In July, a 14-year-old Maratha girl was raped and murdered allegedly by Dalit youth, in Kopardi, a village in Maharashtra's Ahmadnagar district. The Maratha community, which constitutes around 30 per cent of Maharashtra's population, was agitated. Thousands of people came out spontaneously in Kopardi to protest the crime and they demanded death penalty for the culprits. Since then, the Marathas have been organising silent marches in all districts of the state and the plan is to bring 10 million people to Mumbai after Diwali to press for modification of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
Maharashtra has a more assertive Dalit population than, say, Bihar. The Act is draconian. Only in the rarest of rare cases has relief been granted by courts in Maharashtra in cases where the Act has been applied.
Sometimes, the Act has been misused. "In any fight of savarnas (forward caste), there is a misuse of laws by Dalit youth. Most of the time, Dalit youth used to file cases under the Atrocity Act against others. The Act should not be misused against savarnas - this is what we want," said Sharad Pawar, Maharashtra's tallest Maratha leader. He went on to add: "Wrong use of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is terrible, as it could result in social tension."
The Marathas are not asking for the law to be scrapped - only that it be modified. The state government has not indicated what it is going to do.