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Saturday, Sep 21, 2019

Bhima Koregaon violence: Villagers blame outsiders for orchestrating violence

Located off the Pune-Ahmednagar highway roughly 40 km from Pune, Bhima Koregaon was pushed under the national spotlight after violent clashes rocked the bicentennial celebration of a war that had been passing off peacefully for decades

pune Updated: Dec 09, 2018 15:12 IST
Yogesh Joshi and Nadeem Inamdar
Yogesh Joshi and Nadeem Inamdar
Hindustan Times, Pune
Janabai Phatangale mother of Rahul Phatangale  still morns her son at her residence in Sanaawaadi. Rahul Phatangale his life last year during riots at Koregaon Bhima in Pune
Janabai Phatangale mother of Rahul Phatangale still morns her son at her residence in Sanaawaadi. Rahul Phatangale his life last year during riots at Koregaon Bhima in Pune(Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)
         

The winter brings bad memories for Janabai Phatangale.

It was around this time last year when she was trying to convince her son Rahul to get married. A mechanic at Sanaswadi village in Maharashtra’s Pune district, Rahul was not too averse to the idea, knowing that his mother wanted to have a family to take care of her as she grew old.

But that was not to be. On New Year’s Day, Rahul stepped out of his home in the morning to buy vegetables from the local market and was hit on the head with a large piece of rock on his way back. He was rushed to the hospital but succumbed to deep head wounds by the end of day, becoming the first casualty to riots and stone pelting that broke out in Bhima Koregaon, 15 km away.

Janabai, who is in her 60s, says her family was never interested in politics, or in the caste tensions that roiled the region last year, but cannot forget how her 28-year-old son was taken away from her. She spends most of her time indoors nowadays, cloistered in her modest home, praying for closure as the police are yet to file a charge sheet in the case. They have arrested four people, and released photos of more suspects, but for months, there has been no progress and the investigation appears stalled.

“I will settle for nothing less than the death penalty for those responsible for the death of my son,” she said haltingly.

Located off the Pune-Ahmednagar highway roughly 40 km from Pune, Bhima Koregaon was pushed under the national spotlight after violent clashes rocked the bicentennial celebration of a war that had been passing off peacefully for decades.

What was a mark of Dalit pride and assertion – the war’s significance lies in the fact that a Dalit-dominated British army defeated the Peshwa rulers, who were notorious for oppressive caste practices – now resembles a crime scene. Police have thrown a protective cordon around the commemorative obelisk, restricted access to visitors and there is talk of tight security and heavy checks at the annual celebration this year to ward off any tension.

But locals in the village with a population of 5,000 say there was no tension in the region to begin with and that the violence was orchestrated by outsiders who came in large numbers. “For years, we have been living here peacefully. Last year, a large numbers of outsiders came and created violence for which we are now paying the price,” said an angry Ramdas Gavhane, whose son Kiran was booked in a case related to rioting.

He is a Maratha, as are most others in the village that has a small Dalit population but a chief from the scheduled caste community. As many as 655 cases were filed by the police in Pune district and elsewhere during and after riots. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis last week announced that the government had recommended the withdrawal of 275 such cases.

As the date for this year’s celebration draws near, locals brace for a repeat of the violence and say they are wary of a backlash. “All of us here want to live in harmony,” said Sangeeta Govind Kamble, the village chief of Bhima Koregaon.

The administration is confident that they have adequate security measures in place. “We are confident that the January 1 programme will take place without any disturbances,” said district collector Naval Kishore Ram

First Published: Dec 09, 2018 15:10 IST