What is Bhima Koregaon Battle? Why has it triggered violence after 200 years?

Following the clashes between the Dalit groups and supporters of right-wing Hindutva organizations over the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Bhima-Koregaon in Pune on Monday, there were calls for Maharashatra bandh on Wednesday, January 3. Dalit leaders – Prakash Ambedkar, the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh leader and grandson of BR Ambedkar – have called for the bandh to protest the violence that broke during the Bhima-Koregaon battle’s 200th anniversary celebrations and to protest against government’s failure to stop the violence. In the protests and violence that gripped Maharashtra, one person died, several injured and over 40 vehicles damaged. Here’s a brief history about the Bhima-Koregaon battle and why after 200 years the battle has triggered violence.

What is Bhima Koregaon battle?

  • The Battle of Koregaon, also known as Koregaon-Bhima battle and Bhima-Koregaon battle, took place on January 1, 1818, and was fought between the British East India Company and the Peshwas at Koregaon Bhima.
  • During the battle, Bajirao II sent around 5,000 troops to attack Pune. But after learning about British East India Company’s merely 800 troops he withdrew his troops and sent 2,000 – 2,500 troops.
  • The East India Company’s mere troops were successful in fighting the Peshwas and after 12-hour-long battle Peshwas lost the battle with a loss of 600 men.
  • Baji Rao II withdrew his troops.

Mahars and their connection with the battle

  • Historically, Mahars were considered untouchables and Peshwas high-caste Brahmins.
  • It is said that the despite this, Dalits approached Peshwa Bajirao II asking him to let them join his fight against the British. After their offer was rejected by the Peshwas, they approached the British and were soon welcomed into their army.
  • In the Battle of Koregaon, the British defeated Peshwas. And as the British army had Mahar soldiers it was a win for them too and also against the caste discrimination.
  • In 1851, a 60-foot-commemorative obelisk was erected at the battle site in Koregaon-Bhima to honour the fallen soldiers of the Bombay Native Infantry. The pillar had the names of soldiers inscribed on it. Out of the 49 names, 22 of the names belonged to the Mahar community.
  • Every year on January 1, the Mahar community holds a commemoration at the pillar site, a ritual started by Bhimrao Ambedkar in 1927.

Why the violence in 2018?

  • The year 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon Battle.
  • According to The Wire, Right-wing groups – Akhil Bharatiya Brahman Mahasabha, Hindu Aghadi and Rashtriya Ekatmata Rashtra Abhiyan – opposed the event and termed it ‘anti-national’ and ‘casteist’ as the victory celebrates the British victory against the Marathas.

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