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is from Sangli and is a former professor of physics; he is affiliated to an organisation called Shi

Time:2018-01-18 02:38Shoes websites Click:

Dalit defiance

Interview with Prakash Ambedkar. By LYLA BAVADAM »

THE Koregaon Ranstambh, or the victory pillar in Koregaon Bhima village in Maharashtra, commemorates those who fell in the battle of Kore... »

The Bhima Koregaon violence and the spirited response to it from Dalits bring into focus the churning in their communities and their growing resistance to social and economic discrimination in an atmosphere of Hindutva dominance. By LYLA BAVADAM

On the road from Pune to Ahmednagar in western Maharashtra stands an obelisk. The inscription proclaims that Captain Staunton’s force “accomplished one of the proudest triumphs of the British Army in the East”. It lists the names of the 49 soldiers of the East India Company killed in the battle. To passers-by, it is just another relic from the past; for most of the year it stands like a lonely sentinel. But on January 1 every year the place comes alive and becomes a pilgrimage site of sorts. What seems a small piece of history of British rule in India is actually a place of inspiration for Dalits.

Ever since Dr B.R. Ambedkar visited the Bhima Koregaon memorial on January 1, 1927, it has been a tradition for Dalits to gather at the spot on the first day of the New Year. The day marks an important date in Dalit history because it was when the British East India Company’s soldiers defeated the army of Peshwa Bajirao II in the battle of Koregaon on January 1, 1818. Among the fighting units was a battalion of the Bombay Native Infantry, which consisted of about 500 Mahar soldiers. For them and future generations of Dalits, the victory was not just a military one but a victory over centuries of caste repression by the Peshwas. For them, visiting the site is like a pilgrimage, an assertion of pride for the community. Prakash Ambedkar of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh party, grandson of Dr Ambedkar, said Dalits were not concerned with the victory of the British and has termed the battle of Bhima Koregaon “a social liberation movement from caste prejudice”.

On January 1 this year, Dalits gathered as usual for the commemorative event. The numbers were larger this time because it was the bicentenary of the battle, but the celebrations ended before they began. Hindutva forces waving saffron flags and chanting “Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji” attacked the Dalits who had gathered. The riot that followed left one person dead and many injured. There were spontaneous protests across the State because the community felt the police reaction had been inadequate and tardy. Prakash Ambedkar’s call for a bandh on January 3 received overwhelming support. Mumbai, especially, came to a halt.

Brewing tension

So what was it that triggered the violence? Tension had already been brewing at the site of the war memorial.

There is a bit of history here that goes back to the time of the Maratha leader Shivaji. In 1689, Sambhaji, Shivaji’s son and successor, was captured by the Mughals who apparently dismembered him and threw his body parts into the Bhima river. A Dalit, one Govind Mahar, living in the nearby Vadhu Budruk village, collected the parts of the corpse and gave it a dignified ending by performing the last rites (one version even says he sewed the parts together). This was a brave act at the time because Govind Mahar could easily have invited the wrath of the Mughals on himself and his community. However, he survived, and a memorial was erected to Sambhaji, and when Govind Mahar died his samadhi was erected near Sambhaji’s.

Vadhu Budruk is near Bhima Koregaon. On December 29, 2017, a board was erected in the village (Koregaon Bhima is the official name of the village but the memorial is referred to as Bhima Koregaon, taking its name from the battle on the banks of the Bhima) extolling Govind Mahar’s benign act. This angered the Marathas who believed it was their ancestors who had performed Sambhaji’s last rites. Both sides filed complaints with the local police station. But the Marathas went a step further and vandalised Govind Mahar’s samadhi. Even this act of desecration did not assuage their rage, and on January 1, a mob of over 1,000 armed with stones, bottles and rods attacked buses that were ferrying Dalits to the Bhima Koregaon site. The violence lasted for more than four hours. The bandh call that followed was partly prompted by the knowledge that although the administration knew of the gathering of so many people en route to Bhima Koregaon, they took no pre-emptive action.

More than a local clash

But there is more to the story than just a local clash. Apparently two men—Manohar Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote—fanned the flames that led to the hostility at the memorial site. Neither is a resident of Koregaon Bhima or Vadhu Budruk. And both have histories that involve communal and saffron activities. Cases under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention ofAtrocities) Act, 1989, have been filed against Ekbote and Bhide for their alleged involvement.

Bhide, 85, is from Sangli and is a former professor of physics; he is affiliated to an organisation called Shiv Pratisthan Hindustan. He has told investigators that he lectures the youth on the greatness of Shivaji and his rule, and for this he travels all over Maharashtra. A Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) pracharak , he met Narendra Modi during his 2014 electoral campaign. There are also cases against him for provoking protests against the film Jodhaa Akbar, and he is believed to have been involved in the Sangli-Miraj riots of 2009 in which Muslims had objected to a poster depicting the slaying of Afzal Khan by Shivaji. The poster had been displayed in Miraj one day before Ganpati visarjan (immersion of the Ganpati idol). While the administration was attempting to resolve the dispute, some miscreants created further provocation by throwing beef in temples and placing pigs outside mosques.

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