By Sudhir Dhawale, Republican Panthers. Translated from the Marathi by Swati Birla. Original pamphlet at end.
The silent Maratha Kranti Morcha will have to speak up. Are they anti-Dalit? Are they protesting against the government’s neoliberal policies? Or are they against the unscrupulous Maratha leaders/ruling class?
Here, all is quiet, no one speaks up. For fear of giving offense, truth has been repressed.
In one city after another old and young Marathas are coming out onto the streets, in silent and disciplined protests. There is no sloganeering, and the crowds are not agitated. These silent morchas are disconcerting. Is it the quiet before the storm? How should we make sense of it?
What has roused the Maratha honor and pride? What do the silent protesters hope to achieve through these marches? Will this not help the consolidation of casteist forces in the society? Who do these protesters want to teach a lesson to? Where will these protests lead us to? The protests have given rise to several questions of this nature.
In order to arrive at answers to these questions we must first examine the demands of these protests which are: 1) death sentence to the perpetrators for the gangrape and murder of a Maratha girl (minor) in Kopardi 2) repeal of the Prevention of Atrocity Act, 3) reservations for Marathas, and 4) remunerative prices for agricultural produce.
The bogeyman of frivolous atrocity cases
The current protests were triggered by the rape and murder of a 15-year-old Maratha girl by three dalit boys in Kopardi village, in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. The perpetrators of this brutal crime were between 25 and 30 years of age. One of them had been married three times. All three of them are brick kiln workers. All three of them were alcoholics. All three of them had cordial relations with the family of the girl. Despite this they committed the ghastly crime. The incident sparked the current protests and gave voice to years of simmering resentment of the Maratha community.
Across Maharashtra there were vocal public protests against this heinous crime by political formations across the spectrum; even demands for capital punishment. But the incident has been cynically exploited by casteist forces in the state. Three prominent Dalit leaders were barred from meeting the the family to offer solace and support citing reasons of law and order. On 19 July 2016 at a large public protest against the demolition of the Dr. Ambedkar Bhawan Adv. Balasaheb Ambedkar started the proceedings with a public denouncement of the crime. Over 2 lakh people gathered outside the legislative assembly observed a mournful silence for the victim. Despite his unequivocal stance, Balasaheb Ambedkar was obstructed from entering the village of Kopardi by the police.
The Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis deftly outmaneuvered Ramdas Athawale into cancelling his visit and at the same time permitted Raj Thackeray and the leader of the Maratha cultural political group Shiv Prahar to visit the family. What should we call this cynical politics of denying leaders and people of a particular community access for consolation of the bereaved family but, casteism? None of these political leaders can be accused of being hyperactive in the pursuit of social justice when Dalit women were raped. During his visit to the sensitized area, Sharad Pawar made inflammatory speeches against the Prevention of Atrocity Act calling for Sharia-like laws against those who misuse the act. Why is a politics against Prevention of Atrocity Act being manufactured over the tragedy and injustice of the family of the girl, especially when the case has nothing to do with the Act?
Maratha Kranti Morcha: A wolf in sheep’s clothing
Can one ask the state for stringent punishment of the culprits in the case of Kopardi and at the same time demand for the dismissal of a protective law that protects vulnerable Dalits against caste violence? The demands for the repeal and watering down of the Atrocity Act are coming mainly from the Maratha community. When a dominant caste community makes demands of this nature it is natural that marginal communities, vulnerable communities will begin to feel threatened. Should there be no sanction of people (from the dominant class) who commit heinous crimes like rape, murder, torture, ritual humiliation, social boycott? Are you asking for the law to be repealed so perpetrators can enjoy absolute immunity?
It is perverse to claim that atrocity cases are frivolous. Atrocity exists in books of law because these crimes do occur and there are processes to enforce the law. After the registration of cases the crime is investigated under the aegis of the Assistant Commissioner of Police. One cannot simply walk up to a police constable and ask for a case to be registered. Those crying foul about the Prevention of Atrocity Act are like the boy who cried wolf.
