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2018 Bhima Koregaon violence

The 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.

Background

Battle of Koregaon

The 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 trigger

According 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 events

Prior 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.

Protests

  • Dalit rights groups staged road blocks and protest demonstrations across Maharashtra.
  • In several parts of Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad and Ahmednagar, stone pelting was reported.
  • A 16-year-old boy, Yogesh Prahlad Jadhav, was killed during the protest, allegedly due to injuries sustained by police caning.

    Aftermath

  • 2 January 2018 - An FIR was filed against 'Sambhaji' Bhide and Milind Ekbote for instigating violence on Dalits.
  • February - The Supreme Court criticised the State government and probe agencies for the slow progress in their probe against Milind Ekbote, questioning the agencies’ claims that he was allegedly ‘untraceable’. Chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis said in the state assembly that the police had raided all hotels and lodges in Pune and Kolhapur in search of Ekbote, conducted combing operations, detained his followers and examined more than 100 call records but failed to locate him.
  • 14 March 2018 - The District Rural Police of Pune arrested Milind Ekbote. The Supreme Court cancelled his interim bail plea after he did not cooperate with the probe agencies, refusing to hand over his mobile phone and despite five summons for interrogation.
  • 22 April 2018 - A nineteen-year-old Dalit witness, Puja Sakat, whose house was burnt in the violence, was found dead in a well. Her family alleged that she was under intense pressure to withdraw her statement. Her brother, Jaideep, also a witness, had been arrested by Pune Rural Police on charges of attempt to murder.

    The FINS report

  • March 2018 - A think tank called Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS), mainly consisting of retired army officers, released a report on the Bhima Koregaon riots. The report absolved the Hindu leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide from direct involvement. Instead, it blamed the Maoists (ultra left-wing organisations) for instigating the Dalit activists. It also blamed the Maharashtra Police for "apathy" and overlooking evidence.

    Arrests of activists

  • 8 June 2018: Pune Police arrested Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut with alleged Maoist links for inciting riots.
  • 28 August 2018: the Pune police carried out searches of nine rights activists, and arrested five of them. Those arrested include Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, and activists Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves. The Supreme Court ordered them to be place under "house arrest".
  • 12 September 2018: The Supreme Court extends the "house arrest" until 17 September 2018.
  • 28 September 2018: The Supreme Court extends the house arrest by another four weeks, but declined the appointment of a special investigation team.