Fact finding report by Rashtra Seva Dal unearths a Saffron conspiracy
On January 1, 2018, thousands of Dalit families that had gathered at Bhima Koregaon to pay homage to the Dalit Mahar martyrs of the Anglo-Maratha war of 1818, were targeted and attacked by members of extreme right wing Hindutva groups. The saffron goons not only pelted the Dalit gathering, where there were thousands of women and children, with large stones, but also set their cars and buses on fire. Neighbouring villages meanwhile engaged in a social boycott and shut down their shops, thereby denying the gathered Dalits the opportunity to even purchase bottled water. Following are the findings of a fact finding investigation by members of the Rashtra Seva Dal, a social welfare organization working in the field of Dalit rights.
Located at the eastern side of Pune and situated on the banks of River Bhima, Koregaon-Bhima can be traced along Pune –Ahmadnagar highway and approximately 25 km from the Pune City whose population is around 7000-8000.
January 1, 2018, was the occasion of celebrating the completion of 200 years of Bhima Koregaon battle. It is considered to be a valor day for Mahar regiment and was initiated by Dr B.R. Ambedkar nearly 90 years ago in 1927. From 1927 to 2018 the number of people belonging to and consisting of depressed classes from all over Maharashtra increased magnificently from a few thousands to nearly around 1.5 million this year. Prior to this year’s conglomeration a substantial number of conferences were held all over Maharashtra in which hundreds of anti-caste groups under the banner of Elgaar had participated including that of Rashtra Seva Dal also.These conferences facilitated the record turnout at Bhima-Koregaon this year. The state administration was well –informed about all these developments.
In the year 1990-91, on the special occasion of the death anniversary of Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and the birth centenary of Dr B.R.Ambedkar, a decision was taken to celebrate certain historical events like the establishment of the first women’s school at Bhidewada, Pune and the locations having historical significance like the birthplace of Savitribai Phule at Naygaon, Pune. Along with that, it was also decided to commemorate the things which have hitherto remained marginalized like the installation of the first statue of Gautam Buddha by Dr.B.R. Ambedkar on Dehu road near Pune. Celebration of the victory memorial of the Bhima-Koregaon battle as it was initiated by Dr.B.R Ambedkar on January 1, 1927, was also a part and parcel of this broader objective.
The Bhima-Koregaon war was fought between the British forces on the one hand and the Peshwas forces on the other. In that Peshwas had near about 20,000 soldiers while the British regiment known as Bombay Native Infantry, 2nd battalion consisted of merely around 1000 soldiers. However, latter were armed with better quality of arms and ammunition. This particular regiment consisted mainly of Mahar community soldiers. Ultimately, the battle won by the British resulted in the downfall of Peshwa regime. It was during this regime that atrocities related to the caste system were at its peak and the then untouchables along with women were at its receiving end. They were the most severe victims of caste-oppression and humiliation. The then untouchables were required to carry a pot hung from their chest to belly so that whenever they spit the matter should not fall on ground as it is considered to be impure. Further, a broom was also used to be tied at the back of their waist so that while walking on the ground the impure traces of their footprints should automatically be get cleaned & cleared. This humiliation was the most prominent reason behind the Mahar community’s participation in the brave fight from the British side. That’s the reason behind Dr. Ambedkar’s commemoration of the event as a victory day.
Another version of this episode was that the end of Peshwa regime did not automatically resulted in putting a full stop to the caste oppression. Instead, in the aftermath of 1857 Sepoy Mutiny (which is also being upheld as the First War of Independence within the ranks of nationalist historiography), the British regime assured both the Brahmins and the Muslims that they will not interfere in the religious affairs of the indigenous communities. They discontinued with the recruitment of separate Mahar regiment in accordance with this assurance. Thus, as per the proponents of this version of history, the British strategy should be looked upon with a suspicion and thereby we should refrain ourselves from celebrating this battle as a Victory Day which according to them amounts to being an anti-national. The descendents of the Peshwas along with Hindutva forces hold on to this view and had also approached the court to demand a ban on the celebration of this day as a Victory Day. However, their petition was rejected by the court. Interestingly, the War Memorial has been standing at that place for the last 200 years with the Martyr’s names inscribed on it. It consist not only the names of the soldiers from the Mahar Community but also a few Maratha and Other Backward Caste soldier’s names are visible alongside.
A few kilometers away from this memorial, a mausoleum of Chhatrapati Sambhaji is also situated at a village called Wadoo (Budruk). Renowned historian V.C Bendre had discovered this mausoleum in the year 1939 which can be located in the Dalit locality of the village. Sambhaji, the then scholar of Sanskrit language became an eyesore to the Brahmins as gaining the knowledge of Sanskrit was prohibited for the non-Brahmins on the basis of Manusmriti dictums. These Brahmins advised Aurangzeb to punish Sambhaji in accordance with the Manusmriti code which included the brutalities like to take out his eyes for the crime of reading Sanskrit Vedas, to cut off his head for memorizing them along with his body to be thrown out into pieces. A fatwa was issued prohibiting the cremation of his body parts. However, there was one Govind Mahar who took up the responsibility of late Sambhaji’s last rites and duly cremated his body after sewing up those parts and pieces. Renowned historians apart from V.C.Bendre like Kamal Gokhle and Shrad Patil had also corroborated this version.
However there is another version coming from Hindutwavaadi forces is that the body parts were not sewed by a Mahar but was done by a Maratha. Hence the Marathas of the village are claiming that it is the ancestor of a Maratha Family named Sevale who had performed the last rites of Sambhaji. The Hindutwavaadi forces are giving this twist to the story of punishment to Sambhaji for the last 25 years in western Maharashtra which has added fuel to fire in the riots on January 1.
