The Bhima Koregaon violence, which rapidly spread across Maharashtra, was the outcome of mental agony some people have been suffering. When the descendants of Shivaji, three to four hundred years ago, became weak, the Peshwas took over the rein of power in their own hands. In due course of history the British invaded the recalcitrant Peshwas, who had stood up against the expansionist agenda. Both the armies converged at Bhima Koreagaon village, and in the raging battle the British Army – 90 percent of its soldiers were from the Mahar community – defeated the Peshwa’s army. Mahar community is considered to be the most articulate and aggressive amongst all the dalits in Maharashtra. On the other hand, Peshwas are considered to be leaders of the Brahmin community.
With the passage of time, the British constructed a victory memorial, where people from Mahar community, though in small numbers, have been gathering and celebrating their triumph. This year it was the 200th anniversary of the event which attracted a large number of people from dalit community – predominantly from Mahar community from across the state, Maharashtra. One of the invitees was the new face of Dalits movement in Gujarat and the first time MLA of Gujarat Legislative Assembly, Jignesh Mewani. He was accompanied by two other young leaders. People from Brahmin community and those who dislike other communities to celebrate such events took exception of the celebration. They saw it as contempt for themselves. They tried to give the impression that it was a celebration of British victory by dubbing it as anti-freedom struggle of India and the celebration of the victory of oppressive British power.
During the recent violence I was in Maharashtra. I interacted with some upper-caste people and journalists. They told me that it was a celebration against freedom fighters. On further srcutiny the whole episode I found was largely about the communal pride on both sides of the sphere. People of upper castes, especially Brahmin, do not tolerate anything from the oppressed castes that can unite them. On the other hand, the people of the Dalit community use such occasions to awaken and instill pride in their community. They do not see this fight as a fight for freedom or dependence. They see it as the triumph of a class which has never been considered a “warrior” caste and which has always been defined as the weakest section of society. They believe that had Mahars not been in the British army, the British could have never won the battle.
Kanshi Ram, the most revered Dalit leader in Uttar Pradesh, had founded the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS-4), and gave a slogan: “tilak, tarazu, aur talwar inko maro jute chaar.” Once I asked him about the logic of that slogan, reminding him that the proponents of social change in India were mostly non-Dalits? Kanshi Ram ji gave two reasons for that. First, those who fought for the Dalit cause, they fought it to ensure some rights for the Dalits; they never encourage leadership or ensure political participation from the community. Second, the Dalit community has been on the margin for five thousand years. To stir that community, a psychological battle against the ruling classes was needed. It was the only way to undo their shackles and invigorate their mindset. Kanshiram ji had no doubts about that. He clearly said that I had given that slogan with the intention that indentifying these three ruling castes will invigorate our community and it was exactly what happened. In those days Kanshiram used to asked people from Brahmin, Kashtriya and Vaishya community to leave the venues of his rally beforehand. He did it because the truth he would utter might be offensive for the members of upper castes.
This left a positive impact on the conscience of Dalit community in Uttar Pradesh, and they started getting organized gradually. When Kanshiram ji formed the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and decided to involve directly in politics, he fought first election to announce his arrival, the second to facilitate defeat of the powerful, and the third to empower his people and get their share in power. As a result, Mayawati ji, despite enormous hurdles, became Chief Minister at several times and led a politically conscious community in Uttar Pradesh.
Probably the same kind of political churning is happening in Maharashtra. The celebration aimed to define bravery of Dalits has long been confined to Bhima Koregaon. Its effect can now be felt in different parts of Maharashtra. Answering the call of Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar entire Maharashtra was shut down on 3 January. He was supported by other Dalits groups. It was surprising that all the Dalit parties part of the BJP led NDA government have extended their support to Maharashtra shut down. Now the same Dalit consciousness has started flaring up in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh as well. This has also brought Prakash Ambedkar in public discourse. Prakash had visited Bhopal on 5th and Delhi on 8th of the month. He interacted with all Dalits organizations. The way Dalit community is coming out in large numbers and staging protest suggests that this incident has played an important role in organizing the Dalit community.
Interestingly, one lakh to five lakh people are coming out to participate in protest processions, but our so-called national media has maintained silence about that, although video clippings of these processions are becoming viral on social media. Perhaps the government thinks that the way in which it takes off mobile, telephone and internet services in case of any untoward incidents, it will adopt similar strategy in case of mainstream media as well and it will yield the similar dividend.