A caste revolution: From the streets to the web

Faisal Malik, Mumbai: As many as 50,000 WhatsApp groups, a website, a Facebook page, Twitter handles and

mobile apps all with the name of Maratha Kranti Morcha run by around 1,000 youngsters are driving the huge silent protest marches by the Maratha community, which haven taken over the political and social landscape of Maharashtra in the past month-and-a-half.
Insiders told HT that the movement, which initially started with the help of just circulation of messages on Whatsapp has turned into a full-fledged social-media driven exercise that now also includes the use of drone cameras to broadcast a live feed of rallies.“In the beginning, when protests were held in Aurangabad and Osmanabad, the mainstream media ignored and shunned us. That’s when we decided to rely on social media to spread the mass movement. And we have proven that the social media platform can be used in a positive way, the mainstream media is too biased,” said Bhaiya Patil, a co-ordinator from the social media team of the movement.A central war room, working from an undisclosed location, works on designing messages that are to be circulated on the Whatsapp groups, besides updating the website, Facebook page, Twitter handle and mobile app with news and videos about the protests and upcoming events.
All social media decisions are filtered from here.
All the messages circulated among the community are also prepared in the war room. They are written and designed to appeal and galvanise the community. “We take a lot of effort to make our messages appealing. All of them are in Marathi only because it is our mother tongue. For instance, “Aajvar Ladhlo Maatisaathi, Ek Ladha Jaatisaathi,” (Until now, we fought for our motherland, now let’s fight for our own caste). The message playing on the warrior caste’s lineage and their role in building the Maratha empire now asks them to come together for their caste.
Once a rally has been planned for a particular district, the central war room passes on specific guidelines governing these rallies such as do’s and don’ts, messages to mobilise the local community to the district-level team, who then further pass this information down.
“All news related to the movement is uploaded on these social media platforms as early as possible. We have started uploading online feeds of rallies as it progresses and drones are being used to capture photographs and keep tabs on the progress of the rally,” said a young member of team.
The objective is to keep members from the community, especially youngsters, updated all the time because they are the most important link of the movement and only this can keep the momentum going, he said.
The 50,000 or more WhatsApp groups working for the protests have been divided into district-, tehsil-, village-level and even smaller sub groups. A district where the rally is planned will have one district-level WhatsApp group comprising members from the district planning committee and is considered as a decision-making body for that district.
The members of that group are given responsibility to create tehsil-level WhatsApp groups, while the members of tehsil level WhatsApp groups are asked to create village-level WhatsApp groups and so on, which means hundreds and thousands of WhatsApp groups are being created in tehsils and villages respectively in support of the Maratha movement as and when required, the sources said.
“We as part of the central team send messages and updates to the district-level committees only and from there they pass on to the material to the last man in the smallest group. This tool has helped us control the movement, ensure non-violence and discipline for instance, which would have be very tough otherwise,” said Patil, who hails from Nanded district in Marathwada.
Patil said they always make a detailed plan for a rally right from the number of people participating, number of vehicles to be used for transportation, roads approaching the venue, the gathering point, among other things. “Based on this information, we decide how villagers will reach the venue and inform them accordingly as we have WhatsApp groups of each and every village. The team also informs people about parking place of their vehicle and its number and the route they need to take while going back home,” he said. “This makes the entire movement hassle free,” he added.
Patil said the central team also constantly monitors all activity with the community on social media and wherever necessary they intervene by sending out messages or clarifications.
“Often, efforts have been made to misuse our name by posting fake and objectionable materials. In such cases, we quickly react and come out with a clarification. We also request our members not to entertain such posts. To end this menace, we have designed our own logo, which is being used with the materials uploaded on social media and elsewhere,” Patil said.