On December 28, 2017, existing family members of the Govind Mahar had fixed a board indicating direction towards his Sambhaji’s mausoleum. However, certain miscreants from the same village removed the hoarding. They also removed and threw away the shed over the mausoleum of Govind Mahar. Latter’s family members lodged a police complaint and accordingly 49 people were arrested from the village. On January 1, 2018, a rumor spread like a wildfire that some suspicious activity is taking place at Sambhaji Maharaj’s mausoleum. An organization called Hindu Aaghadi has been active for quite some time in this area. They have been holding public meetings for the last three weeks and were issuing warnings to the people in the gathering that those who would assemble on January 1, would be considered as anti-national. One amongst them held a press conference on December 28, 2017 at Pune and publicly said that probably India is the only country in the entire world where some anti-national elements can celebrate the victory of a foreign power over nationalist forces (i.e. Peshwas) and the incumbent government instead of interrogating them provides all facilities to hold such public gatherings.
On December 29, 30 and 31, 2017, law and order was presided over Bhima –Koregaon, Wadoo (Budruk) along with Sanaswadi. However, some strangers were found loitering around these villages. The Bhima-Koregaon village council had passed a resolution to observe a shutdown on January 1, 2018 and had also submitted a copy of the resolution to the nearest Police Station at Shikrapur. But the Police ignored it and grossly underestimated the situation.
On January 1, 2018 people from all over Maharashtra were approaching to gather at Bhima-Koregaon. On the other hand, thousands of people with saffron flags had assembled at Wadoo (Budruk) around 10a.m.The open space around Bhima-Koregaon was filled with the vehicles parked by those who came to celebrate the memorial and Victory Day. After parking their vehicles, people came walking for 3-4 kilometers towards the memorial which included women, children and elderly. Around 11 a.m., an attack was launched upon them by the bearers of the saffron flag. Hundreds of vehicles were burnt down. The riots escalated further towards the Sanaswadi and Chakan-Shikrapur road. The attackers were duly equipped with stones and other sharp-edged weapons. Ashop belonging to one Salim Inamdar was set ablaze. Petrol was freely used to burn the vehicles. A warehouse belonging to one Salim Khan was set on fire. A tyre-shop belonging to one Asgar Ali Ansari was burnt. His younger brother who had taken shelter inside the shop fled when the shop was put on fire. A cylinder in the adjacent hotel got burst which burnt the shop Sarvesh Autolines belonging to one Bhausaheb Khetre. The two trucks (truck no. MH-12-786 and MH-12- 2757) in front of one Razzak Bhai’s garage were put on fire. A shop belonging to one Shivraj Prajapati displaying the nameplate- ‘Ranabhai Marble’ was looted. A warehouse of firewood belonging to one Haribhau Darekar was burnt.
One Dalit by the name of Sudam Shankar Pawar, a project affected person who had been rehabilitated in the Sanaswadi and who had received two acres of land out of which 1 and ½ acres is used for Sugar Cane cultivation while in the rest of his land a Buddha Vihar has been built along with a meeting hall and an open space. He has also built 29 one room row houses (Chawl). On January 1, 2018, around 6pm a crowd marching from the side of a steel factory entered his field and broke the vehicles parked in his open space and put on fire his sugar-cane field from all the sides and also broke the glass –panes of the Buddha VIHAR. Interestingly, the houses and the fields belonging to Darekar and Hargude remained intact which were just in front of his home. Thus, it becomes apparent that the rioters had targeted only Sudam Pawar’s house and field because he is a Dalit. Similarly, the attackers also pelted stones towards the houses of Ravi Kamble and Athwale. The studio of a famous painter and sculptor, Elvin Fernandes was also burnt. The property of Mr. Mutha Jain was put on fire. On the Pune-Ahmed Nagar road, the fire brigade vehicle was also put on fire. In total 5000 vehicles were destroyed. 50 cars and luxury buses were burnt.
Following questions can be raised with regard to the whole incident:-
- Who took the decision for the shutdown on January 1, 2018? How come a village which claims to provide hospitality to the outsiders every year gave a call for shutdown on very day this year? As a result of which the visitors did not even get a glass of water to drink.
- We noticed a tremendous fear among the common people in the Bhima –Koregaon who requested us repeatedly not to write their names in our report. Due to this same fear, the existing family members of the Govind Mahar of Wadoo-Budruk who had filed a case earlier have retracted now. All 49 people who were arrested in the case of destruction of Govind Mahar’s mausoleum have now been freed. What is the cause of this fear psyche?
- The Hindutva forces which are clearly involved in this entire episode are roaming freely around, giving interviews and putting up distorted video clippings on social media relegating the entire blame at the doors of Dalits for whatever happened. What is the state administration doing?
- This whole episode clearly indicates an attempt directed to divide the Dalits and the Marathas along caste lines thereby disrupting the social fabric of Maharashtra. Why the law and order agencies are not paying any attention to the polarization effect taking place due to this incident?
- Arrest immediately the main culprits involved in the riots of Bhima-Koregaon.
- A judicial inquiry must be immediately instituted and it should duly publish its report.
- The role of the police and the administration should be investigated and the guilty persons should be punished accordingly.
- The role of the media in this entire episode should be scrutinized.
Team members of Rashtra Seva Dal who conducted this fact finding are:-
- Dr. Suresh Khairnar (President)
- Allauddin Sheikh
- Vinay Sawant
- Feroz Mithiborewala
- Puja Badekar
- Shivraj Suryavanshi in association with
- Bharat Patankar and
- Kishor Dhamale