Reservation has been an important part of India’s history. It has been a boon as well as a curse to many. Reservation has two sides to it, one side supports it and requires it in every field of the country, and the other side wants it gone or reduced. In recent times, this country has seen reservations increasing like Women getting reservations in the parliament, Bihar increasing the reservations for its citizens to 75%, the inclusion of EWS and many more.
Reservation in India
Reservation is a system of affirmative action in India created during British rule. It provides historically disadvantaged groups representation in education, employment, government schemes, scholarships, and politics. Based on provisions in the Indian Constitution, it allows the Union Government and the States and Territories of India to set reserved quotas or seats, at fixed percentages in Education Admissions, Employments, Political Bodies, Promotions, etc, for "socially and educationally backward citizens.
Quota systems favouring certain castes and other communities existed before independence in several areas of British India. Demands for various forms of positive discrimination had been made. After the independence of India in 1947, there were some major initiatives in favour of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs and STs) and after the 1980s in favour of OBCs (Other Backward Castes) and in 2019 for poor in the general category. The country's affirmative action program was launched in 1950 and is the oldest such program in the world.
A common form of caste discrimination in India was the practice of untouchability. SCs were the primary targets of the practice, which was outlawed by the new Constitution of India. A significant change began in 1979 when the Mandal Commission or the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Commission was established to assess the situation of the socially and educationally backward classes.
Who are the Marathas?
Marathas, who constitute nearly 33% (one-third) of Maharashtra’s population, have been demanding reservation in education and government jobs. Historically, they have been identified as a ‘warrior’ caste with large land holdings. Since the formation of Maharashtra state in 1960, of its 20 chief ministers, 12 have been from the Maratha community. While the division of land and agrarian problems over the years have led to a decline in prosperity among the middle-class and lower-middle-class Marathas, the community still plays an important role in the rural economy.
The community has been seeking Kunbi caste certificates for Marathas which will enable their inclusion in the OBC category for reservation. Kunbis, who are associated with agriculture, are grouped under the OBC (Other Backward Classes) category in Maharashtra.
History of the Maratha Reservation
It was in the year 1981 when the state saw its first protests demanding the Maratha reservation under the leadership of the Mathadi Labour Union leader Annasaheb Patil. The issue again cropped up in 1997 with demands for a separate reservation for the community. However, in July 2008, a committee set up by the Maharashtra government which was headed by retired Judge RM Bapat gave its report which did not favour reservations for Marathas. Six years later, in 2014, a committee headed by now BJP minister Narayan Rane, submitted a report to the government stating that 32 per cent of the population in the state was that of Marathas, who needed economic upliftment and thus a reservation was needed.
The government headed by then Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, approved a proposal to reserve 16 per cent of government jobs and seats in educational institutions for Marathas and 5 per cent for Muslims. An ordinance was immediately passed but it was challenged before the Bombay High Court, which stayed its implementation in 2014. The high court pointed out that the data used by the state to back its assertion that the community is backward was 'faulty'. The government then formed a commission to collect data on the backwardness of the community.
The nine-member Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission headed by Justice MG Gaikwad, submitted its report in 2018. Accepting the report, the Maharashtra government, headed by then Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, passed the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act on November 30, 2018.
The Act provided 16 per cent reservation in education and government jobs for the Maratha community. This did not include the Muslim reservation though. The Act was then challenged before the Bombay High Court, which in 2019, upheld that the community was backward but reduced the reservation from 16 per cent to 12 per cent in education and 13 per cent in jobs. However, this increased the overall reservation ceiling to 64 per cent and 65 per cent, respectively. The High Court said that the 50 per cent ceiling on the reservation set by the Supreme Court in the Indra Sawhney (Mandal) judgment of 1992 could be breached only in exceptional circumstances.
The High Court judgment was challenged in the Supreme Court and a constitutional bench in 2021, held that there was no justification for breaking the 50 per cent ceiling which was now being constitutionally recognized. The Supreme Court said that there was no extraordinary circumstance to cross the 50 per cent mark, adding that Marathas were a “dominant forward class and are in the mainstream of National life”. The bench also held in the judgment by a 3:2 majority that the states have no power to identify the SEBC after the 102nd amendment to the Constitution. The Parliament immediately moved to clarify this issue in 2021 in the 127th Constitutional Amendment which restored the power of the states and union territories to identify the SEBCs.
