Mumbai is Burning :- Why the 200-year-old Koregaon-Bhima battle triggered caste clashes in Maharashtra and why it is triggering the current caste-based violence in Mumbai and Pune 200 years later. Locals in Pune’s Shiroor tehsil and Dalits celebrating the Koregaon Bhima battle, which completed 200 years, got into a much-violent riot yesterday. The clash has now spilled over to Mumbai, causing traffic and railway crisis.
Here’s a brief history of the Koregaon-Bhima battle that will help you understand this:
Mumbaikars protesting against the Koregaon Bhima battle celebration have allegedly taken to the streets, and so have Dalit groups. Rasta Roko protests hare being held across Maharashtra, while several schools and colleges in Mumbai have been shut down. The question that is still baffling people is, why are the protesters and Dalits clashing over a battle won/lost 200 years ago.
The Battle of Koregaon (aka Koregaon-Bhima battle, or Bhima-Koregaon battle) was fought between the British East India Company and the Peshwas army at Koregaon Bhima on January 1, 1818. Legend has it that about 500 Mahar soldiers under the East India Company clashed with a 25,000-strong army of Peshwa Bajirao II. Mahars, at this point, were considered an Untouchable community, and were not recruited in the army by the Peshwas.
Despite this, as per the Dalit version of the Koregaon-Bhima battle, Mahars approached Peshwa Bajirao II to let them join his army against the British. Their offer was turned down. That is when the Mahars approached the British, who welcomed them into their army. The Battle of Koregaon ended with the British-led Mahar soldiers defeating the Peshwas. The victory was not just of a battle for the Mahars, but a win against caste-based discrimination and oppression itself. In 1851, the British erected a memorial pillar at Koregaon-Bhima to honour the soldiers — mostly Mahars — who had died in this battle.
On January 1, 1927, Bhimrao Ambedkar started the ritual of holding a commemoration at the site of this pillar, one that is repeated every year. This year, that commemoration turned foul, for many non-Dalit Marathas don’t feel the same way. Those protesting the commemoration of the Koregaon-Bhima battle victory are miffed because it basically celebrates the “British victory” against the Marathas.
So far, Union Minister of State for Social Justice Ramdas Athawale has demanded police protection for Dalits in the wake of the violence. Meanwhile, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has ordered an inquiry, and asked people “not to believe in rumours”.