Can they falsify the brutality of Khairlanji, Kharda, Sonai, Javkheda, New Bombay, and Dhule to name a few? From Swapnil Sonawane to Dayaram Nyahale the atrocity series is uninterrupted. How is it that the roster of violators against matang, teli, chambhar, neo-buddhist, mali women is filled with the names of those who claim to be legatees of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s justice based governance? Why do village patils and Maratha hoodlums routinely commit violence? Why do Maratha organizations come out in their defense – organize rallies, browbeat the police? Persons charged under the Prevention of Atrocities Act are not entitled to anticipatory bail, so how do courts routinely circumvent this? The courts pronounced there was no caste dimension in the Khairlanji massacre case; it was not tried under the Prevention of Atrocity Act. The police, courts- the entire state machinery- have systematically neutralized the Act. It has become quite commonplace to see dominant Marathas and other upper castes cynically moving the state machinery to protect their caste brothers. When law enforcement continues to be tyrannized by these people do dalits and vulnerables have any real possibility of state protection? This is the real subversion of law, a frivolous use of the Prevention of Atrocity Act.
Behind the silence of these morchas lie the smothered voices of dalits.
Event 1: September 5th, 2016: sexual assault and rape of a five year old girl from the Banjara community, rapist Sachin Patil who is a 40 year old man and activist of the Maratha Kranti Morcha.
Event 2: September 21, 2016 murder of Dayaram Nyahale of Dhule. Activists of Maratha Kranti Morcha tied up, stoned him, made him drink sewage water and then killed him. What was Dayaram’s transgression? He wanted to participate in a march for rights of dalits to legal and state protection. After his death they clandestinely circulated rumors of land conflicts and illicit relationship to suppress the incident.
The caste of the murderers of Dayaram in Dhule is not the central issue here. The rampant casteism that is part of our public and private lives gives impetus to these criminals. We have inherited this from the Manusmriti. The Maratha Kranti Morcha is resurrecting it in a new form. They are consolidating OBCs under the for Maratha pride while scapegoating the dalits on whose doors are heaped the sins of OBC backwardness. The casteism that they have systematically cultivated killed Dayaram. That is why the blame for his death lies squarely with the Maratha Kranti Morcha.
Let us not be taken in by the press release circulated by the police of Dhule, it is the time honored script after atrocities occur. Those in the police force routinely abuse their powers to terrorise dalits who comes forward with complaints and refuse to register their cases. In the police stations over sessions of chai-biskoot, perpetrators are laughingly advised on how to proactively slap false counter cases against victims. These false cases and counter charges against victims are registered with great alacrity. The police force are adequately compensated for their cooperation. They delay investigation to give criminals ample time to cover their tracks and to bribe and terrorise witnesses. All this emboldens casteist forces and creates new violators. This is what the real abuse of law looks like. If Dalits cannot even appeal to the law and state for protection, how are they capable of abusing the law?
The Parliament amended the Prevention of Atrocity Act in 2015 extending protection against wrongful occupation and transfers of dalit agricultural lands under Section 3. In Maharashtra there are several incidents of Marathas forcibly dispossessing dalits from agricultural lands they own under gairan, bhudaan and ceiling laws. Dalits therefore welcomed the 2015 amendment to the Atrocity act as it opened up space for them to fight for justice. And that is exactly what the Marathas do not want to see. This would put a stop to Dalit servitude and cheap agricultural labor.
So, we too agree with the sentiment that Atrocity Act should cease to exist…but for that to occur first caste atrocities should cease. Are Marathas willing to join our call for that?
Marathas are sabotaging Marathas
Who has frustrated hopes and aspirations for a good life for both Marathas and dalits? Their own caste brothers, their so-called well-wishers, their representatives who are in power and those who are close to the people in power. It’s high time the working class and dispossessed Marathas see this politics for it does not and not for what it says.
