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Bhima Koregaon: How the case developed in last one year

In the aftermath of the Bhima-Koregaon violence, the political narrative shifted around the Dalit-Marathas equation in the state.

The 1st day of January marks the beginning of a new year and celebrations for everyone around the world, but for the Dalit community, the day also commemorates the battle of Bhima Koregaon, a significant event in the Dalit history that was unknown to the masses at large until last year. But before moving on to what happened last year, first, let us know why the battle of Bhima-Koregaon is so significant for the Dalit community.

About two hundred years ago, on January 1, 1818, around 500 Mahar soldiers of the East India Company, led by the British, defeated the massive army led by Peshwa Bajirao II, in Koregaon. Since then the battle of Bhima-Koregaon has become a significant turn in a Dalit history. The defeat brought an end to the Peshwa rule.  The East India Company, which led the Mahar soldiers erected a pillar in memory of those who fought the battle. The names of the Mahar soldiers are inscribed on the pillar.
East India Company Army
(Image Source: Web)

Years later, it was Dalit revolutionary Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar who visited the pillar and paid tribute to the soldiers. In his view, this battle was a victory of Mahars over the Peshwas and their brahminical rule in which Dalits were tortured and discriminated. Since then the Bhima-Koregaon village sees Dalit communities gathering at the Vijay Stambh every year on January 1st.

It was last year, the 200th anniversary of the battle,  that a major clash broke out between the Dalit community and Marathas at the Bhima-Koregaon Which brought this tiny village in the national spotlight. The clashes were violent which resulted in the death of one person and injured several years. The next day on January 2, Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar called for a Maharashtra Bandh to protest the attack on Dalit congregation which resulted in a streak of violence across the state.
Image Source: Web
The clashes had political implications too, even beyond the state of Maharashtra. In the aftermath of the Bhima-Koregaon violence, we saw narratives being shifted around the Dalit-Marathas equation in the state. Whereas the trail of investigation in the clashes led to Elgar Parishad, an event that brought prominent Dalit faces on one stage. The Dalit leaders, on the other hand, said that Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote were the real conspirators behind the attack on Dalits at Bhima-Koregaon. On January 3, Dalit social activist Anita Savale filed a complaint alleging that she saw the followers of Bhide and Ekbote go on a rampage in Bhima Koregaon, throwing stones and assaulting people.  The police investigation, however, couldn’t find any link between the violence. Milind Ekbote who was arrested was later granted bail by the court.
Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote (Image Source: Web)
In the months that followed, It was a complaint made by a Pune Businessman Tushar Damgude that the police investigation shifted in the direction of Elgar Parishad which brought the focus on Dalit leaders that attended the event. Damgude complained that the provocative speeches were made at Elgar Parishad which led to the Bhima-Koregaon violence the following day. Since then ten of the activists have been named and many of them have been arrested by the police. The trail of investigation also gave us the most discussed terminology of the year i.e. Urban Naxals or Urban Maoists.
The police claimed the Elgar Parishad was funded by banned CPI(Maoists). The arrests, in this case, were made under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. On June 6, the police arrested five activists – Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen and Rona Wilson –Labelling them “urban Maoist operatives”, the police claimed to have found incriminating evidence that they were plotting to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On August 28, the police raided 10 more activists and arrested five of them – Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao and Sudha Bharadwaj. The critics of the government say that it is a plot of the central and state government to suppress any voice of criticism. Whereas the government stands by the police and justifies the arrest of the alleged Urban Naxals.
Bhima Koregaon
Image Source: Web
One year on, the pillar at Bhima-Koregaon still stands to attract thousands. Reportedly this year more than five lakh people are expected to gather at the spot. Considering the clashes that broke out last year, the security has been beefed up and around 7000 police personnel have been deployed. Prominent leaders are expected to attend the gathering including Bhim Army’s Chandrasekhar Azad who claimed he was put under house arrest a few days ago in Maharashtra. While the police have denied any permission to the rally, the stage for the Azad’s address has been set up.

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