Dalits on their way to an event to mark 200 years of the Bhima Koregaon battle near Pune city were attacked and their vehicles damaged on Monday afternoon. Union Minister Ramdas Athawale has asked Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to intervene, set up an inquiry and ensure that the Dalits had police protection for the event.
The violence on Monday erupted after a group of Dalits on its way to visit the memorial and a group of people had an argument over some issue, news agency Press Trust of India said.
“Stone pelting started after the argument. During the violence, vehicles and a house in the vicinity was damaged,” a police officer deployed at Bhima Koregaon village said.
Dalits observe January 1 as “Vijay Diwas” to commemorate the defeat of so-called upper-caste Peshwa soldiers by a Mahar Battalion of British East India Company comprising Dalits in 1818.
It is an event that has been central to renewed attempts by grassroots-level Ambedkarite organisations to remind the younger generation about the community’s history. Independent lawmaker from Gujarat Jignesh Mewani and Radhika Vemula, the mother of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula whose suicide in Hyderabad had sparked off nationwide protests, also visited the war memorial
Some right-wing groups had opposed the event that has come to symbolise Dalit assertion, calling celebration of the British army’s victory as “anti-national” and “casteist”.
According to reports, around 40-50 vehicles were damaged and less than half-a-dozen people injured.
A man died in the violence, news agency Press Trust of India said quoting an unnamed top police official later in the evening. However, his identity and how exactly he died was not known yet, the PTI report said.
Police had to block traffic on Pune-Ahmednagar highway for several hours to prevent the situation from escalating, shut down Internet services and restrict movement of people before the situation was brought under control.
“Dalit groups visiting Bhima Koregaon village in vehicles were halted at Sanaswadi, a village near Koregaon. Stones were hurled at them. No police force was available for their protection,” the Union Minister, also a community leader from Maharashtra, later complained in a statement.