Nagpur: After the Marathas, now the Dhangars — a community of shepherds in Maharashtra — are bracing for an agitation seeking reservation. Dr Vikas Mahatme, Padmashri awardee eye-specialist, who emerged as the leader of the Dhangars, backed by the BJP, in 2013, is gearing up for another struggle.
Meetings have been planned in the middle of the roads to mark the death anniversary of Ahilyabai Holkar, the Dhangar queen of Indore, in districts across the state on Monday. In Nagpur, the meeting will be held in the middle of the road near Nagpur-Hyderabad highway. A bandh call has been given in Pandharpur and Solapur, said the community leaders. A section of leaders of the Dhangar Arakshshan Sangarsh Samiti (DASS) elsewhere, however, said there were no plans for a bandh but road blockades will be held. A blockade is planned in Ghatkopar and Virar suburbs of Mumbai too.

Mahatme had led the agitation in 2013, which brought Dhangar votes to the BJP after the party promised reservation as scheduled tribes to the community. Dhangars are currently categorized as nomadic tribe (NT). Again, in 2015, Mahatme came out with a major rally blocking the roads during the legislature’s winter session at Nagpur after the BJP failed to keep the promise of giving reservation.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis intervened by addressing the crowd over phone, saying that the case has been referred to Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), which will study the social conditions of the community. Fadhavis said a proposal to include Dhangars as STs will be sent to the centre soon, after TISS submits its report. Mahatme was also made a Rajya Sabha member by BJP later on, and the agitation also lost momentum, which is now being revived.

“The government had assured that the TISS report would be out in 15 months, but it’s two-and-a-half years now. Our stance now is that no matter what the report says the state government should write to the centre seeking inclusion of Dhangars as STs. We have been demanding that the report should be done up fast, but the community is not concerned about what TISS says,” said Mahatme.

In Nagpur, around 400 to 500 persons are expected to gather during the programme on Monday. However, when TOI spoke to other leaders, they said the numbers are expected to be in thousands elsewhere, where Dhangar population is higher.

Hanumantha Sul, a leader from Pandharpur, said that apart from the programme to pay homage to Ahilyabai Holkar, a bandh call has been given in Pandharpur and Solapur districts. The Dhangar population in the districts is estimated to be over four lakh, and thousands are expected to take part in the agitation.

Vijay Jankar from Sangole town in Solapur said though a bandh call has not been given activities like rasta roko (road blockade) have been planned. A rally will also be taken out to the Tehsil office on August 14, he said.

Raju Barge said over 10,000 are expected to gather at Ghatkopar and Virar suburbs of Mumbai, where the roads would be blocked, he said. At Gondia in Vidarbha, the organization expects a 1,500 strong group for the protests.

Sources said it was due to Fadnavis’ promise of reservation as STs that the Dhangar votes, which have traditionally gone to Congress-NCP, went to the BJP in the state elections.

The schedule of tribes includes a tribe named as Dhangad, which they argue is a typographical error and refers to the Dhangar community of Maharashtra. As STs, the community can get a higher quota. Last month, Mahatme had raised the issue in Parliament as well.

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