The 1818 battle of Bhima-Koregaon, one of the last battles of the Third Anglo-Maratha War which culminated in the Peshwa’s defeat, should be included in the history textbooks, said Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale on Friday.
“The history of the Bhima-Koregaon battle should be taught in schools. I will be writing a letter to the Education Ministry in this regard,” said Mr. Athawale, who is also president of the Republican Party of India (A).
Mr. Athawale visited the battle’s victory obelisk or ranstambh at Perne near Koregaon-Bhima village and offered tributes.
The victory memorial is dedicated to the battle of January 1, 1818, in which 500 soldiers of the Mahar community fought alongside the English to defeat the numerically superior army of Peshwa Bajirao II.
However, it was Babasaheb Ambedkar’s visit to the site on January 1, 1927, that revitalised the memory of the battle for the Dalit community, leading to its commemoration in the form of a victory pillar, besides creating the discourse of Dalit valour against Peshwai ‘oppression’.
COVID-19 restrictions by the Pune district administration including the imposition of section 144 of the Cr.PC saw a relatively muted turnout on the occasion as opposed to the lakhs of pilgrims who visit the memorial site every year.
Only senior political leaders and prominent Ambedkarite community representatives across Maharashtra including Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) chief Prakash Ambedkar and ministers Anil Deshmukh and Nitin Raut among others paid tributes at the obelisk.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Athawale said that for atrocities against the Dalit community in the country to stop, there must be unity among different castes at the village-level and that the Dalit-Savarna (upper castes) divide must end for the country to make tangible social progress.
The RPI (A) chief, an ally of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), claimed that the Modi government at the Centre was committed to give justice to the Dalit community.
Meanwhile, Mr. Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, said January 1 was a day to rid oneself of the burden of ‘social bondage’.
“In this context, the Bhima-Koregaon battle was part of a fight against the anti-Dalit policies being followed during the Peshwa rule,” he said.
Criticizing both the Centre and the State governments, Mr. Ambedkar said they had no plan to revitalize the economy ravaged by the pandemic.
The bicentenary celebrations of the battle in 2018 were marred by clashes which heightened social tensions across Maharashtra.
Since then, there have been two investigations into the incident. While the Pune rural police have lodged an FIR against rightwing Hindutva leaders Sambhaji Bhide ‘Guruji’ and Milind Ekbote, for orchestrating of the violence, the Pune city police and central agencies like the NIA have conducted crackdowns across the country and arrested a number of noted lawyers, writers, intellectuals and activists including advocate Surendra Gadling, professor Shoma Sen, Gautam Navlakha, poet P. Varavara Rao, Father Stan Swamy and Sudha Bharadwaj among others for their alleged links with proscribed Maoist outfits and for their roles in the 2017 “Elgaar Parishad” and the subsequent Bhima-Koregaon clashes.
Speaking on the occasion, Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said the ruling MVA government would probe the roles of Bhide and Ekbote (who had been earlier arrested and is now out on bail).
He further said the State government was looking into the matter of the withdrawal of security for retired Bombay High Court Judge B.G. Kolse-Patil, one of the organisers of the contentious ‘Elgaar Parishad’ that was held on December 31, 2017, a day before the clashes.