CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

“Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex” - Karl Marx

ARTICLE


TWO CENTURIES OF BHIMA KOREGAON


Historical monuments are not mere structures but are a reflection of the collective memory. They do not always carry a unified memory and often have various meanings and various emotions attached to them by various sections of the society. 

The pillar of victory or the 'ShauryaStambh' that stands on the Banks of the river of Bhima is no exception to this. It is these conflicts of memory that lead to violence at the very beginning of 2018.

The History of the 'ShauryaStambh'

The British East India Company began to expand its political control in eastern and northern India with the battle of Plassey, 1757. It extended its political control to other parts of India over a period of time. During the same period, the Peshwa rulers were also expanding their political influence from their base in Pune. Hence, clashes between the Peshwas and the Company were inevitable. 

On 1st of January 1818, a battalion of about 900 British East India Company soldiers, led by F F Staunton, marching from Seroor to Pune found themselves facing a 20,000 men strong army led by the Peshwa himself at the village of Koregaon in the Pune district on the banks of the river Bhima.[1] Neither side won a decisive victory but despite heavy casualties Staunton's troops managed to recover their guns and carry the wounded officers and men back to Sheroor.The victory of the colonial forces was secured by a predominantly Mahar battalion, heralding the end of the BrahmanicalPeshwa rule. 

As this was one of the last battles of the Anglo-Maratha wars that led to the victory of the Company, this came to commemorated as a triumph. Therefore, the East India Company showered recognition on its soldiers and a memorial was commissioned. Lt Col Delamin, who passed through the village the year after the battle witnessed the construction of a 60-foot commemorative obeliskwith 49 names, 22 of them are identified as Mahars.[2] It was remembered as the testimony to the gallantry of Mahar soldiers, and was used by the first batch of Mahar leaders such as Gopal Baba Walangkar, ShivramJanbaKamble and even RamjiAmbedkar, B.R. Ambedkar's father, when pleading the British for the restoration of Mahar recruitment in the British army when it was stopped in 1893. The stoppage of Mahar recruitment was a consequence of the Indian uprising of 1857, after which the British reassessed their recruiting strategies to include only those from 'martial races' in the army. 

The Incident

The celebrations at the ShauryaStambh memorial this year were marked by explicit anti-Hindutva political overtures. The Dalits were united in celebrating their valor through this occasion that helped them relate to their current socio-economic and political marginalization as they claimed to denunciate the neo-Peshwai. Various Dalit civil society led by Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of B R Ambedkar and leader of the BharipaBahujanMahasangh party, under the banner of BhimaKoregaonShaurya Din PrernaAbhiyan (campaign) announced an Elgar Parishad on 31 December 2017 to precede the bicentenary commemoration. The venue was Shaniwarwada, the seat of Peshwas until 1818; and the theme of the conference was "Speak up Against Neo Peshwai." The theme was a political attack on the ruling political forces of the day and their Hindu right-wing politics. The prime speakers at the event included Prakash Ambedkar, JigneshMevani (Dalit leader and an independent MLA from Gujarat), social activists SoniSori and Ulka Mahajan, RadhikaVemula (mother of the late student leader RohithVemula), and student leaders DonthaPrashanth and Umar Khalid. All of these speakers have been prominent critics of the Hindutva ideology and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the country. The anti-Hindutvatone of the celebrations irked the upper castes and fuelled the attack. Allegedly, people carrying saffron flags assaulted the Dalits, pelted stones and vandalized property. The attacks took place on the 31st of December 2017 and the 1st of January 2018 targeting individuals, groups and property of the participants, leaving one murdered, many injured and several cars severely damaged. Some nationalists have interpreted that the obelisk is in fact a symbol of British conquest and that, celebrating "anything" to do with it is an anti-national act.  

This caused a retaliation in various parts of Maharashtra including Mumbai, Pune, and Aurangabad eventually leading to a state wide Bandh as called for by the Dalit leadership in protest of the assault on the Dalits carried out during the event. 

Analyzing the History  

When BabasahebAmbedkar painted the Battle of BhimaKoregaon as the battle of Mahar soldiers against their caste oppression in Peshwa rule, he created a pure myth. For him it served the purpose of providing "historical evidence" of the ability of the untouchables to overthrow high-caste oppression.[3]Such bold myths are required to build movements, and he might have seen it to be necessity at the time. But, after a century, it solidifies into a quasi-history and tends to push Dalits deeper into an identitarian marshland, and hencebecomes worrisome.[4] Many Dalit organizations recently formed a joint front to observe the 200th anniversary of this battle as a campaign to launch an attack on the new Peshwai, the rising Brahmanic rule of the Hindutva forces. Their long marches culminated into an Elgar Parishad (conference) at the Shaniwarwada at Pune on December 31. While the resolve to fight the Hindutva forces is certainly admirable, the myth used for the purpose may be grossly counterproductive as it reinforces identitarian tendencies whereas the necessity is to transcend them to form a unified and an egalitarian society which is in keeping with the Dr, Ambedkar's ideology.

