On August 9, 2017, exactly a year ago, lakhs of Marathas from across Maharashtra and the neighbouring states had converged in Mumbai to demand reservations in government jobs and educational institutions. This mega rally was the culmination of 58 silent, non-violent rallies held in districts across the state where Marathas had come out in large numbers to demand not only reservations but also farm benefits and justice for the gangrape and murder of a 15-year-old girl from the community in 2016.

In November 2017, a fast-track court sentenced to death all three men accused of raping and killing the girl. Meanwhile, the Central government has announced higher minimum support prices for crops that nominally meets the demands of the protesting farmers – though farm benefits have never been prominent among demands raised at the urban rallies.

What remains is the knotty question of granting reservations to a community that is socially dominant. The case is stuck in the Bombay High Court, which will be bound by the Supreme Court’s mandate to cap reservations at 50% of all vacancies in education and job recruitments. The government has, on the court’s order, set up a commission to enquire into the socio-economic status of Marathas to see whether they can be listed among Other Backward Classes. Earlier this week, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis sought time from the community till November-end “to complete all statutory requirements for reservation”. Marathas themselves want reservations for themselves to be implemented beyond the 50% cap.

Protests flared up again this July, this time accompanied by violence. Protestors in large parts of central and western Maharashtra blocked roads, pelted stones and burnt buses in anger at the government for not implementing reservations for the community – which forms a third of the state’s population. In Navi Mumbai, violence during a shutdown resulted in a dramatic showdown between protestors and the police, followed by a complete shutdown of internet services in that part of the city. It was the closest Mumbai had ever come to an internet shutdown.

On Thursday, a group of around 500 Marathas gathered outside the suburban collector’s office in the Bandra-Kurla Complex in Mumbai to renew their demands, even as cities and towns across the state faced a complete shutdown and instances of violence.

“We decided to keep the metropolitan cities of Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane out of the bandh because it is not possible to shut down these cities in less than a month,” said Suhas Rane, convenor of the Maratha Kranti Morcha, which organised the sit-in protest at the collector’s office. “People living here will not accept this,” Rane, who was present at the rally, said.

Scroll.in spoke with several other people who were there to show solidarity with the Maratha cause, to understand what they make of the community’s demands:

Dattatray Thamkar worries about the loan he has taken to put his two daughters through college.

Dattatray Thamkar, 57

Thamkar is a mathadi worker, someone who lifts heavy loads. He has two daughters, both studying civil engineering. Two years ago, he took a loan of Rs 9 lakh to pay for their education.

“Others get entry into these colleges paying almost nothing,” he said. “But I had to take a loan. I don’t know how we will pay it back when we also have to think of their marriage and other costs.”

His other worry is whether his daughters will get jobs after they graduate.

Thamkar, who came to Mumbai from Satara district in 1987, used to work in the city’s textile mills. But they shut down and he has been working as a labourer in various industries for daily wages ever since.

“The government tells us we are creating caste divisions,” Thamkar said. “I say that they are the ones who are creating this. Nobody, not the NCP [Nationalist Congress Party] or Congress or BJP has ever done anything for us. None of them should be in power.”

Prerna Rane said she has been participating in protests and rallies ever since they began.

Prerna Rane, 45

Around 100 women were seated in front of and separately from the men at the protest, as has been the norm with all Maratha rallies featuring women. Rane, who works in the showroom of an electronics shop in the city’s Gorai locality, was at the forefront of the sloganeering.

“Even if my children have already finished their studies, it should not be that the next generation should not get reservations,” she said. “Why shouldn’t we benefit from this? We want our equal rights.”

Rane said she had been participating in protests and rallies ever since they started. Impatient for the community’s demands to be met, she said, “Why is the government delaying so long over this? We are ready to protest outside the court if need be, if it is true that they are the ones who are delaying our rights.”

Sunil Vichare said the Marathas were fighting for reservations because the majority of them were economically backward.

Sunil Vichare, 43

A lawyer, Vichare believes – like several others at the protest – that only a small fraction of the Maratha community is economically strong. The vast majority is economically backward and lacks the means to pull themselves ahead.

“We do not get reservations only because we are Marathas,” he said. “Reservations should be casteless. We are asking for reservation as a caste only because we are economically backward and there is no other option for us. But we feel that the government should move beyond caste.”

Asked whether he would be amenable to economic support through welfare committees, as is nominally done in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Vichare said this would not be a permanent solution as it would depend on funds being regularly released to such committees. As a lawyer, he said he saw several cases of economic support under government schemes such as the Balika Samridhi Yojana being delayed for two years or three years.

“We are ready to compete on merit if there is economic reservation,” he said. “Until then, reservation should [be] proportionate to our population numbers.”

Darshana Jadav, right, came to the protest with a group of friends.

Darshana Jadav, 39

In 1995, Jadav scored 75% in her Class 12 examination but was unable to get admission to a good college for a commerce degree. She had to finally pay a bribe to get in. After college, she applied unsuccessfully for a government job. Years later, these incidents still rankle with Jadav, who is now a building site manager.

Last year was the first time she attended a Maratha rally to demand reservations. Jadav has no children of her own, but is concerned about the future of her community. She and a group of her friends from Andheri had come to this protest.

“Though my turn has gone, my friends have children,” she said. “Either they should give us reservations or they should end it for everyone. This system is not fair as it is today.”

Vikram Patil said he was there to fight for a better deal for the younger generation of Marathas.

Vikram Patil, 33

Like others at the rally, Patil had stories to tell of his “merit” being denied and passed on to others. An assistant manager in a small company, Patil is also the father of a six-year-old son and is already planning ahead for his education.

“My brother got 171 out of 300 in his medical entrance exams but did not get in,” he said. “His friend, who is an OBC, got in with a score of 126. My brother had to do a Bachelor of Medical Sciences degree instead.”

Patil does not trust any of the current political leaders to do good by the Marathas, except for Harshvardhan Jadhav of the Shiv Sena and Udayanraje Bhosale of the Nationalist Congress Party, who is a descendant of the much respected Maratha king Shahu Maharaj.

“We come because we have hope,” Patil said. “If we sit at home and think that nothing happened in two years, nothing will ever change. The next generation should not be able to tell us that we did not do anything for them.”