5 lakh at Bhima Koregaon’s mega Dalit event near Pune, Internet shut down
Nearly five lakh Dalits have gathered at Bhima Koregaon 40 km from Pune to commemorate the Anglo-Maratha battle of 1818, an event that had seen violence two years ago and triggered a police crackdown on community leaders. The state government has deployed nearly 10,000 at the venue and suspended access to Internet as a precautionary measure, a senior Pune district official said.
Pune district collector Naval Kishore Ram had earlier indicated that the administration would suspend internet in areas around the event to prevent rumour mongering on social media. Special Inspector General (Kolhapur range) Suhas Wadke said about five lakh pilgrims had already gathered at the venue. The total number of pilgrims at the memorial is expected to rise during the day. Last year, it was attended by 10 lakh people.
Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and prominent Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar were among those who visited the monument early morning and offered flowers. Several other ministers from the state and central government are expected during the day for the celebrations.
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The January 1 event at Bhima Koregaon ‘Jai stambh’, the victory monument of the third Anglo–Maratha battle won by the British forces, marks the 202nd anniversary of this victory.
The East India Company’s army was supported by soldiers from the Mahar community that was considered untouchables at that time. The annual event to commemorate the victory over the so-called upper caste Peshwas has been seen to symbolise assertiveness by Dalits.
Violence had broken out at Bhima Koregaon during the 2018 celebrations in which one person was killed and several others were injured.
This time, police officers told HT that they had an ‘emergency communication plan’ in place. Local schools, colleges, offices and markets were closed for the day and traffic towards the Pune end of the Pune–Ahmednagar highway was diverted as sections had been closed for better crowd management.
Prakash Ambedkar said he was satisfied with the security and crowd management arrangements.