An eyewitness account of Bhima Koregaon violence

An eyewitness account of Bhima Koregaon violence

An eyewitness account of Bhima Koregaon violence

The violence which erupted on January 1st during the 200th-anniversary celebration of the Bhima Koregaon battle captured the headlines in Indian media. Protests against the violence on the participants of the commemoration stalled the entire state of Maharashtra for two days.

DH spoke to Somnath Waghmare, a participant of the celebration and also the director of a documentary titled 'Bhima Koregaon - an unending journey'. He is currently a research scholar at Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), Mumbai.

Do you visit Bhima Koregaon every year?

Yes,  I had visited  Bhima Koregaon during my childhood. But it has become an annual event since I moved to Pune for my postgraduate degree in 2009.

What happens during the celebration? Are there any rituals involved?

The celebrations start on December 31. People throng to Bhima Koregaon and stay there through the night. On Jan 1st and 2nd, there are multiple programmes by various Dalit-Bahujan organisations. People pay homage to the 'stupa' with flowers.  At night, speeches by Buddhist monks and Dalit leaders and cultural programmes are held.  Lakhs of people from all around the world visit the Koregaon during this period.




What led to the violence this year?

Earlier in December a committee of Peshwa family had requested the authorities to not allow the Bhima Koregaon Battle anniversary at Koregaon as it affects their sentiments. But no notice was issued to that effect.

On December 29, members of a local Sangh Parivar outfit attacked the tomb of Govind Gaikwad, who is known for performing the last rites of Sambhaji, son of Shivaji Maharaj, at Wadhu Budruk village near Bhima Koregaon. Next day, the village committee of Koregaon asked the police to close entry to the village.

On December 31, a committee of nearly 200 organisation conducted a programme at Shaniwar Wada in Pune to commemorate the Bhima Koregaon battle. Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani, JNU Scholar Umar Khalid and others addressed the programme. They spoke against the growing threat of Hindutva to the society, especially to the lower castes and minorities.

Unlike each year, there were no Maratha shops and houses on the way to Koregaon open on January 1st. An eatery run by a Dalit, vehicles in nearby villages were torched and people on their way to Koregaon were also attacked. I suspect this was a pre-planned attack on Dalits orchestrated by the Sangh Parivar.

Why do people celebrate the victory of British colonial troops? Isn't it the real reason for provoking right-wing outfits?

The battle of Bhima Koregaon was not just a battle between the English East India Company and Maratha-Peshwa's, it was the decisive fight of lower castes in order to achieve social justice. The Mahars, who were the backbone of the Maratha army since Shivaji, defected to the Company army due to the brutal caste discrimination during Peshwa rule. This was an inspiration for all lower castes as well as people who wished to see equality in Indian society.

Moreover, the battle was against a princely kingdom, not against the Indian nation. It happened long before the concept of Indian nationalism emerged. We have to consider the positive aspect of the battle - the victory of lower caste over oppressive rulers.  The  Indian Army still has a Mahar Regiment formed by the British after the Koregaon battle. The regiment comes and salutes the 'stupa' every year.

There is a middle class that has emerged among Dalits,  who are assertive and question the existing caste-based social order. Sangh Parivar outfits who are still stuck in age-old Brahmanical mindset are not ready to accept the assertive Dalit voice. So they resort to violence.

What do you think the aftermath of this violence and Dalit protests?

For a long time, there was no media coverage of the annual congregation in Bhima Koregaon. This year, due to the violence, they are now talking about the  Bhima Koregaon congregation and battle. I see it is a positive step, though some media groups tried to distort the events.

The violence has created a sentiment among lower castes against the ruling Hindutva group. Even some Marathas groups supported the Dalits in this movement. Therefore, I see a bright future where Dalits will lead the democratisation of India as envisaged by Babasaheb Ambedkar.





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