From Khairlanji to Koregaon, Maharashtra has been no stranger to clashes between Dalits and Marathas

Protesters attacked buses, stopped suburban trains and blocked roads at various places in Mumbai on Wednesday, as normal life was hit in the city. Other parts of Maharashtra too saw widespread violence. This was after an agitation was called by Dalit groups to protest violence on the anniversary of a battle fought 200 years ago.

On 1 January, the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon, thousands of Dalit activists visited the tiny village of Koregaon, about 25 kilometres northeast of Pune, which was the site of a battle between the British and the Marathas led by the Peshwa empire. However, the reason this particular skirmish happened between the British and the Marathas is remembered even today is that the local Mahar community fought alongside the British against the Peshwas, whose rule they considered as oppressive.

Today, on the site of the battle, exists a pillar erected by the British to honour those who died in battle. Most of the names mentioned here are of Mahar soldiers who died fighting for the British. Thousands of Dalit men and women visit the site of the battle, on the banks of the Bhima river on 1 January every year.

The Battle of Koregaon is considered a turning point in the history of Dalits in Maharashtra; until then, they had been considered untouchable and were prevented from joining the Maratha army.

 From Khairlanji to Koregaon, Maharashtra has been no stranger to clashes between Dalits and Marathas

Thousands of Dalits activists protested in Mumbai on Wednesday. PTI

Maharashtra no stranger to caste violence

Ironically, BR Ambedkar's home state Maharashtra has been no stranger to caste-based violence. Throughout history, there have been several incidents of violent clashes between the many communities the state is home to.

Some, like the Khairlanji massacre or the Kopardi killing, have been extremely gruesome. And though Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said Maharashtra is a "progressive state" and that some "people from outside" are trying to forment trouble, this seems unlikely given the track record of the state in dealing with caste-based violence.

Khairlanji massacre

On 29 September, 2006, Dalit farmer Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, 61, went to work on his farm near Khairlanji village in Maharashtra, and when he came back, he found his wife Surekha, 45, daughter Priyanka, 17, sons Sudhir and Roshan, 21 and 19, murdered by a mob. The previous day, Surekha had lodged a complaint at the local police station against participants in an assault on a policeman from the village Siddharth Gajbhiye, another Dalit.

The accused, who belonged to the influential Kunbi caste, were arrested but let off on bail. They allegedly returned to the village and massacred Bhotmange's family. There were also allegations that the women were sexually assaulted, but a CBI probe concluded they weren't.

The incident led to massive protests by Dalits who started a statewide demand for justice.

In September 2008, a fast-track court sentenced six men to death for the crime. However, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court ruled that it was a "revenge killing" and that there wasn't a caste angle to the case. Ruling that it wasn't a rarest of rare case, the court also commuted their death penalty.

The case is currently being heard in the Supreme Court. Each year, Dalit and Buddhist organisations light candles at the spot where the family once lived. The hut is gone but Bhaiyyalal keeps an iron cot there as a reminder of the events that occurred.

Kopardi killing

A 14-year-old girl was raped and murdered in Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district in July 2016, a case that triggered massive outrage and protests among the state's substantial Maratha population. The girl, who belonged to the Maratha community, was bitten, had her hair pulled out, and her limbs and teeth broken.

In the aftermath of the incident, silent marches were taken up by the Marathas across the state against the three culprits who belonged to the Dalit community. Through these marches, they demanded a quick investigation and a speedy trial in the case.

The Marathas sought not only justice for the girl who was killed but also demanded the abolition of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act (POA), 1989, alleging that an Act that was meant to prevent atrocities against the Dalits is ironically being used by the Dalits to target the Marathas.

In November this year, a sessions court sentenced three men to death in the case.

Rape and murder in Nashik

Just weeks after the Kopardi incident, a five-year-old girl belonging to the Banjara community was allegedly raped by a man from the Maratha community in Nashik. The incident reportedly occurred when the victim was going to a public toilet where the accused followed her.

The 40-year-old man was subsequently arrested, but in the immediate aftermath of this incident, there were large-scale protests across the state. The OBC community and the Marathas both held large-scale protests after the incident. While the Banjara community held a rally demanding justice for the victim, the Marathas held parallel rallies alleging misuse of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and also reservation for Marathas.

Dalit houses attacked in Satara

In December last year, Dalit houses in Chinchner village of Satara district were attacked by a mob, which set vehicles on fire and ransacked 50 houses. Aruna Mohite, a married woman from the Maratha community, was allegedly killed by her Dalit paramour.

Mohite, 21, was a resident of Baramati in Pune. According to the police, she had been having an affair with Siddharth Danane, 24, a Dalit boy from a neighbouring village. Their families learnt about their affair and had Mohite married off, but she continued being in touch with Dahane.

Following an argument about her marriage, Danane reportedly assaulted and killed Mohite. When the police interrogated Danane, he admitted to the murder. The confession enraged the Maratha community, which attacked the Dalit village where Danane lived. About 150 people bullied the women and children and damaged up to 50 shops and vehicles, some of which were set on fire. The hour-long rioting stopped after the police reached the village.

An FIR was registered against 33 people from Chinchner Vandan village and 60 others from outside who participated in the rioting. Consequently, several Dalit political parties tried to impose a complete bandh in several parts of Satara to protest the ransacking. They also held protests outside the district collector’s office and the police headquarters. As a precautionary measure, schools, colleges, and markets remained closed.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jan 04, 2018 17:25:10 IST

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