#theyearthatwas: 2018 dawned with Bhima Koregaon violence in Pune district
The year 2018 opened on a dark note for Pune with caste clashes at Bhima Koregaon on January 1. This turned into a major national issue with the police arresting 10 activists from different parts of the country on charges of being “urban Maoists”.
Located around 40 kilometres from Pune, the Bhima Koregaon village has since then witnessed an uneasy clam with the locals worried of possible trouble during the annual gathering of Dalits at the victory memorial erected by the British in memory of those killed in the historic Battle of Koregaon. This memorial is of special significance for Dalits as it has emerged as a symbol of their victory over higher castes.
The repercussions of Bhima Koregaon was also felt across the state for next one week with violence reported from various places including Mumbai and Pune when Dalit organisations called for a bandh.
Soon after the riots, questions were being raised about possible intelligence failure because of which the police failed to take pre-emptive steps. The state government constituted a two-member commission comprising retired Kolkata High Court chief justice JN Patel and former Maharashtra chief secretary Sumit Mullick to probe into the overall circumstances of the riot. The commission, set up in February to investigate the January 1 violence has received more than 490 affidavits, mostly from Mumbai and Pune.
Interestingly when the riots broke out, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis was in Karjat taluka of Ahmednagar district which is barely 40 km from Bhima Koregaon. However, the police force was caught unawares when vandals went on a rampage and set on fire vehicles and shops in the vicinity.
Although the chief minister categorically denied any intelligence failure that led to the violence, prominent Dalit leader and Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh president Prakash Ambedkar alleged that the police machinery had no hint of possible conflict.
“Whether the on-ground information was passed to the higher authorities needs to be examined and brought on record. It is clear that Bhima Koregaon riots have taken place due to intelligence failure,” Ambedkar told an inquiry commission recently.
Meanwhile, as many as 655 cases were filed by the police in Pune district and elsewhere during and after the riots. However, Fadnavis has said that the government has recommended withdrawal of 275 cases. Among those arrested for their alleged Maoist links and for instigating the riots are activists Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut, Soma Sen, P Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha.
Drawing lessons from what happened last year, the police are taking enough measures to prevent any untoward incident: Social media posts are being monitored with the promise of action against those posting “objectionable” contents. The Pune rural police have also decided to increase the security this time to prevent any untoward incident. “We have decided to deploy around 5,000 personnel and additional force is being called from neighbouring districts too,” said Pune superintendent of police Sandip Patil.
On its part, the district administration is also taking extra efforts through confidence-building measures among villages. District collector Naval Kishore Ram, who has visited Bhima Koregaon multiple times during the past one month along with Patil, said, “Given last year’s riots, we have called several times the meeting between both communities in Bhima Koregaon, Vadhu Budruk and other villages. The villagers too have assured us that the January 1 event will be peaceful this time.”
Why the violence erupted?
January 1, 2018 : What happened?
On January 1, Large number of Dalits had gathered to celebrate the bicentenary of the 1818 Battle of Koregaon at victory memorial in the Maratha dominated village Bhima Koregaon, around 40 kilometres from Pune.
The violence triggered between the two communities resulted in the death of a 28-year-old youth Rahul Phatangale and damage to properties worth ₹40 crore.
According to officials, the trigger for the violence was a contentious board put up near the tomb of Govind Gaikwad, claiming that it was this ‘untouchable’ Gaikwad who had performed the last rites of the Maratha king Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj.
· It was on December 30, 2017, that a board was erected near Gaikwad’s tomb which was objected to by some Maratha outfits, sparking tension in the area.
What went wrong?
Intelligence Failure? Soon after the riots broke out, questions were being raised about possible intelligence failure because of which the police failed to take pre-emptive steps.
What to expect in 2019
As has happened every year, a large number of Dalits will be coming to Bhima Koregaon for the January 1 to pay homage at the victory memorial. While the numbers may not match up to last year, the police will be keeping a strict vigil to prevent violence.
In Pune, various Dalit and left-leaning outfits have decided to hold events before and after January 1. Among the most prominent is the Elgar Parishad gathering scheduled on January 12, organized by former Supreme Court judge PB Sawant and former Bombay High Court judge BG Kolse Patil.