Bhima Koregaon To ‘War And Peace’: Why The Activists Are Still Under Arrest?

Versions of History, Intercaste Conflict, Violence in Dalit Procession and Modi’s Nuclear Physicist Bhide Guruji. We Lookback ‘event-by-event’ on how dominant Hindutva groups influenced local riots and the BJP led governments used that in one of the biggest conspiracy-based crackdown of intellectuals and activists under Unlawful Prevention Act in the name of ‘Urban Naxal’.

Source: Amazon Books

The recent remarks by the High Court on ‘objectionable literature’ found in Gonsalve’s house, namely a copy of ‘War and Peace’, among others have received a lot of flak on social media. Gonsalves, along with 23 other activists has been arrested in the context of violence that has happened in the procession for 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018. The procession of Bhima Koregaon happens on every New Year in the name of Vijay Diwas, where thousands of Dalits visit Jaystambh or Victory Memorial to commemorate the battle of Mahar battalion of the British Army and the Peshwas and subsequent win of the former.

Dalits protesting after violence in Bhima Koregaon. Source: Hindustan Times

Now while reading this in the current space and time, it might sound confusing and ‘anti-national’ on why thousands of Dalit visit that area in support of the British Army winning. However, it has to be noted that in that period, the Brahmin rulers Peshwas had placed an extremely rigid caste system; Mahars were made to tie a broom in their back so that when they walk their footprints do not pollute the roads of the city and put an earthen pot around the neck so that even their spit is not dropped on the floor.

Under Manusmriti’s rules, untouchables were not allowed to use weapons or participate in the war; even for self-defense. To protest against these very practices, Bhimrao Ambedkar started visiting the place from 1927 and commemorating the battle as a show of strength and valor by the Mahars.

The victory column in Bhima Koregaon where Dalits gather on January 1 every year. Source: Getty Images

Three different perspectives of looking at the Battle of Bhima Koregaon are available; the Ambedkarite thought, in support of Ambedkar’s practice. Other being the Hindutva perspective, calling this celebration ‘anti-national’ as the Mahars won as a contingency of the British and ‘façade’ since the verifiability of Mahar participation is questionable.

Anand Teltumbde, Source: PTI

Thirdly, Teltumbde’s perspective (who was incidentally, also arrested in the context of Bhima Koregaon violence) which calls the visit by Ambedkar a political ploy of mobilization based on an exaggeration of the truth since the Peshwas were retracted by the British armies and lost fearing that more troops are going to arrive. The British were also no allies of Mahars; to please the dominant castes they removed the Mahars from the army despite their pleas.

On Ground Accounts: The Violence in Bhima Koregaon

Source: ANI

In the last week of December 2017, a dispute arose between the upper caste Marathas and Mahars in Vadhu Budruk, a village in Pune district. The point of contention was the Samadhi of Govind Gopal Gaikwad (Mahar) and Chattrapati Sambhaji Maharaj (son of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj). In 1689, after losing to Aurangzeb and refusing to get converted in Islam, Shambhaji Maharaj was subjected to brutal humiliation and torture after which he was cut into pieces. Mahars believe that when everybody feared Aurangzeb’s wrath, Gaikwad dared to take up the pieces sew them up and perform the final rites. However, the Marathas believed that their ancestor Shivale Deshmukh had performed the final rites.

Dalits protesting in Mumbai after Bhima Koregaon incident. Source: Hindustan Times

On the night of December 28, 2017, a board was elected by members of the tenth generation Gaikwad family in Vadhu Budruk on stating that Govind Gopal conducted the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj, leading to a debacle between the two communities where the Govind Gopal’s Samadhi got damaged.

Bhima Koregaon Violence

Consequently, on December 29, the board was removed by them leading to a tussle between both the communities which developed into police complaints and counter police complaints of threats and abuses. Police arrested seven people under Prevention of Atrocities over SC/ST Act and after intervention from the police and local leaders the matter was put to rest with both communities agreeing to withdraw the complaints on 31st December 2017.

Supporters of right-wing Hindutva leader Sambhaji Bhide at Azad Maidan, Mumbai. Source: Hindustan Times

On first of January, when lakhs of Dalits visited Jayastambh or Victory Memorial, upper-caste men with saffron flags began to first make sexually proactive statements to the Dalit Women and then started pelting stones and hitting people with sticks as well as cars with stickers of ‘Jai Bhim’ on them. Pieces of evidence show the presence of inflammable material and stones on the upper floors of buildings, implying a planned attack. A report by EPW highlights, ‘Except for Darekar at Sanaswadi, all the victims of this violence too were recent migrants into the area. They were either Muslims or neo-Buddhists. Local Maratha (dominant caste) or Mali (Other Backward Class) families suffered no major consequences’.