And it seems that the new generation of Marathas are aware of this. As one Maratha youth B.K Patil exhorts Maratha youth, “If you want to protest, let’s protest in front of the lavish houses of Maratha leaders! For last several decades Marathas have dominated the ministries, zilla parishads, municipalities, banks and sugar cooperatives! Few Marathas own most private sugar factories and dairy cooperatives! Few Marathas own most of the educational institutes in the state! Almost all jobs are dominated by children of a few rich Marathas! Almost all government subsidies and irrigation schemes reach the houses and farms of few rich Marathas! So what did the poor Maratha families and the youth gain? Unemployment, destitution, malnutrition, hunger, suicide, and dowry deaths. While Maratha women got enslavement and widowhood. If you want to change this reality then let us march on the houses of those handful of Maratha leaders, who have for the last sixty years, appropriated state power and public monies for themselves and their relatives at the expense of all of us. Let the poor of all castes and religions join forces against this exploitative class and find our own solutions to our crisis. It is not enough to have Maratha morchas, in fact they only serve the interests of the rich and powerful Maratha minority. The Maratha Kranti Morcha has been created only to deepen the caste rift between poor people and make it impossible to fight for anyone’s security and well-being.” These voices and protestations should have been amplified through the morchas.
We are happy that Saheb Sharad Pawar has found his voice after the Kopardi incident. We would have celebrated it if he had not lost it when Maratha farmers were ousted from their lands in Lavasa, Pune. Sharad Pawar displayed no hesitation as he seized farms from Maratha peasants near New Bombay to hand them over to the Reliance group for an SEZ.
Dear Pawar Saheb, as the Minister of Agriculture did you not threaten Maratha farmers to evacuate their farmlands peacefully and when they refused to do so, did you not forcibly do it for them anyway through development schemes? Didn’t your policies as the Minister of Agriculture push farmers, many of whom were Marathas, into deep financial crisis and suicide? It is unseemly how quickly you have forgotten these Marathas. Perhaps another 30,000 to one lakh odd farmers lives could have been saved if only Dada Ajit Pawar had not pocketed the multibillion dollars from irrigation schemes. Were you unaware of the blatant looting by the contractors- bureaucrats-politicians nexus? At the time Saheb you were busy supporting the embezzling contractors. During the 10 years of your tenure how many Maratha farmers benefited from your irrigation schemes? 1% or 1.5%? Under the current regime of 16 hours of loadshedding do you know how many farmers have suffered heavy losses? Did you not move with great stealth to prioritize water supply to industry diverting commitments from the agriculture? Had you forgotten that a bulk of the Maratha population subsists on agriculture?
Then who is to be squarely blamed for the immiseration of the farmers who produce food for us all- many of whom are Marathas? It would have been better if you had kept an account of these numbers. Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had looted the rich merchants of Surat, but you dear Saheb Pawar, have wilfully looted public monies and poor peoples of Maharashtra. We hold you squarely responsible for throwing us into an all encompassing crisis in education, agriculture, and employment. You have brought us to this precipice. You are the real enemy of the people and it’s time they were liberated of you.
Kahin pe nigahein, kahin pe nishana
That protection of dalits through reservations and atrocity Act have broken the backs of Marathas is a ridiculous notion. Stop the mindless repetition of this mantra given to you by these duplicitous Maratha leaders on your rosary beads, and take stock of reality. Brahmins who are only 3.5% of the population occupy 79% of government jobs today, despite decades of reservation policies. To date, only about 4% of dalits have benefitted from the reservations policy. Privatization of state and society has made access to employment and wage work well nigh impossible. This old rabble rousing against reservations and against SC, ST and OBC people continues. Youth are being misled and their anger about economic uncertainty is being ruthlessly exploited with this continued talk about reservations.
In this state, Marathas are not lagging behind in any domain of social life- political, educational, or economic. In fact they are the dominant castes in Maharashtra. This was the main reason behind the rejection of the demands for reservation by the Bapat Commission and Bombay High Court. If they still insist on being seen as backward as an experiment Marathas should ask for inclusion and employment from the cooperatives, educational institutes, factories and banks owned by members of their own community. Their real battle for inclusion or for a slice of the pie is with their own community members. But instead they choose to use strongarm tactics against OBCs, adivasis and dalits who can barely eke out a living. From colleges and universities- the long-standing bastions of brahminical privilege- they are spewing out venom against reservations and oppressed classes. Is this not true tyranny?
