Why is the 200-year-old Bhima-Koregaon battle leading to protests in Mumbai today?
Since Jan 1, the Bhima- Koregaon battle has been the eye of mass protests in Mumbai and Pune, leading to violence in the two cities. While protesters run amok to condemn the death of the 28-year-old during Bhima-Koregaon battle victory celebrations, here is everything you need to know about why this battle, fought in 1818, is still important for the Dalit community.
The battle fought in Jan 1, 1818 between Peshwa forces and the East India Company saw the later winning the battle. A majority of the soldiers of the East India Company army came from the under privileged Mahar community who for the longest part of history were considered untouchables. The win against the Brahmin dominated Peshwa army was seen as a triumph for the Mahar community who had faced oppression under the Peshwa leader Baji Rao II.
The battle fought in the village of Koregaon, saw the Mahar vent their anger at being oppressed by the Peshwas under Baji Rao II. Despite belonging to a low caste, the community had routinely been in contact with high class Brahmins as they served as soldiers or guards during Maratha leader Shivaji’s rule but Baji Rao’s reluctance to accept their service in his army had greatly angered the community.
The Bhima-Koregaon victory celebration by the Dalit community has often been tagged as anti-national by right-wing forces for celebrating victory of the colonial rule. But Dalit leaders counter that the celebrations are done on a different line, “The commemoration is a call to all Indians to rise against forces that are promoting hatred and violence on caste lines,” one of the organizers of the celebrations told The Wire. When saffron flags fluttered in the celebrations this year, it lead to clashes. “This was a war between the British and Indian rulers, and not between Peshwas and Mahars as is being told. So what are they celebrating? The victory of British over the Marathas?” Anand Dave, president of Akhil Bharatiya Mahasabha told The Wire.
The battle may have been fought 200 years ago but its interpretations in 2018 has led to tense situations in parts of Mumbai as Dalit groups protest across the city today.