More than 200,000 protesters poured into India's financial capital of Mumbai on Wednesday to press their demands for reserved quotas in government jobs and college places for students.
Rising unemployment and falling farm incomes are driving agricultural communities across India, from the state of Haryana in the north to Gujarat in the west, to redouble calls for reservations in jobs and education.
Virendra Pawar, a spokesman for the Maratha Kranti Morcha, or Maratha Revolutionary Front, said that the protesters were also demanding higher prices for farm produce and loan waivers for poor farmers.
"Farming is no longer profitable and jobs are not available," said one protester, Pradip Munde, a farmer from Osmanabad, a town more than 400 km (250 miles) southeast of Mumbai. "Reservation can ensure us better education and jobs."
Two-thirds of India's population of 1.3 billion depend on farming for their livelihood, but the sector makes up just 14 percent of gross domestic product, reflecting a growing divide between the countryside and increasingly well-off cities.
The Front was launched last year by a group of Maratha organisations to protest the alleged rape and killing of a teenage Maratha girl in Ahmednagar district of the state. It later took on other causes.
Young people and senior citizens of western India's Maratha community waved saffron flags in a protest police said was free of incidents of violence, with more than 10,000 policemen on guard amid an estimated turnout of 200,000 demonstrators.