A statewide protest on Wednesday called by the Maratha community in Maharashtra was a partial success in Mumbai, with minimal disruptions and only a couple of incidents of violence that did not result in any death, and was eventually withdrawn by the early afternoon. However, there was sporadic violence in neighbouring Thane and Navi Mumbai, and in Aurangabad where at least four people were injured in incidents of arson, stone-pelting and police action.
Late evening violence in Navi Mumbai resulted in a lathi-charge and the police firing tear gas shells, after protesters set fire to a police outpost in Kopar Khairane, in addition to a few vehicles. The agitators even attacked local residents and the police. Earlier in the day, protesters were seen pelting stones at police personnel in Kalamboli, also in Navi Mumbai.
In Mumbai, suburban trains on all four corridors ran normally with minimal delay, and the Government Railway Police control room said there was no disruption anywhere in the city. Hanumant Gophane, spokesperson of BEST undertaking – which runs the city’s public bus service – said all BEST services were normal. One bus was torched in the central suburb of Mankhurd. Taxis, authorickshaws, and taxi app aggregators ran services as usual.
The Maratha community has been demanding reservations in education institutions and government jobs in the state since August 2016, in addition to implementation of the recommendations of the National Commission of Farmers and punishment to those involved in the rape and murder case of a minor girl in Kopardi village in July 2016. Only some groups within the Maratha community – itself a group of various clans across the state of Maharashtra – are classified as “backward” and receive state benefits. A large majority of the Maratha community is outside the purview of any quota. The community has undertaken 58 silent marches across Maharashtra since September 2016, in which lakhs of protesters participated. This is, however, the first time that their protest has entered Mumbai.
In the current wave of protests, two men committed suicide in Aurangabad, with the second death in the early hours of Wednesday. This led to the stir intensifying in western Maharashtra.
While Mumbai remained more or less peaceful on Wednesday, barring a few incidents of road-blocking or disruption of railway traffic, protesters said the incidents of violence in Thane and Navi Mumbai “were a conspiracy against the organisation,” according to some of the organisers. “We suspect the violent activity is a political conspiracy against us to derail the issue. In the last two years, we have held 58 silent marches and now we notice the violence,” said Virendra Pawar, member, coordination committee, Maratha Kranti Morcha, the umbrella bodies of the protesters. “For years, only political bandhs have achieved success but this has proved that caste-based outfits can also come on streets for their genuine demands.”
Until Wednesday, the state police registered 129 cases pertaining to violence, arson, stone-pelting, causing hurt to policemen, rioting and damaging public property.
On Wednesday, the most affected areas in the state were Navi Mumbai, Solapur, Thane, Pune rural, Palghar, Raigad, Thane rural and Satara. The Satara superintendent of police sustained injuries on his hand during stone-pelting. More than 50 protesters were detained on Wednesday across the state until the evening, and police sources said the figure was likely to rise.
“The police controlled and contained the situation effectively, or else anything could have happened,” said Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Bipin Bihari, adding that “the process of registering FIR against those vandalising public and private property is on and action will be taken against them.”
Several vehicles including those of the police, fire brigade and TV channels were torched in Aurangabad, while in some parts of Marathwada, protesters pelted stones at state transport buses. In Aurangabad, the protesters turned violent on Tuesday during the funeral of 28-year-old Kakasaheb Shinde, who jumped into the Godavari River to commit suicide on Monday. The mob set state transport buses on fire and also heckled local Shiv Sena MP Chandrakant Khaire and Congress MLA Subhash Jhambad, who had come to attend the funeral.
The state government, earlier this year, had decided to provide 16% reservation to the community. This move was struck down by the Bombay High Court.
Meanwhile, the Indian National Congress, the principal opposition party in the state, demanded that a special session of state legislature should be held to discuss Maratha reservation. State Congress chief Ashok Chavan added: “We suspect there is an attempt to create divide between Marathas and other communities.”
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