Economic distress at the root of Maharashtra’s caste conflict

ROHIT CHANDAVARKAR
Saturday, 6 January 2018

The violence that took place in the wake of the caste conflict happening in parts of Maharashtra last week has really shaken the political establishment in the State. In the Parliament, this issue was discussed at length and the need to establish social harmony was expressed. 

There is no doubt that restoring social harmony is the need of the hour, but it is also pertinent to figure out the root causes of this conflict and the violence that followed.

The violence that took place in the wake of the caste conflict happening in parts of Maharashtra last week has really shaken the political establishment in the State. In the Parliament, this issue was discussed at length and the need to establish social harmony was expressed. 

There is no doubt that restoring social harmony is the need of the hour, but it is also pertinent to figure out the root causes of this conflict and the violence that followed.

The Dalit community has been gathering every year in the first week of January at Koregaon-Bhima, to commemorate the victory over Peshwas in the battle which happened there, since many years now.  This happens to be one of the few occasions through the year when the community gathers in large 
numbers. This year, the number crossed three lakh and trouble started mainly because the number was so high and the police could not control the situation with such large numbers. 

Why did so many Dalit community members gather this year? Most observers and witnesses say that they gathered in such large numbers mainly due to the impact of the caste polarisation that Maharashtra has witnessed over the past two years or so.
This caste polarisation started with the Maratha community demanding reservation in government jobs and education sector and taking out large rallies in Maharashtra. 

The Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Dalit communities are now gathering at rallies in larger numbers, mainly as a reaction to Maratha rallies. But most political analysts feel that the Marathas coming out on streets in large numbers in the State has happened because of the economic distress that they sense in Maharashtra’s agricultural sector.

So, the root cause of the violence, stone pelting and arson that we saw in Mumbai and other cities of Maharashtra can be attributed to economic distress that Maharashtra currently witnesses in the rural areas. Large-scale suicides of farmers are an indication of this too. 

The government, the corporate world and the civil society have to now realise that steps must be taken quickly to provide relief to the rural and agricultural sector, so that these tensions and social conflicts can be controlled in the future.

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