Around 50,000 people took part in the silent morcha of the Maratha community on December 14. They were demanding reservations in jobs and education, capital punishment for the rapists of a minor in Kopardi on July 13, and amendments in the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes Atrocity (Prevention) Act, 1989.
That last point has been particularly contentious.
There is a belief among the Marathas that the Prevention Of Atrocities Act is being misused by Dalits – many of whom have converted to Buddhism – and Scheduled Tribes against them in villages.
This belief would seem to fly in the face of the incidents of violence against Dalits in the state and the subsequent media coverage (if at all). On the night of December 6, when the nation was paying homage to Dr BR Ambedkar on his death anniversary, Dalit houses in Chinchner village near Satara were attacked by a mob of approximately 200 people.
The news channel TV9 Marathi reported on this story, but as that of a family maddened with grief going on a rampage in the village. The ticker at the top of the segment read: “One sided love: Siddhaarth Danane kills ex-girlfriend Aruna Mohite; relatives burn boyfriend’s vehicles and house in Satara.”
According to the segment, Danane and Mohite were in love, but her parents disapproved. The two continued to talk over the phone even after Mohite’s marriage to someone else. The two met at Thoseghar and during an argument Danane allegedly killed Mohite and buried her body. The police arrested Danane and claimed that he had confessed to the murder. Mohite family attacked houses and vehicles belonging to Danane’s family.
The Hindustan Times also carried a version of this story, describing the violence as an attack on a few houses.
But the local cable channel Daksh has a different version of the incident through interviews conducted with the victims of the attack. One of the victims of this attack was Megha Danane, whose husband serves in the Army and is posted in Gujarat. Megha said, “My father and mother-in-law had gone to Chaityabhoomi, Mumbai, on occasion of 6 December … At 10pm, in the darkness, the mob attacked our newly-built house and broke the windows and doors and barged inside and asked for match sticks to burn the house. They had already lit the vehicles on fire. My two small daughters were injured with the broken glasses and pelted stones.”
On December 9, Shiv Sena’s Vijay Shivtare, who happens to be the guardian minister of Satara, reached Satara and described this as retaliation for killing of a Maratha girl and requested the victims of the mob attack to not label this as caste attack. However, the residents did not agree. One youth told the minister (5:37 in the video), “How can you say Mr. Minister, this is a well-planned conspiracy. This is a third instance in this area where we are attacked.” Another woman added, “The mob was shouting nastiest slur with caste name ‘Mahar’ (erstwhile Dalit caste) and shouting Maratha slogans.”
The minister was seen trying to pacify both section of the community and suggesting that once the matter gets cold, the Maratha youth arrested could be released after “mutual agreement” as it wouldn’t do any good to “ruin the life of the youths”.
The similarity between Nashik and Satara attacks
Although treading with caution is understandable, the caste angle in this is being overlooked by the media. According to victims, the attackers did not spare even a single house or vehicle belonging to Dalit Buddhists. This is similar to another attack that took place on Dalits in Nashik, two months ago. Here too, many including women and children of the Dalit Buddhist community were assaulted by a 200-strong mob that also burned their houses and vehicles and worshipping places. This followed the arrest of a Buddhist boy who had allegedly assaulted a five-year old Maratha girl.
Sagar Zende, a Tata Institute of Social Sciences PhD scholar and activist, was instrumental in getting the High Court’s intervention in response to a petition filed with the help of advocate Gunratna Sadavarte. The petition had alleged that Marathas had assaulted Buddhist localities, including viharas, in seven places and police were not apprehending the culprits. It also claimed that their community members had been attacked, harassed and boycotted by upper-caste people in at least in six villages of the Lgatpuri tehsil. In response, HC had questioned the police.
“The modus operandi of the Nashik attack and Satara attack are exactly similar,” said Zende. “A 200-strong mob would come and switch off the electric supply first, then do the mayhem in next two hours attacking and burning anything that bears Buddha or Ambekdar stickers, and assaulting everyone including women and children, and then destroying property.”
Considering the background, dismissing acts such as Nashik and Satara as revenge act by family members would be naïve, especially since there appears to be a pattern. The Dalit villagers of Satara are well-educated as can be seen from the Daksh interview, but they fear more such attacks. They are also demanding that Satara be declared atrocity-prone district, which will enable them to get police protection and legal assistance. The government must look into this demand.
The Maratha community does have genuine problems related to agriculture and education. The Maratha unemployed youths are frustrated that their demand for reservation is not being met despite over three dozen demonstrations across the state. Unfortunately, some vested elements and organisations are now taking advantage of the void created post-Maratha agitation.
The villagers of Chinchner, Satara, have expressed satisfaction about the police action, but want remaining culprits to be arrested. Letting some of them off the hook would encourage others to take the law in their hand. After Marathas have shown their strength, no political party wants to do or suggest anything that would alienate these voters who form around 32 per cent of population.
In a shocking development, the leader of opposition in Maharashtra, Dhananjay Munde, has reportedly written to the chief minister, asking him to withdraw what he calls “false atrocity cases” against Maratha youths in Nashik. Chief Minister Devendra Fadanavis keeps on assuring Dalits that Atrocity Act would not be diluted, yet he has kept mum on Satara exposing his double standards.
Dalits were also upset that Mr Ramadas Athawale being a minister at the center for social justice was silent on these new developments.
Is this a conspiracy to silence to scare Dalits who are coming out of the impoverished circumstances to which they have traditionally been relegated? Is vote-bank politics aiding a new effort to crush Dalits underfoot?
Unless those in positions of power make clear their intentions to bring justice to those who have suffered in these attacks, the Dalit community will understandably believe the worst.
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