Maharashtra Bandh: Removal of board at Mahar samadhi was trigger for Bhima-Koregaon clash

After protesters managed to bring Mumbai to a standstill on Wednesday, the trigger for the clashes was largely seen as the Dalit commemoration of the British victory in the battle of Bhima-Koregaon. However the day has been celebrated peacefully for 200 years. Why then, was there violence this time? The reason is actually the removal of a board at a Mahar samadhi.

The Maharashtra bandh was called on Wednesday following violence in Pune on 1 January when Dalit groups were celebrating the bicentenary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in which the forces of the British East India Company defeated the Peshwa's Army. Dalit leaders commemorate the British victory, as it is believed that soldiers from the Mahar community were part of the East India Company's forces. The Peshwas were Brahmins, and the victory is seen as a symbol of assertiveness by Dalits.

The battle has come to be seen as a symbol of Dalit pride because a large number of soldiers in the Company force were Mahar Dalits. Since the Peshwas, who were Brahmins, were seen as oppressors of Dalits, the victory of the Mahar soldiers over Peshwa force is seen as Dalit assertion.

On Thursday The Indian Express reported that the immediate trigger for the clashes near Bhima-Koregaon was the removal of a board at Mahar samadhi at Vadhu Budruk village near the site of the clashes. The samadhi is dedicated to Govind Gaikwad, a Mahar (Dalit).

IANS reported that Gaikwad had performed the last rites of the 31-year old Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, who was assassinated in 1689 and his body severely mutilated by Emperor Aurangzeb's soldiers. The Mughals had warned that anybody who dared to perform the last rites of the slain Maratha warrior king would be punished with death.

Protesters observing Maharashtra bandh on Wednesday. 101reporters/ Geeta Desai

Protesters observing Maharashtra bandh on Wednesday. 101reporters/ Geeta Desai

However, defying the orders, Gaikwad managed to stitch together the pieces of the king's body and later helped perform the last rites. Though he was later killed by the British, he has remained a symbol of 'Dalit Pride and Courage' since centuries. For his courageous services, Gaikwad was honoured with a memorial opposite the tomb of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, the eldest son of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

On 30 December, a board was found erected near the samadhi. The board said Gaikwad had defied the orders of Mughal king Aurangzeb and performed the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj. People, who believed it was their ancestors who had performed the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj, tried to remove the board, leading to an altercation. This resulted in police filing a case under the SC/ST (Preventions of Atrocities) Act against 49 people.

The incident in Vadhu Budruk is believed to have triggered the caste clashes in Bhima-Koregaon on 1 January.

The 200th anniversary of the Koregaon-Bhima battle of January 1, 1818 was celebrated by the Koregaon-Bhima Shaurya Din Prerana Abhiyan, participated in by an estimated 400,000 people from all over Maharashtra. Despite tight security, some groups waving saffron flags allegedly pelted stones at the gathering and this soon degenerated into violent riots, leading to the death of a 28-year-old youth from Nanded, Rahul Fatangale, with more than two scores of vehicles damaged.

A grim Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis hurriedly announced a judicial probe by a "sitting judge" of Bombay High Court, a CID investigation into the violence and compensation of Rs 1 million for the victim's family.

However, seething Dalit groups were unconvinced by the government assurances and Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, a Dalit party headed by Prakash Ambedkar — the grandson of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar, called for a "peaceful Maharashtra shutdown" on Wednesday to express anger over the Pune incidents of 1 January.

The country's commercial capital Mumbai was partially paralysed and millions were stranded on roads and railway stations as Dalit groups indulged in road and rail blockages, processions and protest demonstrations on Tuesday. The Dalit parties-sponsored 'Maharashtra Shutdown' on Wednesday evoked huge response in Mumbai and other parts of the state due to rail and road blockages and protest marches, with the impact severe in the rural areas and Dalit strongholds in the state.

With inputs from agencies

Published Date: Jan 04, 2018 13:21 PM | Updated Date: Jan 04, 2018 13:21 PM

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