A political appeal for reservations can only be made on the basis of discrimination whereas Marathas are socially and politically dominant. We need to make an exceptions for the poor destitute working class and peasant Marathas. There are two ways for including Marathas in the reservation schema- first is to include them in the OBC category and the second is to find some constitutional language to give them a special status. The OBCs are opposed to the first solution. All the current political acrobatics of making dalits into the scapegoats while demanding a special status for Marathas to consolidate the Maratha vote bank is the hallmark of a casteist and brahminical politics. And it seems to be the modus operandi of all dominant castes- gujjars, patels, jats, marathas- in India today.
Hatred and bigotry are now masquerading as politics in India. The Maratha ruling elites have cunningly deployed an ugly discourse around the Prevention of Atrocity Act and reservations to wage a war against the exploited and disadvantaged SC, ST and OBCs for which the malcontent Marathas and peasants provide cannon fodder, while the RSS is purposefully whipping up passions of SCs and STs through counter marches. We seem to be at a tipping point. Very cynically, conditions are being created for an encounter whose only resolution can be a violent tragedy. So Maratha and Dalit dispossessed peasants and workers, take notice!
The signs of a friend and a foe
It’s imperative to reveal these agendas and maneuvers to the young people who are pouring out on the streets. We welcome these morchas if they give voice to the hardships and demands of debt-ridden peasants and jobless youth. We welcome them if they protest against not only the current BJP government but also their accomplices in – the sugar and dairy cooperatives, educational institutes, banks, seed and fertilizer businesses, and cooperative credit cartels- that systematically exploit both dalit and Maratha communities. This is not a conflict between Dalits and Marathas. The entire economic and ruling establishment has abetted in the devastation of the social, economic and political lives of the working poor. Calling for reservations and repeal of the atrocity act is not true kranti1. Just calling yourself Maratha Kranti Morcha and working closely with the established politicians does not make your politics revolutionary. The very idea of kranti presumes nothing short of an economic-social-political-legal overhaul of an unjust and exploitative system. Otherwise you are only deluding yourself.
Such a struggle cannot be waged by a single caste community, it requires the unity of poor laboring classes, farmers and adivasis who have been dispossessed of jal, jungle, zamin. This is not a Dalit versus Maratha fight. In fact dalits and marathas should come together with the religious minorities to wage a fight against the fascist, communal and casteist ruling Maratha elites. To do so we must revive the legacy of the non-brahmin anti-caste politics in Maratha communities in Maharashtra. This will prove to be the bedrock of a non-brahmin movement against the twin foes- capitalists and fascists. That is when the Maratha movement will be able to break the restrictions of a caste movement and move to a truly liberating politics of class. Otherwise, the youth who takes on the identity of Maratha on the streets today will become a Hindu fundamentalist tomorrow.
Now I wear my own head on my shoulders2
Dr. Ambedkar’s statement: “caste pervades our social and political lives. No political progress is possible by ignoring it. No economic progress is possible without annihilating caste,” rings true today. Dalits, minorities, tribals, and Marathas would be served well by paying heed to his injunction as they move to a new stage in the battle to annihilate caste. This is the only way towards our liberation. We will not be taken in by the false slogans and politicking. Our eyes are open and minds clear.
29 September 2016, Day of the Khairlanji martyrdom
Publishers: Republican Panthers for Annihilation of Caste, Maharashtra
Samta Vidyarthi Aghadi, Maharashtra
2Translator’s note: The allusion does not work in idiomatic english, but I have retained the literal translation from the pamphlet as the section heading because embedded in it is a reference to the title of a book by A.H Salunkhe’s book ‘Ata Amchya Dhadavar Aamchech Doke Asel’ a commentary on Charvak.
Original in Marathi