Their demand was to press for reservation for Muslims in government jobs.
Under the aegis of Muslim Reservation Federation (MRF), this group that comprised elderly persons, youths and even children, completed 300 km.
The rally had evinced interest in media as well as among society. Braving the heat, they had walked for ten days. The march culminated in Mumbai. Contrary to earlier promise, the Mumbai police cancelled the permission for gathering in Azad Maidan.
The MRF activists reached Somaiya ground amidst strong police presence. Here, leaders of different political parties welcomed them. Residents of Mumbai and nearby towns had also come to express solidarity with the cause.
While most of the political parties largely accept that minorities are under-represented in jobs and support the demand for quota in admissions to colleges and in employment, no outfit is ready to give an assurance that they will implement the reservation within a timeframe.
In a state, where both the NCP and Congress claim to be 'secular' parties, and expect Muslim vote election after election, there is no clarity on whether they intend to provide the benefits of reservation to Muslim minority.
Balasahab Thorat, on behalf of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, met the MRF leaders. Thorat said that he would take their memorandum to the Congress leadership and would apprise Chief Minister. He made promises about 'considering the demands'.
Still, the march succeeded in its objective. It did create a stir. In a democratic set up, any group has to raise its voice. Reservation is not impossible. There are constitutional ways. In Karnataka, there is provision as per which Muslims are getting reservation. Under the Kerala [the state has 24% Muslims] model, Muslims get 12% reservation.
But, the situation is different n Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and several other states.
At national level, UPA had promised that it would take steps to ensure reservation for Muslims as per Sachar committee recommendations.
But the promise has remained a promise. Two terms later, the Manmohan Singh government is yet to take a decision on Sachar panel's recommendations regarding reservation in jobs. MRF chief Asif Sheikh Rashid spoke at length during his speech at the programme.
Sheikh reminded the audience that had there been substantial Muslims in police force, the one-sided firing and destruction of Muslims' property in Dhule riots, wouldn't have happened. He also said that while the Dalit Sikhs and Buddhists are entitled to reservation under the SC category, the Muslims aren't. Definitely, this is a discriminatory practice.
It was a presidential* order in 1950 that created this strange situation where Dalits are treated differently because of their religious affiliation. In fact, RTI applications regarding this order, have met with a stonewall. Muslim Reservation March has ended but it is the beginning of a movement, said speakers.
Thousands of Muslims were present at the ground. The speakers said that if not 20%, the government can at least announce at least 10-15%, rather than dithering on the issue. Interestingly, on way, the rally was welcomed at all the cities on the route--Nasik, Igatpuri up to Bhiwandi, Thane and finally, Mumbai.
Not just Muslim organisations but even Shiv Sena, BJP, Congress, RPI, MNS, Jan Rajya Aghadi, [minority wings of some parties] garlanded the MRF workers. At the Sumaiya ground, speakers repeatedly raised the issue of implementation of either Sachar panel or Ranganath Mishra commission reports.
Abu Asim Azmi, the Samajwadi Party (SP) leader said that Congress has failed to provide jobs to Muslims who are at the lower rung as far as socio-economic conditions are concerned. Mubarak Kapri was also present. The MRF has said that the march was undertook to secure rights of Muslims.
Even if economic condition is the base, Muslims are amongst the poorest in the country and there must be a decision now to ensure that a large chunk of Indian population doesn't remain backward for long. As it hurts the nation as well. 'Tahaffuzat' [reservation] are necessary for empowerment and Maharashtra government must make an annnouncement before 2014, they said.
The community is educational and economically backward, and hence needs reservations, just like Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). This was just a first step and the agitation would be intensified until the government agrees to the demand, they said.
[*Article 341. President of India Rajendra Prasad had signed the order]