Thousands of people belonging to the Maratha community from different parts of Maharashtra converged here today as part of their campaign to press for reservation in jobs and education among other demands.
Amid tight security, the massive silent march began from the Jijamata Udyan in Byculla this morning with participants carrying saffron swallowtail flags.
People had started arriving in the city since early morning in private vehicles as well as public modes of transport. Police and traffic personnel were deployed in large numbers to manage the huge inflow of people and the movement of vehicles in Mumbai.
The Mumbai's famed 'Dabbawalas' (lunchbox deliverymen), majority of whom hail from the Maratha community, also joined the march.
This is the 58th march of the Maratha community, exactly a year after the first such protest held in Aurangabad. The march has been organised by the Sakal Maratha Samaj, an umbrella organisation of several Maratha groups.
These 'mook morcha' or silent rallies were held in various parts of the state following the brutal rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl, belonging to the Maratha community, at Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district in July 2016.
The JJ flyover was closed for traffic in view of the march, police said. Schools in south Mumbai were closed today as a precautionary measure, an official said.
At Azad Maidan, where the Maratha morcha will culminate later today, the campaigners raised slogans as Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar reached the venue.
Some of the campaigners said that they don't want politicians to interfere.
Shelar rubbished reports that he was stopped and manhandled at Azad Maidan.
In Maharashtra Legislature, where the monsoon session is underway, Shiv Sena MLAs joined legislators across parties in shouting slogans demanding reservation for Marathas.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter have been used to rally the community members, the organisers said.
The silent protest is a peaceful way to press the demands for reservation in jobs and educational institutions and punishment for culprits in the Kopardi case, they said.
Their other demands include amendments in SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act) to stop its misuse, loan waiver to curb farmer suicides and remunerative prices for agricultural produce.
A police official said over five lakh people are expected to participate in the morcha.
No toll will be collected today from vehicles coming into Mumbai in order to avoid delays at collection points, considering the large number of vehicles entering the city.
In the state legislature, Shiv Sena members, led by Eknath Shinde, supported the demands of the Maratha community.
The party MLAs raised slogans on the steps of the Vidhan Bhavan.
Shinde said, "We completely support the demands of the Maratha community. A large section of the community is deprived of education, good income sources and skills that would get them good jobs. Reservation in education and jobs could be one way of supporting them."
"The other demands, such as strict action against those who had allegedly sexually assaulted the girl and murdered her, will be given the required support," he said.