Bhima Koregaon Violence-Mumbai Bandh. Source: PTI

The violence resulted in injuries to 3 people and the death of a 28-year-old man Rahul Patangle. Police are alleged to be behaving in a fashion how it has been behaving during Hindutva inflicted violence in contemporary times; with silence.

Leaders of two local right-wing fringe groups, Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan’s founder Sambhaji Bhide and Samasta Hindu Aghadi’s head Milind Ekbote have been accused by local villagers and Bahujan groups of orchestrating the violence. In fact, after the vandalizing and rioting by the right-wing groups in Bhima Koregaon and surrounding villages, a gathering of 50 ,000 people of varied Dalit and marginalized groups (around 250) led by Prakash Ambedkar and his Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh protested in Azad Maidan Mumbai demanding arrest of Sambhaji Bhide.

Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote

Mumbai was put on a standstill and so were several other pockets in Maharashtra such as Aurangabad, Thane, Nagpur, coastal Konkan Region, Dalit strongholds such as Beed, Latur, Solapur, Jalgaon, Dhule, Ahmednagar, Nashik, and Palghar. Protests were also staged in front of the guardian minister’s home, Girish Bapat. Even though the agitation became violent, they were given support by a divergent group: Sambhaji Brigade, students activists, political parties (of different idealogues) BSP, INC, Students, Middle Classes. Taxi and auto-driver unions supported the Bandh as well; public transport was going on but public buses were vandalized by the protesters.

Sambhaji Bhide Guruji with Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Source: Twitter

The 85-year-old Sambhaji Bhide also known as Guruji has received fancies of Devender Fadnavis, Uddhav Thackeray and PM Narendra Modi in the past, especially during elections. In the past, his organization has been accused of vandalizing cinema houses when Jodha Akbar was released. Modi, in his campaign speech at Raigad, called Bhide “Guruji”, a Mahapurush and Tapasvi from whom one can learn hard work and discipline. Further, he said that Bhide Guruji has a gold medal in nuclear physics.

Narendra Modi with Sambhaji Bhide

 “Mai Bhide Guruji Ki Adashon Ka Palan Na Karun Yeh Kaise Sambhav Ho Sakta Hai… Unki tapasya unke shabdo mai voh taakat hai jiske kaaran mere jaise kayi log unke prati natmastak hote hai”.  

The Maharashtra Chief Minister then ordered a judicial probe for the inquiry against the violence that undertook in Bhima Koregaon and the protests were halted. Till date, this judicial probe has been extended twice (last being in May 2019) and is still proceeding with hearings.

Guruji a.k.a Sambhaji Bhide

A 19-year-old girl, Pooja Sakat, who complained that her house was burnt at the time of protests by Hindutva goons was killed after repeated threats of withdrawal of complain. However, the police arrested her relatives on the basis of ‘property disputes’ and brother Jaideep, also a witness, for ‘attempt to murder’. 

So how are 23 activists arrested by Pune City Police related to all of this?

Human Rights activist Sudha Bharadwaj was arrested under UAPA for her alleged involvement in Bhima Koregaon Violence.

On June 2018, Five activists from different cities of the country were taken into arrest under the Unlawful Prevention Act, out of whom 3 had no connection whatsoever with the protest. Elgar Parishad, an organization that created an event on 30th of December having a forum with 250 Dalits, minorities and Adivasis groups.

In total, some 23 activists have been arrested including Roma Wilson, Sudhi Dhawale, Surender Gadling, Mahesh Raut, and human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj for having connections with the banned CPI (M-L) and inciting violence in Bhima Koregaon.

Vernon Gonsalves, Source: PTI

No direct evidence has been found against these people and the violence except a ‘letter of plotting assassination in Rajiv Gandhi style was found in one of the activist’s house with Prakash Ambedkar’s name in it and propagandized on the media. They have been detained without bail for a year, with trials starting now from 27 August 2019. Comments on courts, such as the ‘War and Peace’ literature, shows the desperation of the State to show that the arrested activists and intellectuals are ‘Maoists’ and have been working towards something anti-India.

FIRs against Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide have also been filed; both have been arrested and granted bails in the subsequent month, while local accounts and early newspaper reports clearly indicate their involvement in the riots. The careful narrative was built upon how ‘poor and gullible’ Dalits were used by the ‘Tukde Tukde Gang’ and ‘Communists’ to break the country and the law and order established- how ‘caste’ which has negligible influence in the modern Indian Society was used for political purposes. Content analysis of Times Now, Republic TV, India Today, India TV and Zee News show the same narrative being sold off.

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