misused against non-SC and non-ST persons. Some of their demands have been partially addressed, like expansion of educational subsidies for economically backward students of all castes on the lines of those, which are granted to SCs, STs, and OBCs. The demand for Maratha reservation is being heard in the HC.
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