5 years on, Bhima Koregaon congregation still faces right wing resistance
With hundreds set to congregate at Koregaon Bhima in Shirur tehsil of Maharashtra’s Pune district on January 1 to commemorate the 205th anniversary of the Anglo-Maratha war, security has been beefed up. In view of Maharashtra Karni Sena chief Ajay Sengar’s demand to ban the annual congregation, a huge posse of police officers and personnel have been be deployed to maintain security arrangements.
Every year, hundreds of Ambedkariates and Dalits gather at the “JayStambh” (victory pillar) to celebrate the victory of British forces over the Peshwa Army on January 1, 1818. On this day, commemorated as ‘Shaurya Diwas, the Mahar caste soldiers of the Bombay Native Infantry of East India Company defeated the Peshwas in this war.
Violence along caste lines in 2018
On January 1, 2018, the annual event had sparked off a caste violence. Two groups had clashed with each other along caste lines in the adjoining areas of Koregaon Bhima, Sanaswadi, Kondhapuri and Shikrapur on Pune/Ahmednagar Road. While one person was reported dead, several others were suffered injuries.
Violence had erupted after activists had organised an event in Pune on December 31, 2017, commemorating the battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818, when a force of Mahar soldiers of the East India Company defeated the 28,000-strong forces of Peshwa Baji Rao II. The battle is seen as a dalit victory against upper-caste oppression.
The speeches at Shaniwar Wada
The organisers comprised a group of activists, political leaders and retired judges, who came together at Shaniwar Wada in Pune, under the banner of the Elgar Parishad (Congress for Speaking Aloud). The organisers included former Supreme Court judge, Justice P.B. Sawant, and former Bombay High Court judge, Justice B.G. Kolse-Patil.
The event saw songs, street plays and speeches on various issues, including Dalit rights. Many activists even slammed the Narendra Modi government in their speeches.
The speakers included Jignesh Mewani, Radhika Vemula, Umar Khalid, Vinay Ratan Singh, Soni Sori and Prashant Dontha. Khalid, who is currently in jail, gave a fiery speech on taking inspiration from Koregaon-Bhima battle to fight “modern day Peshwa rule of RSS and BJP.”
After stone-pelting at the location, allegedly by right-wing groups, clashes broke out, which led to state-wide protests for several days as Dalit protesters called for a bandh in Maharashtra.
According to the NIA, 16 people played an active role in “provoking” the crowd at Bhima Koregaon with their speeches and triggering violence. The 16 accused were arrested: While three persons have been released on bail, one person died in custody. The remaining 12 continue to languish in the prisons of Mumbai. In August, 2022, the Supreme Court granted 82-year-old activist and poet Varavara Rao – held as an undertrial in the case since August 28, 2018 – permanent bail on medical grounds. Five years after the infamous arrests, the annual event continues to face right wing resistance.
Security arrangements for January 1
Ahead of the anniversary celebrations, security was beefed up at Koregaon Bhima. Pune District Collector Rajesh Deshmukh and Pune Rural Superintendent of Police Ankit Goyal had held a series of meetings over the week to enhance security and traffic arrangements for the commemoration day. Around 1,500 mobile toilets will be kept in the area besides 20 medical response teams, 41 ambulances, additional bike ambulances, and several garbage collection vehicles. Traffic on the road too would be diverted.
Even as several Dalit organisations are set to assemble on Sunday, the Right-wing Karni Sena has announced to oppose the celebrations.
Sengar has demanded that the government ban the ‘Shaurya Din’ celebrations on January 1 and ‘demolish the Koregaon Bhima memorial’. Sengar, in his letter to Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, has alleged that the memorial celebrated British victory over Marathas and hence it was treacherous to valorise it.
Karni Sena, which represents the upper caste Rajputs, has demanded that the Maharashtra government should demolish the memorial located near Pune that commemorates the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, and ban the annual celebration related to the event.
The annual Bhima Koregaon event is celebrated to commemorate the victory of members of the Dalit Mahar caste – who fought for the British – over the Brahmin Peshwa-ruled Maratha empire on January 1, 1818.
The Maratha empire’s Peshwa prime ministers were known for their rigid enforcement of caste segregation. Dalits mark the battle as the first major step in their struggle against caste-based discrimination.
Courtesy : The federal
Note: This news piece was originally published in thefederal.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Rights.