It is an undeniable fact thatas the East India Company developed its aspiration to expand its influence it required a larger military thus leading to the recruitment ofDalits in disproportionately large numbers, due to various factors such as loyalty and faithfulness as well as availability at cheaper rates. The history records disproportionate numbers of the Namshudras in Bengal, the Parayas in Madras and the Mahars in Maharashtra in its army. Therefore, it is not incorrect for theDalits to claim a significant amount of contribution to the establishment of the British Raj in India, but to attribute motive of fighting caste oppression to their soldiery might be far-fetched as they fought not only in wars against the Brahminical rule but their participation is evident in all other wars as well. Considering the assumption that the Dalits fought against the Brahminical rule to be true, would the same assumption apply to the Muslims fighting in the Maratha army for Brahminical rule?  

Besides, there is no proof as to the relief to the Dalits at the end of this war. History has recorded their continued plight even after the end of this war. Although the British rule might have brought the Dalit plight to the forefront and given them certain benefits that were absent in the past, it was not the British rule that caused their progress. 

The Current Political Scenario

The current political environment attempts to bring about homogeneity through the Hindutva ideology thus portraying anyone who questions the same or dissents the process to be 'anti-national'. Thus, there is clear demarcation of 'us' and 'them' in the political environment. The consolidation of Dalits in such large numbers contests the homogenizing Hindutva agenda and its ideology to its very core by making evident the fault lines that lie in the same. The Dalit movement provides for a counter narrative that makes the hypocrisy in the Hindutvaideology evident. This has brought to the forefront the atrocities that lie in this ideology and the discontent caused by the same. The reaction to this movement was the quick conclusion of the identification of its participants as anti-national thus disregarding the discontent. Despite the antinational connotations to this movement, it was seen as a success due to its democratization of the otherwise highly centralized and hegemonic debate on what constitutes nationalism and the nation. This movementis thus becoming a space where political articulations that the country objectively needs and is subjectively craving for can be openly imagined and reflected upon. 

With regard to nationalistic connotations of the event, the claims of Hindutva elements that the celebrations to be anti-national is an overreach considering the fact that at the time when the war was fought, there was no notion of India and the country was fragmented into various kingdoms.  

This incidence also makes one question the meaning of freedom. Dr. Ambedkar viewed it as equality, dignity and all individuals free from social oppression while the others saw it in terms of political freedom. 

Conclusion 

Despite the interpretations of the history related to the 'ShauryaStambh' what needs to be remembered is that all sections of the society have freedom of speech and expression even though these might be conflicting. Furthermore, the violence that occurred consequent to the celebrations is a portrayal of the increasingly intolerant society that fails to respect diverse opinions. If what is to be considered is nationalism, it is not these celebrations that poses a threat to our country and its ideals but it is the intolerance of the violent minds that is an evident and urgent threat to the ideals of our nationalistic identity.  

Moreover, the large gathering of more than three lakh Dalits and their consolidation at this occasion signifies the lack of progress of inclusion even after more than seven decades of independence. This reflects upon a need for more inclusive social and political ideologies and the growing need to the 'economic untouchability'. 

REFERENCES  


AnandTeltumbde, The Myth of BhimaKoregaon Reinforces the Identities It Seeks to Transcend, The Wire, 2nd January, 2018  

Gopal Guru, Memory and Meaning, Frontline, 2nd February, 2018  

Movements as Politics, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 53, Issue No. 1, 13 Jan, 2018  

Of The Old and New Peshwai, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 53, Issue No. 1, 06 Jan, 2018   

Prabodhan Pol, Understanding BhimaKoregaon, The Hindu, 4th January, 2018  

ShradhhaKumbhojkar, Contesting Power, Contesting Memories, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 47, Issue No. 42, 20 Oct, 2012  

Stewart Gordon, The Marathas 1600-1818, The New Cambridge History of India, 1993  

AnaghaIngole, Movements as Politics, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 53, Issue No. 2, 13 Jan, 2018  

[1]T C Hansard (1819), The Parliamentary Debates from the Year 1803 to the Present Time, Vol 39, p 887, House of Commons, 4 March 

[2] Lt Col Delamin (1831), Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany, Vol 5, p 135, W H Allen & Co. 

[3]ShradhhaKumbhojkar, Contesting Power, Contesting Memories, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 47, Issue No. 42, 20 Oct, 2012

[4]AnandTeltumbde, The Myth of BhimaKoregaon Reinforces the Identities It Seeks to Transcend, The Wire, 2nd January, 2018



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