Nashik, May 20: People here trooped out Sunday on the streets to welcome and offer chilled soft drinks to over 1,000 Muslims who embarked on a 300-km Gandhian march to Mumbai demanding reservations in job, an official said.
The protestors started from the sensitive power-loom town of Malegaon after the Friday prayers for Mumbai's Azad Maidan as their destination, which they hope to cover by May 26, according to Muslim Reservation Federation (MRF) spokesperson and social activist Aleem Faizi.
"As we pass through small towns and villages, more and more Muslims are joining the 'padyatra' to express support for the cause of 20 percent job and other reservations for the community people," Faizi told IANS.
The protestors are carrying the national flag, banners and placards espousing the cause and march briskly, braving the rising mercury in the hinterland from dawn to dusk.
Faizi said the MRF is an umbrella organisation of over a dozen major Muslim organisations from the state, all working towards a common goal of reservations for Muslims.
Traversing through Chandwad, Wadalibhoi, Pimpalgaon, Ojhar, Wadiwarhe, Ghoti, Igatpuri, Kasara, Shahapur, Bhiwandi, Thane and finally onto Mumbai, the march is expected to swell to over 20,000 people, Faizi said.
Besides Nashik, Muslims have joined the "long march" from districts like Pune, Nanded, Dhule, Satara, Beed and other cities in the state.
According to Faizi, the "long march" was envisaged six months ago to seek 20 percent reservations for the community across the country.
MRF founder Asif Shaikh Rasheed, who is leading the march, said that the Sachar Committee had recommended reservations as one of the remedies to remove the backwardness and alienation of the country's largest minority community.
"Five years since the report, nothing has moved ahead and the ground realities have worsened, compelling us to undertake a strong action," Rasheed said.
Rasheed said that providing reservations in government jobs is one way to empower the Muslim community, counted among the most backward in the country.
"We are not satisfied with the government's move to concede the demands before 2014, we want it now," he declared.
Speaking to media persons en route, Maharashtra Jamiat-ul-Ulema chief Hafiz Nadeem Siddiqui said that if the government does not consider the demand on top priority, the agitation would be intensified.
While Muslims from Andhra Pradesh have already been given reservations, he alleged, "Maharashtra appears to be ruled by the RSS."
Kul Jamaat Tanzeem chief Abdul H. Azhari, which is also participating in the "long march", said that the development of any nation is directly linked with the evolution of alienated, backward and downtrodden communities.
"Look at Maharashtra, not a single Muslim was elected in the Lok Sabha despite the state Muslims accounting for over 10 percent of the total population," Azhari pointed out.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board member Hafiz Umrain said that the community is aware of its vote power.
"If the government fails to grant Muslim reservations, then it must be prepared to face the consequences in the next elections," Umrain warned.