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Caste faultlines of Maharashtra stands exposed before 2019 polls

Mrityunjay Bose, DH News Service, Mumbai, Jan 3 2018, 20:24 IST
Dalit protesters block the traffic at Western Express Highway near Aarey Check Naka during a 'Rasta Roko' protest over Bhima Koregaon violence, in Mumbai on Wednesday. PTI Photo

Dalit protesters block the traffic at Western Express Highway near Aarey Check Naka during a 'Rasta Roko' protest over Bhima Koregaon violence, in Mumbai on Wednesday. PTI Photo

The back-to-back incidents of Vadhu Budruk and Koregaon Bhima in Shirur taluk of Pune, that led to widespread protests and violence, has exposed the caste faultlines of Maharashtra.

The timing is critical as it comes ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Legislative Assembly elections, and just after the poll verdict of Gujarat.

The protests over the last three days was clearly an expression of the anti-government sentiments.

The Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP-Shiv Sena saffron alliance government has already announced two probes -“ one by a sitting judge of the Bombay High Court to probe the entire episode and another by State CID to investigate the death of a youth in the January 1 violence.

Several Dalit, Left and progressive organisations led by Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh President Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, have blamed two staunch Right-wing ideologues -“ Sangli-based Sambaji Bhide Guruji, the founder of Shree Shiv Pratisthan Hindustan and Pune-based Milind Ekbote, the founder of Samastha Hindu Aghadi -“ who are quite influential in Western Maharashtra -“ for the incident.

With a BJP-led government in rock solid position at the Centre and a near-stable dispensation in Maharashtra, it is to be seen how the government handles the situation.

For the last couple of years, caste trouble has been brewing in Maharashtra with incidents like July 3, 2016, at Kopardi, in which a Maratha school girl was raped by three boys of the Dalit community. The three accused have been convicted and sentenced to death. This incident is often compared to the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case of Delhi because of the brutality. Medical reports indicated the use of extreme violence.

Then followed the series of rallies and a vociferous demand for reservation for the Marathas in jobs and education and justice in the Kopardi case. They are also demanding amendment of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, saying that it is often being misused. Besides, they are demanding implementation of recommendations of National Commission on Farmers, chaired by Prof M S Swaminathan.
The government has been sympathetic to the demands.

Hindutva-Dalit rift

And now the rift between the Hindutva-forces and the Dalit community has come to the fore in view of the Koregaon Bhima event which marked the bicentenary of the Anglo-Maratha war when the Mahar caste (Dalit) soldiers of Bombay Native Infantry of East India Company defeated the Peshwas, who were Brahmin rulers of the Maratha empire. There had been incidents of atrocities on Dalits during the Peshwa period, say political experts and historians.

Despite tight security, some groups waving saffron flags allegedly pelted stones at the gathering, mainly comprising of the Mahar community, and this soon led to violent riots.
Besides, there was also anguish among the Dalit community as all the accused in the 2014 murder of Dalit youth, Nitin Aage, a case of honour-killing, were acquitted. The Maharashtra Government has assured reinvestigation.

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