The Question of Maratha Reservation

Maharashtra Assembly unanimously passed a bill on 29th November proposing 16% reservation for Marathas under Socially and Educationally Backward Category (SEBC). Earlier, Chief Minister Fadnavis tabled the Action Taken Report (ATR) on the State Backward Class Commission’s (SBCC) recommendations for reservation to the Maratha community (comprise about 30% of the state’s population) in government jobs and education. With this, the reservation limit goes up from the current 52% to 68%. “This is a compelling extraordinary situation demanding extraordinary solutions within the constitutional framework,” the draft Bill says. It also said the presence of Marathas in position of academic excellence is “very marginal”, and “around 70% are residing in kuchha homes, only 35.39% of them have personal tap water, 31.79% rely on traditional sources of firewood. While 2,152 Maratha farmers have committed suicide as against total suicides numbered 13,368 between 2013-18”.

The struggle for reservation for the Marathas has been going on for the past few years. On November 14, 2014, the Bombay High Court stayed the Maratha reservation granted by the Congress-NCP government. It said the State had crossed the 50% limit given by the Supreme Court and that the Mandal Commission (1980), the National Commission for Backward Classes (2000) and the Bapat Commission (2008) had observed that the Marathas were a socially advanced community. In January 2015, the State government decided to submit additional information to the court. Thereafter, the rape and murder of a minor Maratha girl on July 13, 2016 fuelled the community’s demands. Till 2017, over 58 massive silent Maratha morchas were organised across the State. The agitation, though, took a violent turn in July and August this year. However, the placards and saffron flags they carry have no less of a menacing message.

Historically, Marathas evolved from the farming caste of Kunbis who took to military service in medieval times. The real differentiation has come through the post-independence development process, creating classes within the caste. A tiny but powerful section of elites that came to have control over cooperatives of sugar, banks, educational institutions, factories and politics, called gadhivarcha (topmost strata) Maratha, has its own political outfit in NCP. The next section comprising owners of land, distribution agencies, transporters, contracting firms, and those controlling secondary cooperative societies, is the wadyavarcha (well-off strata) Maratha, who is with the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The rest of the population of Marathas comprising small farmers is the wadivarcha (lower strata) Maratha, who is with Shiv Sena, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), etc. [1]

A study by Deshpande and Ramachandran [2] found that Marathas are closer to dominant than disadvantaged groups. Marathas have a lower Per capita consumption expenditure (PCCE) than Maharashtra Brahmins, but are at the same level as other forward castes and OBCs and have a significantly higher PCCE than SCs/STs. Marathas are similar to Brahmins and other forward castes, and are less similar to OBCs in terms of poverty incidence, but they have a significantly lower poverty incidence as compared to SCs/STs. They are more likely to own or cultivate land than other social groups. Marathas have an average of 6.58 years of education, which is lower than that of Brahmins by 2.18 years and is 1.22 years more than that of SCs/STs, but is similar to other forward castes and OBCs. Marathas’ access to government jobs is similar to that of Brahmins’, higher than that of other forward castes and OBCs, and not different from that of SCs/STs.

It is true that over the years, with mounting agrarian crisis, mainly due to neo-liberal policies of the government, accentuated by the crop failures in Maharashtra in the previous three seasons, Marathas experienced severe erosion of their status. The Marathas begrudge this as their suppression of the Dalits would no more remain unchallenged. Anderson et al., while writing in EPW, say, “Although the Maratha caste comprises roughly 38% of the population in our sample, they fill 63% of the unreserved gram pradhan positions.” 12 out of 18 chief ministers of Maharashtra were Marathas. 32% of Marathas own in excess of 75% of land. But the declining returns from agriculture, the desire to take advantage of the post-globalisation boom in the services and knowledge-based sector and apprehension at the perceived rise of the other backward castes on the political ladder have led the community to demand reservation.

It seems that the government wants people’s attention to stay on issues like reservation and forget about real issues like agrarian crisis, farmers’ demands, unemployment, water shortage, etc. The government is giving Marathas reservation in educational institutions while also is refusing to fill teacher vacancies in schools and colleges. Nearly 75,000 seats for aided college teachers are lying vacant in universities and colleges in Maharashtra [3]. As per the University Grants Commission (UGC) recommendation, Maharashtra needs 1.5 lakh regular teachers but only 50% of the quota is full [3]. There is no meaning to reservation if primary education is neglected and employment reduces every year. The Maratha reservation should not immediately worry the government as such mobilizations are geared more towards getting jobs through the reservation route rather than raising the more fundamental demand for creating more jobs.

 

 

References

[1] Teltumbde, A. (2016). Behind the Ire of the Marathas. Economic & Political Weekly, 51 (40), 10-11.

[2] Deshpande, A., & Ramachandran, R. (2017). Dominant or Backward? Political Economy of Demand for Quotas by Jats, Patels, and Marathas. Economic & Political Weekly, 52 (19), 81-92.

[3] Harad, T. (2018, November 19). A Maratha Quota Would Have Far-Reaching Implications For Caste Politics in Maharashtra. Retrieved December 10, 2018, from The Wire: https://thewire.in/caste/maratha-quota-maharashta-obc-reservation-implications

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