One of the highlights of the Maratha morcha organised here today was the fiery speeches given by a group of girls on a range of issues, from quota in government jobs and education to the Kopardi gangrape case. More than a dozen girls addressed the rally after it culminated at the sprawling Azad Maidan in South Mumbai. The march began from Byculla around 11 am and concluded late in the afternoon. According to rules framed by the Sakal Maratha Samaj, an umbrella organisation of several Maratha groups that has been the driving force behind the rallies, only girls between 8 to 16 years of age are allowed to address these gatherings. The speakers urged Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis not to ignore the demands of the community or else they would launch a "quit power movement" against his government. This stir would be on the lines of 'Quit India' movement launched in 1942 from Mumbai against the British empire, they said. Today was also the 75th anniversary of the Quit India movement. The stage from where the speakers addressed the gathering had pictures of three personalties -- Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, his mother Jijabai and social reformer Jyotiba Phule. Except one Pooja Ashok More, no other girl-speaker revealed her identity. "We do not like to fight against the rulers of the state but if Maratha leaders sitting in the government failed to give justice to the community, we will show them their place," More thundered. Another girl said, "(CM) Fadnavis should implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission and waive loans of farmers in a time-bound manner." Yet another called for stringent punishment for the Kopardi gangrape accused. "We know how to use swords.
We are followers of Shivaji and he taught us that if anyone dares to molests our sisters, we will cut his hands and legs," she said. The 'mook morcha', or silent rallies, were held in various parts of the state following the brutal gangrape and murder of a 14-year-old girl, belonging to the Maratha community, at Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district in July 2016. Besides their key demand for reservation in government jobs and education, the speakers also highlighted issues like the alleged misuse of the SC/STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, profitable prices for farm produce and security of women. Member of Parliament Chhatrapati Sambhaji Raje, state minister Subhash Deshmukh, senior Congressman Narayan Rane and Maratha community leaders like Narendra Patil and Vinayak Mete were present at the rally. However, they were not allowed to share stage or address the rally.