Bhima Koregaon battle was between British and Peshwas, not Mahar and Brahmins, researcher tells inquiry commission

"Mahar never approached Peshwa to fight against British forces in the Bhima Koregaon battle that took place in 1818 between the British and Peshwas. Mahar also did not ask the British to fight for them for freedom from caste bias. That war was between the Peshwas and the British army — consisting of native soldiers. The war was also not between Mahar and Brahmins. The inscription on the war memorial (Jai Stambh) at Koregaon also does not mention castes or religions of soldiers, but lists the names of the soldiers who were injured or died. And I also did not come across any information that 800 British soldiers massacred 8,000 Peshwa soldiers," claimed journalist and researcher Chandrakant Patil.

Patil also said that neither the British nor the Peshwas won a clear victory in that battle. Besides, there was no Mahar Regiment in the British army till 1941.

On Thursday, Patil presented his testimony before the Bhima Koregaon Inquiry Commission headed by JN Patel, retired chief justice of the Kolkata High Court and Sumit Mullick, former chief secretary of Maharashtra.

Bhima Koregaon battle and Dalits

The Mahar and Dalits believe that during the Bhima Koregaon battle, the British army comprising Mahar soldiers defeated the Peshwas, who were Brahmin rulers and oppressors of the Mahar. It is said that the British army of over 800 defeated the Peshwa army of over 8,000. Lakhs of Dalits from across the state visit the war memorial to commemorate the victory of the British army over the Peshwas.

This year marked the 200th anniversary of the battle, and lakhs of Dalits had gone to Bhima Koregaon on 1 January, 2018, when riots broke out. One youth died and several were injured. Property worth over Rs eight crore was damaged.

 Bhima Koregaon battle was between British and Peshwas, not Mahar and Brahmins, researcher tells inquiry commission

File image of the war memorial commemorating the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. Wikimedia Commons

To investigate the reason for the riots and to provide recommendations on the future course of action, the state government in February constituted this inquiry commission. The commission over the past few months has taken affidavits from witnesses, victims and people who were aware of the rights. It is not taking testimonies from people who had filed affidavits. The commission has been taking testimonies in Pune since Wednesday and will continue to do so until Saturday.

Patil, a journalist by profession, has worked for the Marathi daily Tarun Bharat, ETV Marathi, IBN Lokmat, Maharashtra 1 and the Sakal Media Group. He said that on 1 January, he came across various news segments about the Bhima Koregaon battle and was spurred to find out more about it. He began his research with documents from the Bombay Archives, Pune Archives, Peshwa Daftar, London Gazette and so on. He said he tried to bring to the table all historical assertions that he could gather over the course of his research.

In his testimony, Patil said, "Bajirao II became Peshwa in 1796 AD. Peshwa was the post of prime minister in the Maratha empire. In 1815, Trimbak Dengale, one of Bajirao's men killed an envoy of the Badoda rulers in Pune, and Dengale was arrested and kept in Thane prison by the British. Dengale was freed from the prison by his men."

He said, "Dengale kept raising an army against British forces in Nashik. Stanton Elphinstone, then British resident in Pune warned Bajirao II about Dengale's actions but Bajirao said he had no connection with Dengale. However, Dengale continued to hire Mang, Bhill and Ramoshi in his force and Bajirao continually denied that there was any connection with Dengale."

"On 3 November, 1817, Dengale and his forces attacked Elphinstone in Pune, who fled. Meanwhile Darren Burr, another British official, launched a counterattack on the Peshwas and Bajirao II fled. On 17 November, 1817, the British hoisted the Union Jack on Shanivarada."

Battle of Bhima Koregaon 

Patil told the commission, "On 31 December, 1817, Burr who was at Shirur ordered his three forces — the Madras Artillery (seven people), Poona Horse Auxiliary (300 men and horses) and Bombay Native Infantry (580 men) led by FF Stanton to Poona. On their way to Poona on 1 January, 1818, they saw Bajirao and his forces camped at Bhima Koregaon. The British forces attacked Bajirao's camp. The Arab mercenaries enlisted by Bajirao helped his forces put up a strong fight against the British."

In this battle, the British lost 12 men and eight were injured, but at 8 pm that night, fighting was halted as per the rules. On the next day, Stanton noted that Bajirao's forces who were not trained soldiers and the Arabs were dispersing. Thus there was no clear victory of any force over the other. "Both the British and Peshwas lost many soldiers in this battle," he added.

On 6 July, 1818, Elphinstone in a letter to Warren Hastings, then governor-general, recommended the building of a war memorial in memory of the soldiers who lost their lives in the Bhima Koregaon battle. Accordingly, John Wiley, assistant surgeon of the Madras Artillery, was give the task of designing the memorial. It was finally built in 1822 and carried the names of all those who died or were injured in the battle. A detailed description of this memorial is available in a book written by Wiley called Military History and Warfare that is available in the British Library. Khandoji Maloji Malvadkar, one of the injured, was also given the responsibility of taking care of the memorial.

During the course of cross-examination, Nitin Pradhan, the advocate representing Milind Ekbote, asked Patil whether the war was between Mahar and Brahmins, to which Patil said, "I did not come across any information saying the war was between Brahmins and the Mahar. The war was between Peshwas and the British army consisting of native soldiers. Both the sides had soldiers from all castes and religions."

He also said, "The inscription on the Jai Stambh is not written based on castes. The names of soldiers who were injured or killed are inscribed on the Jai Stambh. Besides, the Peshwa army had Sardars and soldiers from all castes including Maratha, Dhangar and Brahmins, even though Brahmins were dominant at the time." He also recommended that true history to be taught to children in schools.

The inquiry commission has listed 17 people from whom it is going to hear by Saturday. Advocates of the victims of the 1 January violence this year have yet to cross-examine Patil. He has thus far submitted over 47 articles that contain documents and photographs supporting all his claims.

Updated Date: Oct 05, 2018 11:28:22 IST