ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Bhima Koregaon and Politics of the Subaltern

Historical events that hold symbolic value are important in constructing an alternative identity for the subaltern. The Brahminical upper caste feels threatened by such assertions of the subaltern and thus, tries to marginalise them. The violence at Bhima Koregaon is a reflection of this tension between divisive Hindutva nationalism and resilient subaltern politics that seeks justice.

Dalits in Maharashtra celebrate 1 January as Shaurya Diwas (bravery day). It was on this day in the year 1818 at Bhima Koregaon near Pune that 22 Mahar soldiers fighting on the British side were martyred in a battle which led to the defeat of the Brahmin Peshwas. This last battle of the Anglo–Maratha war marked the end of the Maratha Empire and the ascendancy of the British in western India. At this site, the British raised an obelisk carrying the names of 49 soldiers, including 22 Mahar soldiers, who died in the battle. On 1 January 1927, B R Ambedkar paid a visit to the British war memorial to commemorate this victory. Ever since, Dalits in Maharashtra march to Bhima Koregaon village on this day. The battle holds twofold significance for them. It is a standing testimony to not only their triumph over the Brahminical hegemony of the Peshwas, but also the valour of the Mahar soldiers who fought against the Peshwa army that heavily outnumbered their own (Gupta 1923).

On 1 January 2018, more than three lakh Dalits from all over Maharashtra had gathered at Bhima Koregaon to observe the bicentenary of the victory. This peaceful congregation was brutally attacked by activists of two local, Hindu right-wing organisations—Shiv Pratishthan and Hindu Ekta Manch, led by Sambhaji Bhide (alias Manohar Bhide) and Milind Ekbote, respectively. In the violence that ensued, one Dalit youth was killed while several others were injured. Many of their vehicles were vandalised. Shops belonging to Muslims and Christians were singled out and burnt (Dhamale 2018). Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh leader Prakash Ambedkar, along with several other organisations representing Dalits, Other Backward Classes, and progressives, called for a statewide bandh on 3 January 2018. Consequently, shops, offices, schools and colleges in many parts of Maharashtra were closed down. Dalits rose in indignation and took to the streets to protest against the Bhima Koregaon violence. These incidents at Bhima Koregaon on 1 January 2018 and later in various parts of Maharashtra, and the public discourse that these developments have subsequently sparked, prompted us to pose certain questions regarding the dominant caste imagination of Indian nationhood and the location of the subaltern classes within it.

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Updated On : 17th Feb, 2018

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