The committee had recommended that then Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray-led government file a review petition in the Supreme Court over the Maratha reservation issue. The government did file it, but it was dismissed in April 2023. Following this, a curative petition was filed in the Supreme Court which is likely to be heard in due course.
Who is Manoj Jarange Patil?
Manoj Jarange Patil is a Maratha quota activist who has been a prominent figure in the Maratha community's fight for reservation in Maharashtra. He has been the face of this struggle. He has led multiple agitations and protests including a 90-day dharna and a hunger strike. Jarange’s activism has gained him support from at least 123 villages in Ambad tehsil of Jalna district. His dedication to the cause has been unwavering. He has been involved in various protests both for the Maratha reservation issue and the farmer’s cause.
Before Independence, the Marathwada region used to be under the rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the Marathas were then presumed to be Kunbi. In Karnataka and Telangana, the Marathas are classified as OBCs. Citing these, Manoj Jarange has been the face of the quota agitation and has been demanding that the Marathas be certified as Kunbi, and in pursuit of this demand, he and his supporters began the indefinite fast on August 29. The protests saw violent actions by the police as well as the agitators present. This hunger strike started gaining a lot of support from the people of Jalna and started becoming a problem for the government. This is when the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Eknath Shinde, intervened and assured Jarange that his demands would be fulfilled which made him end the 16-day fast on the 14th of September.
Subsequently, the 40-year-old activist had set a 40-day deadline before the Shinde government for taking steps to implement reservation for the Maratha community. Jarange also said that he would address the community on October 22 to explain their further course of action after October 24 in case his demands were not fulfilled. This 40-day period saw the protests take a violent course of action as well as activists taking drastic steps like committing suicide in support of the protest. On October 19, an activist Sunil Kawale was found dead at a flyover in Mumbai’s Bandra area who had left a suicide note, seeking reservations for the community. Later, it was found that two Maratha quota activists, including a minor, had allegedly died by suicide in Maharashtra’s Nanded district in the last two days. According to sources, both had left suicide notes, seeking reservations for the Maratha community. The two deceased were identified as Shubham Pawar (24) from Vadgaon village and a 17-year-old Class 10 student from Naigaon, who died by suicide on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, said police.
After these incidents, the Chief Minister said that the state government was “committed to avail Maratha quota” and urged the youth “not to take extreme steps like dying by suicide over the matter” and instead give the government some time to come up with “reservations that would fit in the legal framework and be sustainable”. After the 40-day wait period ended, having no stable and proper response from the government, Jarnage went on another indefinite fast. After this second phase of the protest began, the protesters on October 30, torched the bungalows of two sitting Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLAs Prakash Solanke (Ajit Pawar faction) and Sandeep Kshirsagar (Pawar faction) in Beed district. Offices of former NCP MLA and minister Jaydutt Kshirsagar’s office were also set on fire. Two MPs from the ruling Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena, Hemant Patil, and Hemant Godse, announced their resignation in support of the protesters.
This all led to State-run bus services being completely suspended in five Marathwada districts and a curfew, an Internet shutdown being imposed in parts of Beed where the houses of political leaders were targeted by protesters.
On November 1st, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde called an all-party meeting to discuss the situation in the state amid the intensified Maratha Quota agitation which took a violent turn in some parts of the state. In the all-party meaning, everyone agreed that the Maratha community should get reservation. It was also decided the reservation should be within the framework of the law and without doing injustice to other communities. A committee was also being formed of three retired judges along with the Backward Class Commission working continuously to give justice to the Maratha Community.
In the past six decades, Maharashtra, which has always been politically dominated by Marathas, failed to find a lasting solution to this vexed problem. After the long efforts of Manoj Jarange Patil and his supporters with the support starting to come in from the Government there is some hope for the Marathas to gain their long-awaited reservation.
~ Krushna Punjabi