Mumbai, (The Hindu): In one of the biggest protest rallies to be held in Mumbai, over three lakh Marathas marched to demand reservation and justice for the victim of the Kopardi gang rape on Wednesday, bringing it to complete standstill. This was the 58th, and final, Maratha Kranti Muk Morcha (silent march), ending a series of such silent marches across the State since last year.
The rally, which had been postponed at least twice since it was first planned, began in Byculla and wound its way across the JJ Flyover, which had been closed to traffic, to culminate at Azad Maidan. According to reports, the rally’s tail extended till Chembur. Azad Maidan, where young Maratha women spoke with vigour, was occupied even before the rallyists began their journey at 11 a.m.
Areas in the vicinity, including Metro cinema, Fashion Street and Hutatma Chowk, were closed to traffic as protesters streamed through in large numbers, a sea of Gandhi caps and saffron flags held high, emblazoned with their call to arms: ek maratha, lakh maratha
The last time Marathas had marched in the city was under the leadership of Annasaheb Patil on March 22, 1982, when over a lakh protesters had walked to Mantralaya with the community’s demands. Wednesday, say political analysts, was a near-repeat. Apart from these two rallies, Mumbai has witnessed the famous Riddles March by Ambedkarites and the Workers’ March during the mill strike, which brought the city to a halt.
On July 13, 2016, in Ahmednagar district’s Kopardi village, a 15-year-old girl was allegedly gang-raped and murdered by three inebriated men. She was found with her private parts mutilated, hair pulled out, hands and teeth broken, and died before she could be taken to hospital. The accused were arrested a few days later.
The tragedy was a trigger for the protest. From the first rally in Aurangabad last year, these silent rallies have been particular about avoiding political leaders. On Wednesday, 11 Maratha girls were asked to speak. In almost identical speeches, they demanded reservation, punishment for the rape accused, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations and a minimum support price for crops. The girls questioned the government’s delay in investigating the Kopardi case even after a year, despite Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s assurance that the culprits would be hanged within six months of the incident.
The rally began on a heated note, with protesters forcing BJP Mumbai unit chief and MLA Ashish Shelar to leave Azad Maidan, asking him to represent the community in the Legislative Assembly and not show his political clout at the rally. “His duty is in the Legislative Assembly. This is not a political stage,” one of the protesters said.
Protesters also tore down political posters in the vicinity, claiming no political party should take the community for granted. A person carrying a photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was asked to keep it folded. Later, leaders from all parties participated in the rally at different stages, but without their party banners.
However, in a first, a rally delegation was accompanied by a group of political leaders when it met Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who later made a presentation in the Assembly.
On Tuesday, Congress MLC Narayan Rane had said MLAs and MLCs will be joining the delegation, as the Assembly will be making the laws and needs to be taken into confidence.
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