More than 200,000 protesters have marched through Mumbai, disrupting traffic and straining the railway network, to press their demands for quotas in government jobs and education.
Rising unemployment and falling incomes are driving farming communities across India to redouble calls for reservations of jobs and education, especially for the underprivileged Maratha community in western India.
"Farming is no longer profitable and jobs are not available," said Pradip Munde, a farmer from Osmanabad, a town more than 250 miles southeast of Mumbai. "Reservation can ensure us better education and jobs."
The marchers covered a distance of more than three miles silently with no speeches or slogans. More than 10,000 police were dispatched to the protests.
Some businesses and schools were shut due to the big march in south Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment capital. Traffic also came to a halt in many parts of the business district, while protesters jammed suburban trains.
Maratha, a pre-dominantly farmer caste, accounts for nearly 35 percent of western Maharashtra state's 123 million people. Many in the community feel that they are lagging behind.
India’s Constitution includes a system of affirmative action for people from the lowest castes to help them overcome discrimination. The Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that reserved jobs and college seats could not exceed a 50 percent quota, a limit that Maharashtra has already reached.
Virendra Pawar, a spokesman for the Maratha Revolutionary Front said that the protesters were also demanding higher prices for farm produce and loan waivers for poor farmers.
Wednesday’s march was the first Maratha protest organized in Mumbai and marks the conclusion of a series of 57 marches in 2016 across the state. They launched the movement a year ago to demand the death penalty for those arrested over the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl from the community, expanding demands as the movement grew.