Koregaon- Bhima Issue - Seeker's Thoughts

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Koregaon- Bhima Issue

Introduction: Bhīma Koregoan 

Every year on January 1, thousands of people belonging to the Mahar community in Maharashtra gather near the ‘victory pillar’ in the Koregaon organized an event that took place 201 years back on January 1, 1818.

 The Koregaon memorial is almost a pilgrimage site for the Mahar, a Dalit community, who take tremendous pride in the battle that the pillar celebrates.

Historical background 

Near about 200 hundred years ago on January 1, 1818, between the British East India Company on one side and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Alliance on the other. The Peshwa regiment had 2,000 soldiers while the east India company troops were 845-men strong. 

As per historical documents, neither of the two sides won a decisive victory. However, since this was one of the last battles of the Anglo- Maratha wars that resulted in company victory the battle of Koregaon soon came to remember as triumphant (celebrating victory) event for the British who constructed the victory pillar. 

The inscription of the pillar stated that the company forces “accomplished one of the proudest triumphs of the British army in the East”.

The battle of Koregaon was a clash over between the British and the Maratha rulers, Peshwa Baji Rao II. However, it held much significance for the Dalits, particularly Mahar who consider it a moment of their victory over Peshwa authority.

The Mahar community, though treated as untouchables, had been valued for their military skills for centuries. They formed a significant portion of Shivaji’s army as well. However, when the Peshwa took over, the Mahar community because of their low caste status were ill-treated by the ruling Brahmins of a particularly orthodox bent of mind. Next time, the Mahar regained their former status of military glory was when the British employed several them in their military units.

Dalit and Maratha Clashes happen while celebrating the Bhima- Koregaon Violence in 2018

Thereafter, when the battle of Koregaon took place, the Mahar formed most of the British troops. Their victory over a much stronger Peshwa contingent came to be commemorated over the years as an event of pride for the Mahar Community. They look back at it as an instance when they were successful in overcoming their untouchables status and defeating the Brahmins Peshwa. The Marathas, on the other hand, have considered the battles as a victory of British forces, which does not deserve to be celebrated because of nationalist sentiments.

What was the controversy?

In 2018 year, being the 200th anniversary of the battle, the gathering in Bhīma Koregaon was much larger than usual over 150 organizations, including Dalit group collectively organized a public conference called ELGAR PARISHAD a day before the march was due to be taken out. 
It was alleged by the Maharashtra police that the agenda of the conference was to oppose the Hindutva politics and the upper caste’s domination in the power corridors.

The Elgar Parishad was blamed to have organized as well- thought – out conspiracy to incite Dalits against the upper community, which became the reasons behind the conflict that Pune witnessed in January.

However, a committee appointed by the Pune rural police to investigate the incidence had said it was a pre-planned attack on Dalit community and blamed the Hindutva leaders for the violence. The report stated the atmosphere had been heating up a few prior to the Elgar Parishad as on 27 December 2017.

 On 29 December 2017, the report stated around 200-300 Hindutva Vadis vandalized a Dalit memorial, which led to tension in the area.

One 30 December, Ekbote again held a public meeting in which he appealed to people to observe 1 January as ‘black day’ and called for a bandh. The Pune police rejected the report.

In 2019, Thousands of people, mainly Dalits, on Tuesday flocked the ‘Jay Stambh’ memorial in Maharashtra’s Pune district to pay tributes on the 201st anniversary of the Koregaon Bhīma battle amidst heavy police presence.

The activists were arrested in June and have been accused of being directly responsible for the violence in the Maharashtra village on January 1.

Under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which has been applied in the case, the provoking speeches of the activists at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, had led to the violence at Koregoan Bhīma Parishad conclave. In the violence, one person was killed and at least three were injured.

According to the administration, activists were linked to Maoist groups and shown intolerance to present political system. There were “conclave proof” that they had a nexus with other unlawful groups and deliberate involvement in the larger conspiracy as administration stated. 

Even in June 2019, there were reports that some of the activitist were still in jail. 

Unity in Diversity

The cast differences always threatened the unity in diversity of India, where Dalit community feel oppressed by the treatment received from the upper-class communities throughout history. 

Celebrating the symbol of victory is not wrong- Their intentions are not anti-national neither they celebrated it as a symbol of British victory against India. The celebration is associated only with the respect they obtained for the first time and stood against the oppression. 

The maker of the constitution also regarded the incident as a remarkable incident for the community throughout history. However, no one pointed ever that 'maker of the constitution' were anti-national. This is unnecessary political activism against celebration and somewhere nationalist sentiments are not respecting the voice of democracy.