New Year Day violence in Bhima Koregaon

Koregaon Bhima, 30 kilometres north east of Pune

Attacks on Dalits who had gathered on January 1 (Monday) to commemorate battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818. British army with Mahar (Dalit) soldiers defeated Peshwa.

Peshwa hereditary prime ministers were notorious for their rigid enforcement of caste segregation.

Video footage shows people with saffron flags and shirts attacking people with blue flags and cars with blue signs.

But on Tuesday afternoon, the Maratha residents of Koregaon Bhima held a counter rally. They claimed that it was Dalits who had come from outside the village who had attacked them.

The police too said that the violence had been conducted by parties on “both sides”.

On Tuesday, hundreds of Maratha women sat in protest at a chowk in Koregaon Bhima. They said that permission should be denied for the commemoration next year unless the village is given military protection.

A group of Maratha men further down the road set fire to a biryani stall owned by a member of the Dalit community. The dhaba was right next to another eatery that had been vandalised the previous day.

Many of the houses and shops vandalised along the main road belong to Marathas. A small Ganesha temple near the bridge at the end of the village was also damaged.

Ganesh Dherange, 26, who runs a kirana shop, said that every year his family sets up a stall on the main road of Koregaon Bhima to sell water to those visiting a memorial pillar that is the focus of the celebrations. Outsiders holding blue flags broke the car and hit his father when he tried to stop them. His father, Bhausaheb Dherange, had a visible head injury.

Ashok Dherange, president of the Shiv Sena in Shirur block of Pune district, claimed that even his wife was attacked by people with blue flags. “I am so angry, no matter what happens, I am going to burn down a Dalit house tonight.”

Battle for history

As it turns out, Monday’s trouble was sparked not in Koregaon Bhima, but in another clash over history in Wadu Budruk, a village a few kilometers to its west.

Sambhaji and Shivaji are both highly regarded by Dalits for their progressive views. Sambhaji was murdered in 1689. Govind Gaikwad, a Mahar resident of Wadu, conducted his last rites. There is now a memorial to Gaikwad at Wadu.

Many people who visit Bhima Koregaon also head to Wadu Budruk to pay their respects to Gaikwad.

In preparation for the bicentennial at Koregaon Bhima, Buddhists at Wadu Budruk had put up a sign outside Govind Gaikwad’s tomb highlighting his role in conducting Sambhaji’s last rites.

On December 28, Wadu Budruk village organized meeting to discuss how to manage the new year’s weekend, when presumably thousands of people would come to visit. The meeting turned violent and a crowd vandalized not only the signboard but also Govind Gaikwad’s tomb. They also threatened people of the Mahar caste in the village. Mahars are vastly outnumbered in Wadu Budruk village, with only around 100 people, against the approximately 7,000 Marathas there, Gaikwad said.

Planned for months?

The starting point of the violence was not even in Wadu Budruk, but in Whatsapp forwards they have been seeing for two months now complaining about the Dalit celebration of Bhima Koregaon.

Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote have been names as the instigators of the trouble at Bhima Koregaon on Monday.

About Raghu Mahajan

Postdoctoral research fellow in theoretical physics, studying quantum gravity.
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