What the Battle of Bhima Koregaon means to the Dalits

The Dalits consider the victory pillar installed at Koregaon as a symbol of their victory over the high caste oppression.

Published: 03rd January 2018 02:55 PM  |   Last Updated: 03rd January 2018 02:55 PM   |  A+A-


Dalit groups protesting in Mumbai against the violence in Bhima Koregaon area of Pune on Tuesday. (File | PTI)

By Online Desk

Maharashtra has been witnessing widespread protests against the violence that erupted at an event to commemorate the Battle of Koregaon – a heroic episode in the Dalit history -- with demonstrators damaging buses, blocking roads and forcing shops to down shutters.

The caste clash in the state has so far left one dead, while more than a 100 people have been detained in various areas.

Here's why the Battle of Koregaon holds significance to the Dalits:

  • The historic battle was fought between the British East India Company and the Peshwa at Koregaon Bhima on 1 January, 1818.

  • There were 500 Mahars, an untouchable community, of 800 in the British company who faced 28,000-strong Peshwa force. The Peshwa faction was led by Baji Rao II who intended to attack Pune that was under the British rule that time. The British side was led by Captain Francis Staunton. While over 500 Peshwa's soldiers died in the battle, 275 British company troops were either killed, injured or were reported missing, according to the British estimates.

  • Peshwa withdrew from the battle unable to stop the fierce British force.  The heroic victory was a great achievement ever recorded in the history of East India Company. The Company government praised the bravery of their forces who overpowered the large Peshwa force. 

     ALSO READ: Maharashtra bandh UPDATES | Protests against Bhima Koregaon violence intensify

  • As a remembrance of the victory, the company commissioned a victory pillar in Koregaon. The pillar has names of 49 soldiers who died fighting for the East India Company of which 22 soldiers were Mahars.

  • The Mahars were considered untouchable and were oppressed by the Peshwas who were high caste Brahmins. 

  • After independence, these untouchables who were later called Dalits started considering the victory pillar installed at Koregaon as a symbol of their victory over the high caste oppression.

  • On 1 January 1927 Dalit leader Dr. B R Ambedkar visited the site and since then to commemorate his visit, every year thousands of Dalits made it a ritual to pay their homage at the victory pillar every year on New Year's Day. 

  • On 1 January 2018, which marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon, a clash erupted between right-wing Hindu groups and Dalits.  The right-wing Hindu groups called the ritual anti-national. The clash resulted in the death of a 28-year-old Dalit man. Since then Maharashtra has been under unrest. The Dalits on 3 January called for a total Maharashtra bandh. 

IN PICS: Maharashtra simmers as violent protests over Bhima Koregaon anniversary spread to Pune, Mumbai 

In the clash, five people have reportedly suffered injuries. The violence that started in Pune district of Maharashtra spread to four nearby villages, in which nearly 40 vehicles have been torched keeping the security forces on their toes.


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