Remembering 202nd anniversary of Bhima-Koregaon battle

Remembering 202nd anniversary of Bhima-Koregaon battle

Dalits take part in a protest rally during their Maharashtra Bandh called over the Bhima Koregaon violence, in Karad. (PTI Photo)

January 1 is the 202nd anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle. Lakhs of people congregate every year at the 'Jay Stambh' (victory pillar) near Koregaon-Bhima village to offer tributes. The battle was fought on Jan. 1, 1818, between the British East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy.

Why is a British victory celebrated?

The battle of Bhima-Koregaon was a decisive fight of the lower castes to achieve social justice, according to Somnath Waghmare, director of a documentary film on Bhima Koregaon and a research scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

In an interview with DH, Waghmare said the Mahars, the backbone of the Maratha army since Shivaji, defected to the East India Company army because of brutal caste discrimination during Peshwa rule. Moreover, the battle was against a princely kingdom, not against the Indian nation. It happened long before the concept of Indian nationalism emerged.

The Indian Army still has a Mahar Regiment formed by the British after the Koregaon battle. The regiment salutes the 'stupa' every year.

Violence at the end of 2017, early 2018

In December 2017, a committee representing a Peshwa family had requested police not to allow the marking of the anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle saying that it hurts their sentiments. But the police did not issue a notice.

On Dec. 29, 2017, a Sangh Parivar outfit allegedly attacked the tomb of Govind Gaikwad, who had performed the last rites of Sambhajiraje, son of Shivaji, near Koregaon. The next day, the Koregaon village committee asked the police to close entry to the village.

On Dec. 31, 2017, a committee representing about 200 organisations, conducted an event at Shaniwar Wada in Pune to commemorate the Bhima-Koregaon battle. It was addressed by Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani, JNU scholar Umar Khalid and others. They spoke against the growing threat of the Hindu right-wing, especially to lower castes and minorities.

Violence then broke out during bicentenary celebrations of the Bhima Koregaon battle on Jan. 1, 2018. One person was killed and several others were injured.

In a recent development, Conspiracy to "assassinate" Prime Minister Narendra Modi and "overthrow" the government besides "waging war" against the Government of India are among the charges brought against all 19 accused by the prosecution in the Elgar Parishad-Koregaon Bhima case of Maharashtra.

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