2018 Bhima Koregaon violenceThe 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence refers to attack on visitors during an annual celebratory gathering at Bhima Koregaon to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon victory. The gathering consisted largely of Mahars, and stone pelting by anti-social elements on the gathering resulted in death of 28-year old Rahul Patangale. The aftermath consisted of various protests across India resulting in one death, 30 policemen being injured as well as over 300 people being detained. A Maharashtra bandh was called by Prakash Ambedkar on 3 January 2018. Protests were staged all over Maharashtra. In Mumbai, suburban trains were affected due to which Dabbawalas suspended their services.
Investigation by the police in the following months resulted in various arrests, such as that of Rona Wilson in June 2018 under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. In August 2018 five activists, including Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha, were picked up in simultaneous raids across the country, the police alleged that the activists had ties to Maoists, apart from links to the Bhima Koregaon incident.
Battle of KoregaonThe 1818 Battle of Koregaon is of importance for Dalits. On 1 January 1818, 800 troops of the British Army, with small number of Mahars (leather workers) predominant among them, defeated a numerically superior force of the Peshwa Baji Rao II. A victory pillar (Vijay Sthamb) was erected in Koregaon by the British, commemorating the dead soldiers. In 1928 the Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar led the first commemoration ceremony here. Since then, on 1 January every year, Ambedkarite Dalits gather at Bhima Koregaon to celebrate their victory against the so-called 'upper caste' Peshwa regime of the Maratha Empire, whom they see as their oppressors.
Vadhu Budruk triggerAccording to legend, Aurangzeb killed and mutilated Sambhaji Maharaj in 1689. Govind Mahar, from Vadhu Budruk (a village near Bhima Koregaon) collected the body parts and organised the last rites. The memorial for Sambhaji Maharaj is said to have been constructed by the Dalit Mahars of that village. Soon after, Govind Mahar’s tomb was constructed in the village after his death. But Marathas refused to accept the role played by Govind Gaikwad and other Mahars in the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj as Marathas of that village do have surname as Shivle (means Stitched), and were increasingly vocal about in the days prior to the January violence at Bhima Koregaon in 2018. They had specific objection to a sign at the site that acknowledged the contributions of the Mahars.
January 2018 eventsPrior to the commemoration, about 250 Dalit and Bahujan groups got together under the banner of "Elgar Parishad" and organised a conference at Shaniwar Wada in Pune, the erstwhile seat of the Peshwas. The speakers included two retired judges and Jignesh Mevani, a newly elected member of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly. Meeting was organized to combat communalism and the rise in violence by Hindutva groups, particularly in the name of cow protection.
The equating of Hindutva with the Peshwas is said to have irked the Hindu right-wing groups.
On January 1, like every year, lakhs of Dalits poured into Bhima Koregaon. The commemoration has a record of being conducted peacefully and the village’s residents have a history of social harmony. But this year, tensions had begun to build in a neighboring village over the question of which community had conducted the last rites of Maratha ruler Sambhaji – the Mahars or the Marathas. The panchayat of Bhima Koregaon issued a notice asking residents to boycott the event by calling for all shops to remain shut that day.