Maratha candle march on 13 July to mark Kopardi case anniversary
Mumbai: Maratha activists have called a candle march on Thursday in Mumbai to mark the first anniversary of the rape and murder of a teenaged Maratha girl in Kopardi village of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra—an incident that galvanized the powerful community and sparked demands for caste-based quotas.
The candle light march at the Azad Maidan on Thursday evening, according to one of the organizers, Virendra Pawar, “will only be a remembrance and tribute march. There will not be slogans and speeches”.
The 15-year-old class nine student was raped and murdered on 13 July 2016. The police arrested three Dalit youth for the crime and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis requested the high court for a special fast track trial. The case is still being heard in a fast track court based in Ahmednagar and there have been two attempts to attack the accused.
The incident triggered a wave of Maratha protests all over Maharashtra. In the space of just over four months from 9 August to 14 December, Maratha groups took out more than 55 well-attended silent marches in all major cities and towns of Maharashtra.
The protesters demanded not only a fast track trial and death penalty for the culprits, but also reservation for Marathas in government educational institutions and jobs, a blanket farm loan waiver and amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to ensure that it is not misused against non-SC and non-ST people.
Marathas make up 32-35% of Maharashtra’s population. Some of their demands have been partially addressed, like expansion of educational subsidies for economically backward students of all castes on the lines of those which are granted to SCs, STs, and OBCs (other backward classes). But the main demand for Maratha reservation is being heard in the Bombay high court.
Pawar said Thursday’s march has nothing do with the Maratha demands. “The candle march will only bring the state and central government’s attention to the long-winded legal process in this particular case even though a fast track court is hearing it. We are not doing this because the victim belonged to the Maratha caste. This could happen with any girl unless the legal process expeditiously brings the guilty to book and issues some kind of a deterrent by faster delivery of justice,” Pawar said.