Mumbai was engulfed by a 'Maratha storm' as millions of the politically powerful community prepared for their first, biggest and final mammoth 'mook morcha' (silent procession) to demand reservations in jobs and education, here on Wednesday.
This will be the 58th — and the largest-protest march of the Maratha community, exactly a year after the first march was held in Aurangabad. The morcha began at 11 am from the BMC's Jijamata Udyan and culminate at Azad Maidan in south Mumbai at 5 pm.
While the authorities anticipate the participation of between 500,000-800,000 Marathas from across the state, the organisers are optimistic it will be the jewel in the crown of all morchas so far with the figure crossing three million.
What is the silent protest about?
The silent protest is a peaceful way to press the demand for reservation in jobs and educational institutions and punishment for culprits in the Kopardi case, the organisers said.
Their other demands include Amendment in SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act) to stop its misuse, loan waiver to curb farmer suicides, and remunerative prices for agricultural produce.
The Marathas have been holding silent marches in different parts of the state to press for their demands, including punishment for culprits in Kopardi rape and murder case, quota in education and government jobs, Amendment in SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act) to stop its misuse, loan waiver to farmers to curb suicides, and guaranteed rate for agricultural produce.
According to Bhor Patil, before the march, a meeting will be held in Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district on July 13 in memory of the Kopardi gang-rape and murder victim.
Who organised the march?
The morcha has been organised by the Sakal Maratha Samaj, an umbrella organisation of several Maratha groups.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter have been used to spread the morcha message to community members.
How is Mumbai Police tackling the morcha?
The state government, police, BMC and other agencies were fully geared since the past 24 hours as participants in the mega-morcha started trickling in from different parts of the state since Monday night.
The Mumbai Police have geared up with over 7,000 personnel, including commandos, armed police, cops in plainclothes, assigned for providing security duties during the procession.
The police plan to make big use of the social media like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, FM radios and other media to provide updates on traffic to the millions of office-goers in the morning and evening peak hours.
All schools and colleges in south Mumbai were ordered shut by Education Minister Vinod Tawde on the day to ensure students were not inconvenienced during the procession.
The JJ flyover will be closed for traffic on Wednesday in view of the morcha, police said.
Photo: Kamlesh Pednekar
Railways making special arrangement for Maratha rally
As millions of community members are expected to travel to the city for the event from across Maharashtra, the Railways will run additional suburban services for people to back to their destinations after the rally.
Extra general coach will be attached to seven long-distance trains and there will be an additional ticket window for issuing tickets.
Meanwhile, the Maratha brigade which trooped into Mumbai from the five entry points, besides the railways, resulted in huge traffic jams in Mumbai and adjacent districts of Thane, Raigad and Palghar.
They have been reaching the state capital by trains, private vehicles, trucks, tempos and even two-wheelers waving Maratha flags and sporting bright orange turbans, entering through railway stations and the entry points.
So far, 57 protests, in the form of 'Mook Morcha' (silent rallies), have been held in various parts of the state following the brutal rape and murder of a 14-year-old Maratha girl in Kopardi in Ahmednagar district in July 2016.