Maharashtra bandh: The story behind Bhima Koregaon violence and Dalit angst
It was on a chilly afternoon of December 29, 2017, at the sleepy hamlet of Vadhu Budruk, some 3 kilometres away from Koregaon-Bhima in Pune district, that some unidentified miscreants gathered at the tomb of a local hero and defiled a worn nameplate at the site.
The tomb belonged to Govind Gopal Mahar (Gaikwad), a wrestler by profession, who had performed the last rites of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj. The 31-year-old Sambhaji was assassinated in 1689 and his body severely mutilated by Emperor Aurangzeb’s soldiers. (Catch Maharashtra bandh LIVE updates here)
The Mughals had warned that anybody who dared to perform the last rites of the slain Maratha warrior king would be punished with death.
However, defying the orders, Gaikwad stitched together the pieces of the king’s body and helped perform the last rites. Though he was later killed by the British, Gaikwad has remained a symbol of ‘Dalit Pride and Courage’ for centuries.
For his courageous services, Gaikwad was honoured with a memorial opposite the tomb of Sambhaji, the eldest son of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Cut to December 31, 2017.
A ‘Yalgar Parishad’ was held in the historic Shaniwarvada area of Pune to commemorate the eve of the 200th anniversary of the historic Koregaon-Bhima war between the vanquished army of Peshwa Bajirao II, and a small force of the victorious East India Company that comprised a large number of Mahar Dalits.
The conference saw power-packed speeches by several prominent personalities, including newly-elected Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, JNU student Umar Khalid, Radhika Vemula, Soni Sori, Vinay Ratan Singh, Prashant Dontha and others.
The 200th anniversary of the Koregaon-Bhima battle of January 1, 1818, was celebrated as usual on Monday by the Koregaon-Bhima Shaurya Din Prerana Abhiyan, in which an estimated 400,000 people from across Maharashtra participated.
Despite tight security, some groups waving saffron flags allegedly pelted stones at the gathering and this soon degenerated into violent riots, leading to the death of a 28-year old youth from Nanded, Rahul Fatangale, with more than 20 vehicles damaged.
Early on Tuesday morning, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar and Congress Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil squarely blamed the BJP-led state government for lapses resulting in the previous day’s violence and appealed for peace and calm among all communities.
A grim chief minister Devendra Fadnavis hurriedly announced a judicial probe by a “sitting judge” of the Bombay high court, a CID investigation into the violence and compensation of Rs 10 lakh for the victim’s family.
Moving swiftly amid rising Dalit furore, the police in Pune’s Pimpri suburb lodged a complaint against Shivjagar Pratisthan president Sambhaji Bhide Guruji and Hindu Janjagruti Samiti president Milind Ekbote.
Two activists — Akshay Bikkad and Anand Dhond — lodged complaints with the Pune police on Wednesday terming the December 31 speeches of Mevani and Khalid as being provocative and inciting the people “to come out on the roads and retaliate”.
However, seething Dalit groups were unconvinced by the government assurances and Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, a Dalit party headed by Prakash Ambedkar — the grandson of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar — called for a “peaceful Maharashtra shutdown” on Wednesday to express anger over the Pune incidents of January 1.
Meanwhile, a surging tide of Dalit anger engulfed large parts of the state with 187 buses of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation damaged in 31 districts, besides scores of private buses, trucks, vehicles and two-wheelers.
The country’s commercial capital Mumbai was partially paralysed and millions were stranded on roads and railway stations as Dalit groups indulged in road and rail blockages, processions and protest demonstrations on Tuesday.
The Dalit parties’ sponsored ‘Maharashtra Shutdown’ on Wednesday has evoked huge response in Mumbai and other parts of the state due to rail and road blockages and protest marches, with the impact severe in the rural areas and Dalit strongholds in the state.
The shutdown and its background echoes in parliament with the Opposition parties like the Congress and others attacking the BJP-led government and demanding a statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.