Most of the local, national and international media houses claimed the series of Maratha Kranti Muk (Silent) Morchas (MKM) that started over the rape of a minor girl from Maratha caste in the Kopardi village of Ahmednagar district on July 23, 2016, by three Dalit men, to be ‘unique’ for its mass support base, speeches given by young Maratha girls and for its non-alignments with political parties. However, what is also unique about these marches which remains either highlighted or hidden from the mainstream is the hateful aggressive speeches, the sidelining of the issue of rape, the public display of caste power and rooted patriarchal rhetorical elocutionary speeches given by the young Maratha girls.
It was the first time in the history of Maharashtra that a divided dominant caste and community like the Marathas came together momentarily for the MKM. Political history of Maharashtra suggests that two important figures and factors could bring Marathas together, primarily it is their love and pride for figures like Shivaji, who is considered as a king and the Maratha community claim themselves as descendants of him and second the hatred and discomfort towards Ambedkar, who is at one hand othered as merely the leader of Dalits and at the other hand appropriated for his role in introducing the policy of affirmative action in the constitution. Likely, both these figures were considerably appropriated for their considered roles during the MKM. Though MKM’s clause of non-alignment seems impressive and has been celebrated in the news, considering the political base of the Marathas in Maharashtra and the participation of most of the dominant caste political leaders in the marches, the claim of the organisers that the Morchas lacked political affiliations seem baseless and nonsensical.
Interestingly the Morchas started for an important issue like rape, but in the process of conducting these Morchas, the issue of rape was sidelined over the issue of reservation for the Marathas, farmers suicides and misuse of the Atrocity act by Dalits. The Dalit Morchas which were started in reaction to the Maratha Morchas also did not take up the issue of rape of the minor girl, even the feminist organisations in India for whom the issue of rape remains central for politics also failed to do so. Thus, no organisation took up the main issue, rather for the initiators of the MKM, the rape of the minor girl from their community just became an opportunity to project their opposition towards the reservation for Dalits and the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and put forth their demand for reservation. In such context, it remains difficult to speculate what stops groups who stand for voicing the concerns of minority section to come together over prominent issues like rape. Should the struggle be about who gets the leadership or should the solidarity be about the issue? One can wonder whether the MKMs would have received so much unnecessary attention if the feminist movement and the Dalit movement would have given equal attention to the prime issues like rape that got sidelined in the opportunism of MKM.
Another aspect for which the MKM is celebrated are the speeches given by the young girls, making the MKM claim that Maratha women came into forefront during these Morchas, showing Marathas version of women empowerment; however, hearing these speeches uncovers the innate patriarchal notion around the concept of women’s safety. In these speeches most of the Maratha girls question the masculinity of their male counterparts by asking them provocative questions like: How their blood doesn’t boil over the Kopardi case where the minor girl who is like their sister or daughter was brutally raped? Why weren’t they able to protect them? Nowhere do the girls question the gender discrimination they must be facing at their own houses, or gendered assumptions that there are only male farmers who commit suicide, or the struggle of female farmers. Nowhere do they address the women from Maratha community to come together to fight against the issue of rape. Most of these speeches assumed that girls are secondary citizens and they depend on men from their community to protect them, keeping the gender hierarchies intact where a man ought to save the woman. Why so? Should women still need men as their saviours? And who do they need to be saved from? Which gender? And where does the question of other existing genders fits in here? It is a simple equation that most of the women never question that we need protection from men to protect us from men, so we must question the position of men first and reject their supremacy. The loud speeches made by women from the Maratha community won’t change the gender hierarchies existing among the Maratha community in particular or the society in general. Thus, the speeches given by Maratha girls offered nothing new to the discourse on gender rather it strengthened the existing gender hierarchies and raised the questions of masculinity of the Maratha men which was of course resolved with the slogan ‘Ek (one) Maratha, Lakh (Lakhs) Maratha’.
MKMs were widely covered by most of the media houses, but Dalit Morchas which were ongoing during the same period hardly received any coverage, revealing the innate bias of the media houses that have received criticisms for lacking representation from the marginalised sections. Further most of the mainstream media houses argue that if women’s caste or religious identities are displayed in the rape cases, we may get trapped into identity politics, but when it is about the rape of the dominant caste women, the same argument is reversed as the identity of the ‘victim’ in the Kopardi case was flaunted repeatedly and so were the MKM’s.
Violence of any form on any gender is wrong, and rape being one form of violence perpetuated by one gender against other genders, specifically more in number by men against women across different countries and continents, deserves to receive worldwide attention and should generate global movement. While generating this global movement it is necessary to understand the situated meaning of rape depending on the social, political and structural position of women, and hence instead of maintaining silence over issues by pitting it as their problem vs. ours, it is crucial to come together to fight against issues that affect an individual and the public at large.