Mumbai, Pune and several other parts of Maharashtra, remained on edge a day after clashes marred the bicentenary celebrations of the historic 1818 battle of Bhima-Koregaon that concluded on Monday.
Tremors of the violence, which left one person dead near Koregaon Bhima village, were felt across several districts in western Maharashtra as well as the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions, as activists of Dalit groups, social outfits and Ambedkarite parties staged road blocks and issued condemnations of the January 1 violence.
Local train services disrupted
Protesters disrupted suburbs and local train services on the Harbour Line, blocked roads in several areas of Mumbai, forced shops to shut down and attacked a journalist of a television news channel.
The Central Railway suspended suburban services between Kurla and Vashi on its harbour corridor and is running special services between CSMT-Kurla and Vashi-Panvel section.
Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) continued to be in force across Pune, Aurangabad and other districts in Marathwada in a bid to preclude stormy clouds of a possible caste conflagration.
“We have deployed two companies of the State Reserve Police Force [SRPF] along with several Quick Response Teams [QRT] of the police positioned at sensitive points in Pune city under supervision of senior police personnel,” said Commissioner of Police Rashmi Shukla.
The cyber crime cell of the city police issued a notification warning of “stern action against socially divisive social media posts”. Mobile phone jammers continued to be in operation in Koregaon-Bhima and surrounding villages.
Pelting of stones
Commerce and commute in several parts of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad were thrown off-kilter as State transport buses were pelted with stones during demonstrations by Bhim Sainiks. Traffic had to to be diverted at a number of points. Traffic along the old Mumbai-Pune highway came to a grinding halt due to the demonstrations.
By noon, the agitators had compelled several shops and establishments in vital parts of Pune to be shut even as curfew continued to be imposed in the village of Bhima-Koregaon and surrounding villages – the epicenter of the violence -- 30 km from the city.
There were reports of widespread stone-pelting in Ahmednagar district as well, with lockdowns being observed in several tehsils.
Shutdowns were particularly tense in Marathwada where condemnations of the violence became violent.
In Hingoli, two jeeps were burnt; a ‘Shivshahi’ AC bus of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) was damaged in Osmanabad district; and a State transport bus was pelted with stones in Parbhani district. A massive ‘rasta roko’ was staged along the Jalna-Sindkhed road.
Cause of the violence
While several outfits and parties issued urgent proclamations of restraint, some alleged that the violence was a carefully planned conspiracy by rightwing Hindutva groups.
Organisers of the ‘Bhima-Koregaon Shauryadin Prerana Abhiyan’, a committee which held the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ on Sunday in which Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani and Radhika Vemula participated, alleged that the clashes were incited by right-wing outfits.
According to sources, on December 29, a fierce dispute broke out between upper caste Marathas and Dalits in the village of Vadhu Budruk (around 4 km from Koregaon -Bhima) over a rudimentary plaque erected near the tomb of Govind Ganapat Gaikwad, a Dalit from the Mahar community. He is believed to have performed the final rites of the slain Maratha King Sambhaji (Shivaji’s son).
Gaikwad had defied Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb to perform the last rites of Sambhaji after the latter was tortured and murdered by Aurangzeb in 1689.
According to history, the Mughals had warned that whoever performed the last rites of Sambhaji would be killed, and no one stepped forward except Gaikwad. He apparently paid with his life for his deed.
However, the Marathas of Vadhu-Budruk allege that the account was “a distortion of history” and that it was their ancestors who performed Sambhaji’s final rites.
Accordingly, the Marathas, along with the gram panchayat authorities, took strong objection to the plaque, saying it falsified history as there was no documented evidence.
On the same day, a complaint was filed by Dalit activists against 49 persons of Vadhu Budruk village under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, for damaging the board, police said. The gram panchayat of Vadhu Budruk also reportedly filed a cross complaint on the matter.
“The Bhima-Koregaon violence was an act of provocation carefully calculated in advance by Hindutva outfits and designed to spark tension between Mahar [Dalit] and Maratha communities,” said Santosh Shinde of the pro-Maratha Sambhaji Brigade. The Brigade submitted a memorandum to the Pune Police Commissioner demanding a CBI probe into the issue.
Similarly, Sachin Mali of the Kabir Kala Manch, who was present at the time of the clashes, said the villagers of Vadhu Budruk were instigated by rightwing forces to pelt stones at Dalits during the Koregaon-Bhima celebrations.
“Several thousands of Hindutva activists were assembled to wreak havoc on the occasion. What were the police doing? Why wasn’t adequate security in place when the dispute at Vadhu-Budruk broke out on December 29? There were no ambulances or adequate security in place,” Mr. Mali told The Hindu .
According to him, the clashes were planned to coincide with action in several adjoining villages like Sanaswadi, Shikrapur and Perne.
One person, identified as Rahul Phatangale, lost his life in the violence between two groups that was marked by pelting of stones, and several persons were left injured. Scores of vehicle, including police vans, were torched.
(With inputs from PTI)