Explainer: What Happened at the Battle of Bhima-Koregaon in 1818
New Delhi: The picture at Maharashtra’s Bhima-Koregaon village is very different from what it was exactly a year ago. Locals are according a warm welcome to thousands of visitors who are arriving to pay tribute at the ‘jay stambh’ exactly a year after violence marred the 200th commemoration of the Bhima-Koregaon battle. News18.com explains what the 1818 war was about and what happened on its 200th anniversary last year.
What is Bhima-Koregaon?
Bhima-Koregaon, a small village in Pune district of Maharashtra, has a rich Maratha history. Two hundred years ago, on January 1, 1818, a few hundred Mahar soldiers of the East India Company, led by the British, defeated the massive Peshwa army, led by Peshwa Bajirao II, in Koregaon.
This battle has, since, attained legendary stature in Dalit history. The Dalits who follow BR Ambedkar view this battle as a victory of Mahars over the injustice and torture meted out to them by the Brahminical Peshwas.
So What Happens There Every January?
Every year on January 1 as the world stays drowned under the magic of New Year celebrations, it’s the Ambedkarite Dalits who gather at Bhima Koregaon to pay their respect at the Vijay Sthamb (victory pillar).
The pillar was erected by the East India Company in memory of those who fought the battle. The names of the Mahar soldiers who unknowingly brought an end to the Peshwa rule in 1818 are inscribed on the pillar.
Dalit Ambedkarites draw inspiration from this victory at Bhima Koregaon. Ever since Bhima-Koregaon Ranstambh Seva Sangh (BKRSS) was formed, they regard the stambh or pillar as a site of their valour and a symbol of their place in the political diaspora.
What Happened Here in January Last Year and What Was the Underlying Fault Line?
2018 was the 200th year of the “victory of Mahars over the Brahmanical Peshwas”. During the celebrations there were violent clashes between Dalit and Maratha groups, resulting in the death of at least one person and injuries to several others.
Being the 200th anniversary, the gathering in Bhima Koregaon last year was much larger than usual. Many Dalit and Bahujan groups collectively organised a public conference in the name of Elgar Parishad at Shaniwar Wada, which was the seat of the Peshwas until 1818.
Jignesh Mevani and Prakash Ambedkar had attended the event. In the conference Hindutva politics was apparently referred to as the neo-peshwai (new Peshwas). This irked the right-wing forces and was one of the reasons behind the conflict that ensued.
Reports also suggest that the attack by the Hindu groups had been pre-planned. The culmination of a series of provocative acts orchestrated by the radical Hindutva leader Milind Ekbote and the followers of Sambhaji Bhide ‘Guruji’, the reports said.
Ekbote and Bhide were named in an FIR but were not arrested. Many have accused the BJP-led government at the Centre for protecting them.