Bhima Koregaon: Before Tushar Damgude's FIR, ex-ABVP members had complained about Elgar Parishad meet
Even before Tushar Damgude filed an FIR in January in relation to the Bhima Koregaon violence, two former office bearers of ABVP had filed a complaint regarding the same Elgar Parishad meet. One of them knows Damgude very well
Pune: Even before Tushar Damgude filed an FIR in January in relation to the Bhima Koregaon violence, leading to recent arrests of five human rights activists across the country, two former office bearers of ABVP, a right-wing students' party, had filed a complaint regarding the same Elgar Parishad meet. They claimed that provocative speeches were made at Elgar Parishad ceremony, which led to the violence on 1 January, 2018.
Furthermore, one of the complainants, Akshay Bikkad, 23, knows Damgude very well.
While the investigation was underway in connection with the first FIR, filed on 4 January, the police arrested Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Farreira on 28 August acting on Damgude's complaint, which was filed on 8 January.
The Pune Police has been criticised severely for these arrests from across the country.
In the 4 January FIR, Bikkad and Anand Dhond had accused Jignesh Mewani and Umar Khalid of giving provocative speeches, causing the Bhima Koregaon violence.
Though Dhond accepted his past affiliation with the ABVP, Bikkad denied it, even though news reports are available online which quoted him in the capacity of the vice-president of the Fergusson College unit of ABVP. Not just that, in one of his posts on Twitter, Bikkad claims to be a “proud ABVPian”.
When asked about Damgude, Bikkad said, “We know each other for over a year as we both write well.” Both of them have written posts praising each other for for showing 'courage' by lodgin FIRs in the case. Bikkad also calls Damgude an Ambedkarite.
The Elgar Parishad meeting and the Bhima Koregaon violence
On 31 December, 2017, over 250 organisations including Dalit rights groups held Elgar Parishad in Pune in which Mewani, Khalid, Radhika Vemula (mother of Rohith Vemula), Sudhir Dhawale and many others gave speeches. Next day, as every year, thousands of Dalits gathered at Bhima Koregaon, 40 kilometres away from Pune, to commemorate the 1818 Battle of Koregaon in which British troupes comprising Dalits defeated the Peshwa army.
Riots broke out on 1 January in Bhima Koregaon, killing one person, and injuring many others. Properties worth crores were also damaged in the violence.
The FIR against Mewani and Khalid
Dhond, who was an office bearer of ABVP while completing his post graduation in commerce from Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce from 2013-2014, said, "Akshay was writing an article for a website, and I was covering the event by taking videos. We thought the speeches were provocative and had the potential to instigate one caste against the other. But we didn't file any complaint on the same day. Next day, newspapers, news channels and opinions by experts expressed views similar to what we had on our minds. Hence we filed a complaint at the Deccan Police Station by submitting videos (from the ceremony). After verifying the facts, the police converted it into FIR on 4 January."
Dhond, 26, who is trying to set up a catering business.
Bikkad who claims to be a Leftist, said, “I was a fan of Mewani before I heard his speech at Elgar Parishad. Mewani said in the speech that we would not get justice through the Constitution and that we have to fight battle on the roads to get it. I thought that it was anti-constitutional. Hence, I decided to lodge a complaint against Mewani and Khalid whose speeches I heard. I made the two as the accused in the case as I didn't attend the latter part of the programme.”
When Bikkad was asked if he was active in students’ movement, he said, “I would work for students to take their problems to the principal, and so on. But I was never associated with any wing."
Bikkad also calls himself a Leftist and says that he wants to "do PhD on (Karl) Marx”, but his posts on Twitter are either sharply critical or making fun of the Left ideology. He also criticises Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Babasaheb Ambedkar, in poor words. “I oppose everything ultra," he says.
Dhond, a resident of Latur district has been associated with the ABVP since 2009. When he was in college, he claims to have fought against fee hikes and lack of facilities like gym in local colleges. During his post graduation from the Symbiosis College of Arts, Commerce and Science, Dhond became an office bearer of the ABVP and participated in several issues raised by the students' party such as fee hikes in engineering colleges, etc. His uncle has been a member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in Beed district.
Dhond maintains that his past association with the ABVP and the fact that he filed an FIR against Mewani and Khalid are not connected. He said, "They also distributed booklets titled, Shivajiche Udattikaran (Glorification of Shivaji), to people who attended the programme. The book basically explains that Shivaji wouldn't respect lower castes and would use them."
As for the FIR, Bikkad says that he has stopped following up the investigation because of the "lethargic attitude" of the police. “I followed up with the police about the investigation, but they would tell me that they don't have only one case to probe. Due to the lethargic attitude of Police, I didn't follow up.”
Shivaji Bodakhe, Joint Commissioner of Police, Pune City, however, said that the police are "still investigating the FIR".
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