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EVOLUTION OF MARATHA AND KUNBI IDENTITIES



  Jun 24, 2024

EVOLUTION OF MARATHA AND KUNBI IDENTITIES



HISTORICAL ORIGINS

The terms ‘Maratha’ and ‘Kunbi’ have undergone significant changes over centuries. The crystallization of the term ‘Maratha’ likely occurred between 1400 and 1600 C.E. to describe a newly emerging service elite. These were the chiefs who brought bands of followers to serve the Bahamani kingdom and its five successor states.

SOCIO-POLITICAL MOVEMENTS

The Maratha reservation agitation led by Manoj Jarange-Patil since September last year has highlighted the complex socio-political dynamics in Maharashtra. While demands for quotas in jobs and education for the economically backward Maratha community have been ongoing since the 1980s, recent dramatic hunger strikes have intensified the issue, putting pressure on the ruling Eknath Shinde-led Mahayuti government.

THE MARATHA AND KUNBI RELATIONSHIP

Historically, the Maratha and Kunbi identities were fluid. English civil servant R.E. Enthoven, in his 1922 work Tribes and Castes of Bombay, noted no significant difference in origin between the Maratha warriors and landholders and the Kunbi cultivators. The rise of Maratha power under Shivaji Bhosale in the 17th century led the warrior classes to claim Kshatriya status, differentiating themselves from the Kunbis.

IDENTITY FORMATION

The term ‘Maratha’ has evolved over time. Initially, it denoted all Marathi speakers and those who fought under Shivaji’s banner. By the 18th century, it included a broad range of social classes but was used in a narrower, caste-specific way, with Maratha families claiming a higher Kshatriya status compared to the Shudra status of the Kunbis.

MARATHA AND KUNBI IN HISTORICAL TEXTS

Scholars like Rosalind O’ Hanlon and Stewart Gordon have studied the process of identity formation in Maharashtra. Gordon notes that the crystallization of the term ‘Maratha’ likely occurred between 1400 and 1600 C.E., describing a service elite serving the Bahamani kingdom and its successors. O’ Hanlon highlights how the Maratha-Kunbi complex evolved, with many Kunbi families aspiring to elite Maratha status.

CONTEMPORARY CONFLICTS

Today, the demand by Marathas to be classified under the Kunbi category for OBC reservation benefits reflects a reversal of historical social mobility trends. This ongoing conflict underscores the dynamic and politically charged nature of Maratha and Kunbi identities in contemporary Maharashtra.

SIGNIFICANT WORKS

Key works that explore these identities include Enthoven’s Tribes and Castes of Bombay, O’ Hanlon’s Caste, Conflict and Ideology, and Gordon’s The Marathas. These works provide deep insights into the historical and socio-political evolution of these terms and their contemporary implications.

CONCLUSION

The evolution of Maratha and Kunbi identities demonstrates a complex interplay of historical, social, and political factors. Understanding this evolution is crucial to comprehending the current socio-political dynamics in Maharashtra.




SRIRAM’S



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