ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Backward or Forward?

Examining the Contemporary Status of Marathas

In recent years, the Maratha community has mobilised for reservations in employment and higher education, claiming that the lack of reservations has resulted in socio-economic backwardness. Their opponents have largely highlighted the political and economic dominance of the community. This paper examines the income, education and occupational status of the Marathas vis-à-vis non-Marathas while scrutinising the statistical limitations of the Gaikwad Committee report (2018). Compared to other castes and communities in Maharashtra, the Marathas have a higher proportion of the rich and wealthy and the lowest share among the poorest and poor. It is only in comparison to the Brahmins and other upper castes that the Marathas lag behind in education and employment.


The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and EPW editorial team for their valuable contributions to improving the paper. All potential errors in data interpretation or handling are authors’ responsibility.

In November 2018, the Government of Maharashtra passed the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, granting 16% reservation in higher education and public sector employment to the members of the Maratha caste.1 The report by the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission, headed by M G Gaikwad, a retired additional judge of the Bombay High Court, became the basis for the government in granting reservation to the Marathas. Through large-scale survey data and other evidence, the Gaikwad Commission demonstrated that the Marathas are “socially, educationally and economically backward and entitled for reservation benefits” (Gaikwad et al 2018: 1034). The findings and interpretations of the Gaikwad Commission mark a stark contrast to all the previous backward class commissions (three national-level and three state-level) that did not find social and educational backwardness among the Marathas. On the contrary, they found the Marathas to be a “socially advanced and prestigious community” (Dr Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v the Chief Minister and Ors 2021: 16). Despite this widely acknowledged fact, the Bombay High Court uncritically accepted the Gaikwad Commission’s findings and upheld the constitutional validity of the SEBC Act, 2018. However, this verdict, especially the reliability of the survey data and other aspects, was challenged in the Supreme Court.

The petitioners argued that the survey data is “skewed, unscientific and (therefore) cannot be taken as a representative sample” (Dr Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v the Chief Minister and Ors 2021: 55). Moreover, the petitioners argued that “the Commission picked up and chose certain parameters whereas conveniently left out many of the parameters where (the) Maratha Community is better off” (Dr Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v the Chief Minister and Ors 2021: 55). Scholars, too, have highlighted the non-transparent manner of establishing the backwardness of the Marathas (see, for instance, Palshikar 2019). It has been argued that since the survey data gathered by the Gaikwad Commission was not made public, its strengths, weaknesses and biases cannot be fully examined. A five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court scrutinised the data gathered by the Gaikwad Commission together with other legal aspects. On 5 May 2021, the bench struck down the high court verdict, rendering the SEBC Act and the Maratha reservations invalid.

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