Maratha quota protest heats up

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What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in news?
  • Historical Background of Marathas
  • Maratha and Marathi
  • Why Marathas are demanding reservation?
  • A brief timeline of Marathas’ Demand for Reservation 
  • What has Triggered the Current Phase of Agitation by the Marathas? 
  • What is the latest step by the Maharashtra government?

Why in news?

  • As Maratha quota protests intensify in Maharashtra, the state government has formed a panel of three former High Court judges to advise it on the legal battle over the issue in the Supreme Court.
  • Activist Manoj Jarange-Patil has launched a fast-unto-death protest for Maratha reservation, putting pressure on the state government.
    • The demand for Maratha reservation is not new in the state. 
    • The first protest over this was held 32 years ago by Mathadi Labour Union leader Annasaheb Patil in Mumbai.

Historical Background of Marathas

  • The Marathas are a group of castes comprising peasants and landowners, among others, constituting nearly 33 per cent of state’s population. 
  • While the top layer of the Marathas—with surnames like Deshmukh, Bhonsle, More, Shirke, Jadhav—are the Kshatriyas (warriors), the rest belong to a predominantly agrarian sub-caste called Kunbi.
  • However, this demarcation between the Kshatriya Marathas and the Kunbis existed only until the Maratha empire existed.
  • In contemporary Maharashtra, majority of Marathas are engaged in agriculture.

Maratha and Marathi 

  • Most Marathas are Marathi-speaking but not all Marathi-speaking people are Marathas. 
  • The Maratha conquests in Western, North, and South India in the 17th and 18th centuries led to the migration of large sections of the Maratha population into those parts and also established a host of Maratha dynasties across the country. 
  • The Gaekwad dynasty which ruled the Baroda princely state, the Scindia dynasty which ruled the Gwalior princely state, and Bhonsles of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, are examples of powerful Maratha dynasties that have settled outside Maharashtra.
  • The Marathas have been the politically dominant community in Maharashtra — since the formation of the state in 1960 as 12 of its 20 Chief Ministers have been Marathas.

Why Marathas are demanding reservation?

  • The division of holdings and problems in the farm sector over the years has led to a decline in the prosperity of middle- and lower middle-class Marathas.
  • The traditional dominance of the Marathas is being challenged in the new economic order where the service sector and the manufacturing sector matter more than the agriculture sector. 
  • A 2016 study shows that Marathas were way ahead of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Scheduled Castes (SCs) in terms of ownership of large tracts of land.
  • However, the advantage diminishes and even turns into a disadvantage when it comes to attainment of higher education.

A brief timeline of Marathas’ Demand for Reservation 

  • 1997: First major Maratha agitation for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions was organised by the Maratha Mahasangh and the Maratha Seva Sangh.
  • 2017: Maharashtra government constituted State Backward Class Commission headed by Retired Justice N G Gaikwad to study the social, financial and educational status of Maratha community.
  • 2018: Maharashtra legislature passed a bill proposing 16% reservation in education and government jobs for Maratha community, declared as socially and educationally backward class by the government.
  • 2019: HC upholds constitutional validity of reservation for the Maratha community, but asks the government to reduce it from 16% to 12% in education and 13% in govt jobs, as recommended by the State Backward Classes Commission.
  • 2021: Supreme Court struck down the Maratha reservation citing the 50% cap on total reservations it had set in 1992.
    • In the Indira Sawhney judgment 1992, SC had categorically said 50% shall be the rule, only in certain exceptional and extraordinary situations for bringing far-flung and remote areas' population into mainstream said 50% rule can be relaxed.
    • The Supreme Court said that there were no exceptional circumstances or an extraordinary situation in Maharashtra for the state government to breach the limit.
  • 2023: After the SC turned down its review plea, the state government said it would file a curative petition and form a new panel for a detailed survey of the ‘backwardness’ of the community.

What has Triggered the Current Phase of Agitation by the Marathas? 

  • The Marathas want to be identified as Kunbis, which would entitle them to benefits under the quota for Other Backward Classes (OBCs). 
  • The demand for OBC reservation arose after the Supreme Court’s 2021 judgment.
    • In May 2021, struck down the quota for Marathas under the state’s Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC) Act, 2018. 
  • In November 2022, the SC upheld the Centre’s 10% quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). 
  • However, the Maharashtra government said that until the issue of Maratha reservation is resolved, the poor among the Marathas could not benefit from the EWS quota. 
  • In April 2023, the court turned down Maharashtra’s plea for a review of its 2021 decision, following which the state said it would file a curative petition.
  • The state government also said that a commission would be set up to carry out a detailed survey of the “backwardness” of the community.

What is the latest step by the Maharashtra government?

  • Initiated the issuance of Kunbi certificates
    • The state govt, in September 2023, formed a five-member committee under Justice (retired) Sandeep K Shinde.
    • This committee will study the procedure of giving Kunbi (OBC) certificates to Marathas, based on documents, including revenue records, from Nizam period.
  • Oter steps
    • State govt plans to gather fresh data on the Maratha community's social and educational backwardness.
    • The state will soon file a curative petition in the Apex Court.

Q1) What is Indira Sawhney judgment of 1992?

In Indra Sawhney & Others v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India upheld a government order that caste was a valid indicator of backwardness. The decision was made on November 16, 1992. The Supreme Court's decision led to the implementation of reservations for OBCs in central government services. 

Q2) Who are Economically Weaker Sections (EWS)?

 The economically weaker section (EWS) is the section of the society in India that belongs to the un-reserved category and has an annual family income of less than 8 lakh rupees. This category includes people that do not belong to the caste categories of ST/SC/OBC who already enjoy the benefits of reservation.

Source: ‘Citizens right to know subject to reasonable restrictions’: Centre to Supreme Court on electoral bonds | Indian Express