According to the police, the celebrations this year were peaceful as Dalit youngsters raised slogans like “Ekach Saheb Babasaheb” and “Jai Bhim” reverberated in the air much to the delight of visitors to Bhima Koregaon memorial

 At least one million people joined the anniversary celebrations of a British-era war at Bhima Koregaon village in Maharashtra’s Pune district on Wednesday for an event that symbolises Dalit pride but one that was rocked by violence two years ago.

The state government deployed nearly 10,000 police personnel at the venue and suspended access to internet as a precautionary measure, a senior Pune district official said.

Pune district collector Naval Kishore Ram had earlier indicated that the administration would suspend internet in areas around the event to prevent rumour on social media. Special Inspector General (Kolhapur range) Suhas Wadke said that about five lakh visitors had already gathered at the venue by 1 pm. By late evening, the number touched 10 lakh, said the officer.

According to the police, the celebrations this year were peaceful as Dalit youngsters raised slogans like “Ekach Saheb Babasaheb” and “Jai Bhim” reverberated in the air much to the delight of visitors to Bhima Koregaon memorial.

The visitors, who began gathering since early morning, paid obeisance at the historic Bhima Koregaon victory obelisk located at Perne village, 40 kilometres from Pune, the 202nd anniversary of battle of Bhima Koregaon where 500 Mahar soldiers of the British East India defeated the army of Peshwa on January 1, 1818 .The commemoration celebrations began around midnight on December 31 and continued throughout the day till late night on Wednesday amidst tight security and internet ban. Around ten lakh Dalits had visited the obelisk in 2019.

Sanjay Sonkamble, a Dalit from Jalna, said that he and his family were unaware of the Mahar warrior history. “It was only after the Dalits were attacked by right wing and subsequent violence in 2018 that we came to know about the obelisk and its history. Since then we are regular visitors to the obelisk where we offer tributes to our ancestors,” he said.

The January 1 event at Bhima Koregaon ‘Jai stambh’, the victory monument of the third Anglo–Maratha battle won by the British forces, marks the 202nd anniversary of the victory. The East India Company’s army was supported by soldiers from the Mahar community that was considered untouchables during that time.

The annual event to commemorate the victory over the so-called upper caste Peshwas has been seen to symbolise assertiveness by Dalits. Violence had broken out at Bhima Koregaon during the 2018 celebrations in which one person was killed and several others were injure, leading to arrest of multiple people, including nine activists.

Prof Vilas Adhav, head, Economic department, Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) who visited Bhima Koregaon, said, “Today I am reminded of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s quote that we are not slaves, but a warrior clan. Nothing is more disgraceful for a brave man than to live life devoid of self- respect and love for the country. In today’s time, the problems of poverty, unemployment and employability are more important than arguments about historical events. The young people must concentrate on real issues.”

Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar after offering floral tributes at the obelisk said, “Many people visit Bhima Koregaon victory monument to pay their tributes to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the battle. The youngsters must learn from the battle of Bhima Koregaon and young people must decide their future course of action based on the history of Bhima Koregaon.”

Bahujan Vanchit Aghadi (BVA) president Prakash Ambedkar said, “The state government has been positive in handling Bhima Koregaon commemoration security and preparations. As far as the Elgar Parishad case is concerned, the police filed fabricated case against the accused which was aimed at muzzling the voice of dissent.”

Pune rural superintendent of police Sandip Patil, who oversaw the security arrangements, said, “To ensure crowd safety, we had placed an effective crowd management plan in place wherein the visitors had to compulsorily park their vehicles in the parking lots , walk up to certain distance and board PMPML buses to reach the victory monument. We had deployed adequate police personnel and kept a close watch through staff, drones and CCTV cameras. The commemoration celebrations were peaceful and we received huge cooperation from villagers and social organisations.”

Courtesy: HT