“I wanted to visit the site even if I were to face the death.”
Pune: Notwithstanding the intentions of the right wing extremists – of deterring Dalits from visiting the obelisk in Bhima Koregaon – lakhs of Dalits, higher in number than last year, thronged the site today to pay their respects.
Every year, on January 1, Dalits, in large numbers, visit the site to observe anniversary of Koregaon Battle. The battle that took place in 1818 between the British and the Peshwas saw the army of men mostly belonging to the Mahar caste defeat the upper caste Peshwas.
The riot that was sparked last year in Pune, allegedly at the behest of the right wing organisations, did not seem to create panic among Dalits. A woman visitor, while talking about her unhindered determination to visit the site, said, “I wanted to visit the site even if I were to face the death.”
Raising slogans of Jai Bhim, and hailing Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar thousands of the visitors carried blue flags as they walked for about 5 km towards the obelisk from Lonikand – where they have to park the vehicles. Roads to Bhima Koregaon from all the directions were flooded with people even on the evening of January 1.
Sandip Pakhale, additional superintendent of police, Pune Rural Police, confirmed that number of devotees this year was higher than that of last year. He said, “Till now, number is 5.5-6 lakh, and it is higher than last year. Last year, we could not count the number, as after riots broke out. Many people had to return even before visiting the obelisk after hearing about the riots last year.”
Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr Ambedkar and leader of Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, after paying homage pointed out that last year efforts were made to create differences between Dalits and Marathas. He said, “Elgar Parishad was conducted by over 260 organisations to unite Bahujan including Maratha and Dalit. But riots were orchestrated to undo their effort. However, this huge footfall shows that common man has given a rejoinder to Hindutva forces’ efforts to create communal differences.”
Mahadev Kambale, a volunteer of Samasta Sainik Dal, said, "Last year’s riots made people curious about Bhima Koregaon. They not just tried to understand importance of the victory pillar, but also turned up. Besides, people who had tough time last year due to last year’s riots did not want to deter from remembering those brave Mahar soldiers who defeated Brahminical Peshwa forces.”
A visitor from Daund, Chandrakant Gavale, said, "Dalits don’t want right wing extremists to succeed in stopping them from visiting the symbol of Dalit Pride."
Satyabhama More from Beed said, “I came to know about Bhima Koregaon and Mahar soldiers’ bravery after last year’s riots. And I wanted to visit it even if I have to die in a riot-like situation. And I finally made it here. I regret that I did not know about it earlier.”
Overall, the visitors were satisfied with the heavy security and availability of food, water and all the necessary facilities.
Absence of political party leaders was noteworthy, as only Raju Waghmare, Congress spokesperson and also Bahujan, visited the obelisk, apart from of course majority of the Dalit leaders.