Understanding BhimaKoregaon

Understanding BhimaKoregaon

Context

Hindutva forces are worried by the conspicuous politicisation of Dalits

The History

BhimaKoregaon in Pune, Maharashtra, the seat of unrest now, is a tiny village, but is associated with an extraordinary phase of Maratha history

Legendary Battle

  • Two hundred years ago, on January 1, 1818, a few hundred Mahar soldiers of the East India Company, led by the British, defeated the massive Peshwa army, led by PeshwaBajirao II, in Koregaon
  • This battle has, since, attained legendary stature in Dalit history

Victory against injustice

  • Ambedkarite Dalits do not see this from the narrow lens of nationalism versus imperialism. Over the years, as the battle came to be seen as a victory of the Maharsagainst the injustices perpetuated by the BrahminicalPeshwas, thousands of Ambedkarites have been gathering in BhimaKoregaon on January 1 to pay their respect at the Vijay Sthamb (victory pillar)
  • The pillar was erected by the East India Company in memory of those who fought the battle and includes the names of the Mahar soldiers who unknowingly brought an end to the Peshwa rule in 1818.

The past and the present

Dalits are unanimous in drawing inspiration from the victory. In recent years, particularly in Maharashtra, since the Bhima-KoregaonRanstambh Seva Sangh (BKRSS) was formed, Dalits regard the pillar as a site of positive memory of their valour and a symbol of their renewed political aspiration

Strategic

Their denunciation of the Peshwas is strategic

it helps them relate to their social and political marginalisation in contemporary times

Questions

The debate here, however, is whether such invoking of history is effective in hoisting Dalit politics to a new level? What happened on the day of the battle’s 200th anniversary which led to the death of one

Planned by Hindutva Organisations

Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of B.R. Ambedkar and a prominent Dalit leader from Maharashtra, has said that a few Hindutva organisations planned and perpetuated violence against the Dalits in BhimaKoregaon

These organisations have been polarising the political landscape on religious and caste lines, particularly against Ambedkarite Dalits who are seen as impediments to their political project.

A Dalit man cremated Sambhaji, eldest son of Shivaji

  • A recent, and crucial, illustration of this was at WadhuBudruk, a village not far from BhimaKoregaon. VadhuBudruk is where Sambhaji, the eldest son of the Maratha ruler Shivaji, was cremated after being killed by the Mughals in 1689
  • As the legend goes, Sambhaji’s body was mutilated and thrown into a river by Aurangzeb
  • It was Govind Mahar (Gaikwad), a Dalit resident of VadhuBudruk, who then gathered the body parts together and made arrangements for the last rites.

Memorial of both Sambhaji and Govind Mahar

Sambhaji’s memorial was said to have been erected by the Mahars of that village. Consequently, Govind Mahar’s tomb was also erected in the village after his death.

This memorial and the role of Govind Mahar questioned

  • A few days ago, upper caste Marathas, who refuse to acknowledge the role played by Govind Gaikwad and other Mahars in the last rites of Sambhaji, objected to a sign at the site that recounted the story
  • Complaints were filed with the police by both side

Pre Planned attacks

In Maharashtra, there has been a consistent effort to situate Maratha history within the anti-Muslim Hindutva framework — in fact, this even predates the rise of the political right-wing in the State

Unemployment and illiteracy luring the youth

Maratha youth, who are facing unemployment and a lack of educational opportunities, are now being easily pulled into these conflicts by Hindutva organisations that are consequently built by invoking past Maratha glory

The violent clashes in BhimaKoregaon were an extension of the conflict in WadhuBudruk

This year was the 20th year anniversary

Being the 200th anniversary, that gathering in BhimaKoregaon this year was much larger than usual

Big public conference

Many Dalit and Bahujan groups collectively organised a big public conference in the name of Elgar Parishad at Shaniwar Wada, which was the seat of the Peshwas until 1818

Neo Peshwai

The agenda of this conference was evidently against Hindutva politics which was powerfully manifested by projecting Hindutva politics as the neo-peshwai (new Peshwas). JigneshMevani and Prakash Ambedkar were invited.

Politicisation of Dalits

  • The conspicuous politicisation of Dalits against Hindutva, particularly after the Una violence in Gujarat, has been a cause of concern for those who propagate the latter
  • The Elgar Parishad helped consolidate their apprehensions against the politicised Dalits

Conclusion

The new political articulation of the Dalits (by equating Hindutva with the Peshwai) has annoyed the right-wing forces and exposed the fault lines we are seeing today.

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