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Home / Politics / Policy /  Social media is the faceless ‘leader’ of Maratha protests

Mumbai: Notwithstanding organizers’ claims that the Maratha protest rallies across Maharashtra are “leaderless"—true in the sense that there is no single face to the mobilization—this show of caste consolidation has clearly thrown up two ‘leaders’.

One is the media—both social media platforms and conventional media—and the other is the Maratha on the street with a mobile phone. Without these two multipliers of the Maratha message, it would have been impossible for the Marathas to get in excess of 100,000 people each time they have marched with their demands.

On 9 August, Sakal Maratha Samaj, an umbrella body of Maratha groups, held its first silent protest march in Aurangabad to demand the death penalty for the men who allegedly raped and killed a 14-year-old Maratha girl in July. The three suspects arrested in the case are all Dalits. Since then, Marathas have held protest rallies in 13 cities and towns with demands that include 16% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions, an assistance of Rs6 lakh each to students of economically backward classes, and amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which they claim is being misused to implicate Marathas in fake cases.

Jaisingh Dhage, a 58-year-old auto-rickshaw driver in Pune, is a typical marcher, who says the conventional and social media have transmitted his grievance. “I have read about it in newspapers. There are banners all around Pune and Ahmednagar. Also, my son has shown me images of the Maratha morcha and there are instructions for Marathas with those images." Dhage claims the lower castes have cornered the benefits of reservation.

Bhayya Patil, who works for the social media support team of Sakal Maratha Samaj, says: “We discovered the power of social media when the Maratha Kranti webpage that we developed received more than 4.1 million views in a short span. Then we started creating WhatsApp groups of our volunteers to spread the message. We also did live streaming of some of the rallies on our Facebook page."

Within minutes of people assembling for the march, drone cameras are used to capture images and videos, which are uploaded on the mobile phones of volunteers who then circulate them.

“If we have uploaded a video at 5pm, by 9pm it is on the mobile phone of each of our volunteers, who share it with thousands of people. That creates momentum and a sense of participation," Patil said.

A Kolhapur-based activist, who did not wish to be named, said there are about 6,000 WhatsApp groups active and spreading the Maratha message, adding, “Each WhatsApp group has at least one volunteer who is the group administrator. Each forward on these groups asks the group member to spread this out to at least 50 Marathas."

Volunteers are also using the hashtag #Marathakrantimorcha on Twitter.

Conventional means of communication are also being used. In cities where marches are planned, small pamphlets are being inserted into newspapers, carrying detailed instructions about the place, time, and route of the march and house-keeping rules.

Maratha icons like Shivaji Maharaj and Shahu Maharaj are invoked to create a sense of solidarity. One slogan says in Marathi: Till now we have fought for the soil, let’s once fight for our caste.

Mumbai-based social media analyst and commentator Anay Joglekar, said WhatsApp can be a great platform to raise funds and resources with their potential for localized content sharing, messaging and faster networking.

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