The attacks by the hardline upper class towards a massive program organized by the Mahars, a Dalit community near Pune in Maharashtra on New Year’s Day and the subsequent clashes and hartals have triggered a debate at the national level.
This is because these incidents have several socio-political dimensions. The issue created a commotion on Wednesday in the Parliament as well. When the nearly a million strong Dalits gathered to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle on January 1, the upper caste Hindutwa forces unleashed violence which led to the protests and agitations across the state. So far two people have lost their lives. Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Ambedkar and a Dalit leader had called for a bandh on Wednesday which brought civic life including in Mumbai city to a standstill. Given the fact that rail transport including the metro and even air transport was disrupted, one could comprehend as to how rarest of rare were the flames of protest. The 24-hour bandh was called off on Wednesday evening anticipating that it would aggravate the situation. However, the rage of the Dalits all over the nation has still not died down. It is when one understands the political undercurrents behind the current developments as linked to the history of Dalit empowerment that it becomes clear that they bear the underpinnings of political resurgence of the lower class witnessed in recent past at the national level.
The Bhima Koregaon village near Pune found place in history after the army of Peshwa Bajirao II was defeated by the troops of British East India Company on January 1, 1818. When 200 soldiers of the East India Company were killed, the Peshwas had to sacrifice 500 of them. Of the British soldiers who fought the war, twenty two had belonged to the Dalit Mahar caste. The Mahars joined the British army with the thought that a fight against the Brahmin Peshwas, who had socially oppressed the Dalit community and denied them identity, would be a way of winning social recognition. The Mahar community all over the country gather together every year on January 1 before the victory pillar in Bhima Koregaon village to commemorate their triumph in Koregaon battle as a proud victory over the Brahmin supremacy and to pay homage to the martyrs as well as to uphold the Dalit identity. Ambedkar himself had taken part in such a program in 1927 boosting the morale of the oppressed classes.
Since this year it was the 200th anniversary, not only did the Dalit associations all over the nation flow to Pune, Vinay Ratan Singh, the Bhim Army national president, Prakash Ambed kar and Jignesh Mevani, the new Dalit face, also attended the program. It is natural that the resurgence manifest in the Dalit community and efforts for political unification drove the far right outfits and Hindutwa forces into a frenzy. This is what is understood to have prompted them to unleash violence against the Dalits.
The recent events in Maharashtra are generally perceived as a reflection of the new political awakening and self-identification and as steps in their path of empowerment, of the Dalit and lower caste sections at the national level in recent times. When Jignesh Mewani, who rose up as a response to the brutal murder of a Dalit youth on accusations of skinning dead cows in Una, Gujarat, becomes a symbol of emancipation from caste-based iniquities suffered for millenia, there is no wonder if more Jigneshes are born in any corner of the country. Naturally, Hindutwa forces who dream about their political future via Hindu vote bank, may feel disturbed by the sight of the weaker sections - who had suffered badly under their yoke - rediscovering their identity and regaining political existence.
It should open the eyes of the evil forces that ventured into violence, that the Fascist methods they adopted for this contributed only to making Dalit consolidation easy, and lent strength to the fight against their social adversaries. The Sangh parivar should well have remembered that the Mahar community have always devised their own survival strategy for winning social recognition. They were fortunate enough to adorn high military ranks under Chatrapati Shivaji. But, the untouchability and ostracisaton they suffered during the Peshwa regime made their life miserable. Bitter and disgraceful memories of having had to carry broom in their waste to wipe off their footprints, should have ignited a fire of rage in the new reflective generation. It will be downright absurd to imagine that the resurgence of a people can be arrested with the wand of authority. What we see today are signs of great transformations. Let us not lose sight of the fact that these people, who regain their social identity, are going to determine the destiny of future India.