The beginning of the new year was probably not very smooth for Maharashtra, as, on the very first day of the new year, violence broke out in Bhima Koregaon, near Pune. During an event to mark the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle near Pune, on Monday, 1 January, clashes broke out between Dalit groups and right-wing organisations.
On 2nd Jan, the protest and violence soon spread to other parts of Maharashtra, including Aurangabad, Solapur, and the suburbs of Mumbai. In order to control the situation and restore peace in the state, the Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has ordered a judicial inquiry by a sitting judge into the violence. The local pro-Dalit groups called for a shutdown of Maharashtra on 3 Jan, alleging that the Fadnavis government had failed to handle the violence and maintain law and order in the state.
The protest and the call for the shut down of the state began with the protestors gathering nearing the railway tracks, blocking the tracks for the local trains to pass. Several domestic airlines have waived cancellation charges on flights to and from Mumbai, Pune, and Aurangabad airports. Some Dalit parties started to block the suburban train services in Thane and Palghar and processions in Mumbai.
The Dalit activists, came down to the tracks, shouting slogans and waving flags, blocking the way for the trains at Thane and Virar stations in Palghar, but were prevented by the security forces. Meanwhile, the schools and colleges opened and operated like every day, but in wake of the violence and protests on the streets, the school busses denied to run the busses. A private school bus was stoned in Chembur but there were no injuries. We can’t risk students’ safety and security. Will take a second decision at 11 am if we can run them in the second half, depending on the situation,” a School Bus Owners’ Association spokesperson said.
According to the college authorities of the St Xavier’s College in south Mumbai, the examinations for class 11 were canceled due to the protests. Most of the taxi services also supported the shutdown and refused to operate, however, the suburban trains and the BEST (Bombay Electric Supply And Transport) bus services were running near-normally. Apart from this the Mumbaikars were also facing problems as the famed Dabbawala, had also stopped their services for a day, supporting the shutdown.
While, in Pune, many shops opened and worked normally, however, as a precautionary measure, many schools in the city were shut and the students were asked not to come. Officially, we did not declare that we will close the school. But, we are not taking any attendance. If parents want to bring their children to schools, then its fine,” principal of St Joseph School Flory Fargose said.
The Savitribai Phule Pune University also postponed the MCom examination. According to the officials, several local public transport vehicles refused to operate between Pune and nearby villages in view of the violence.
In comparison to the urban areas, the rural part of Maharastra was much affected by the protests. The coastal Konkan region reported a near-total shutdown, as also Dalit strongholds of Marathwada like Beed, Latur, Solapur, Jalgaon, Dhule, Ahmednagar, Nashik, and Palghar. Alos, internet services were suspended for a day in Aurangabad.
The grandson of BR Ambedkar, Prakash Ambedkar, and the head of The Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, a Dalit party said accused the Hindu Ekta Aghadi to be responsible for this violence. He also added that he had called for this violence and around 250 more such organisations had supported him.
While, the Gujarat Dalit leader, Jignesh Mewani, alleged that the supporters of Bharatiya Janta Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had carried out the attacks on the Dalits. These organisations are modern-day Peshwas, representing Brahminism in its worst form. Two hundred years ago, our forefathers fought against the Peshwas. Today, Dalits of my generation are fighting against the new Peshwas,” he said.
The incident began when the Dalits had all gathered to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle near Pune. The war that originally took place on 1 Han 1818, was fought between the British Army comprising of Mahar Dalits and the upper-caste Peshwas. The British, comprising the Dalit soldiers were successful in defeating the Peshwas. While the Dalits celebrated this day, as their victory over the Peshwas, under whom they suffered a lot. On the other hand for a number of right-wing groups, the celebration of this day was anti-national and casteist.
“Why can’t Dalits peacefully commemorate the anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle? The attackers have resorted to such methods because they are scared of Dalit assertion,” questioned Jignesh Mewani. While some of the state government officials, and BJP leaders, hold Jignesh Mewani responsible for all the violence that spread across Maharashtra. On the other hand, Prakash Ambedkar of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BMM) accused right-wing groups, especially the Hindu Ekta Aghadi and Shivraj Pratishthan, headed by Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, for it. Ambedkar, also alleged that Shivraj Pratishthan activists had provoked the villagers to attack the Dalits. He further accused the Ekbote’s men to be involved in stone pelting and to be involved in a conspiracy to target Dalits returning form the bicentenary celebrations of the historic Bhima-Koregaon battle.
He also said that Maratha outfit Sambhaji Brigade had supported his press conference where he called for a Maharashtra Bandh on Wednesday. Responding to the allegations of Prakash Ambedkar, the ruling BJP in Maharashtra said that they were fictitious and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had also ordered investigations. Madhav Bhandari, the BJP spokesperson in Maharashtra said that “The government has to investigate who are the real conspirators who are planning to destabilise Maharashtra and they should be exposed.”
The Battle of Koregaon took place on 1 January 1818 in the village of Koregaon, Maharashtra, between troops of Maratha ruler Baji Rao Peshwa II and 800 troops of the British East India Company. The battle is considered by many prominent Dalit thinkers, activists, and writers to be a significant point in Dalit history as a triumph for the community which had faced oppression under Peshwa rule.
While parts of Maharashtra is suffering protest and violence and the state has been shut down for a day, the ruckus just did not stop to the state. The incident of the attacks on the Dalits celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle near Pune was brought up in the Lok Sabha also on Wednesday morning. Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge during the session in Lok Sabha demanded that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi should speak about the incident and issue a statement regarding the violence in Maharashtra. Kharge said, “A Supreme Court judge should be appointed for inquiry in Bhima Koregaon violence. The PM should also give a statement, he can’t stay mum! He is a ‘Mauni baba on such issues.”
The Congress leader also blamed the RSS to instigate this violence.