Ten days before the village witnessed tension between Maratha and Dalit communities, the gram panchayat of Vadhu Budruk village in Pune district had written to the administration, seeking police protection around New Year’s Eve. The panchayat had anticipated trouble as a large number of people were expected to gather in the area for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon.
The December 19 letter of the gram panchayat, accessed by The Indian Express, requested the Tehsildar to deploy police forces in the village from December 31 to January 2 and ban public gatherings near the samadhi of Sambhaji Maharaj, the most important landmark in the village.
The gram panchayat had claimed that in the last few years, several people who visited Jaystambh, the victory memorial for the Battle of Bhima Koregoan located a few km away from the village, on January 1, had come to the samadhi of Sambhaji Maharaj as well, and some of them had made objectionable statements, “disturbing peace” in the village.
Acting on the letter, the police had planned bandobast near the samadhi from December 31. However, trouble began much earlier than that, on the intervening night of December 28 and 29, when a board was put up, allegedly by members of the Dalit community, at the nearby samadhi of Govind (Mahar) Gaikwad, believed to be the first caretaker of Sambhaji’s samadhi. The board described Gaikwad as the one who had performed the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj after the Maratha king was killed by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1689.
The board was noticed on the morning of December 29, and the Marathas, who are the dominant community in the village, allegedly removed it, claiming it mentioned ‘distorted history’ that was not based on any evidence. The Marathas claim it was their ancestors who had performed the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj.
This led to a ‘quarrel’ between the two communities, during which an umbrella-like structure over the samadhi of Gaikwad got damaged. The two sides also filed police complaints against each other, leading to arrests of seven people. The complaints have been withdrawn, with the two communities have decided to settle the dispute within themselves.
However, this incident, and the provocative messages on mobile phone and social media that followed are believed to have triggered the violent clashes on January 1 in several villages near Pune, in which one person was killed. Police are investigating the sequence of events leading up to the erection of the board at Gaikwad’s samadhi. Villagers submitted some information about it to the police during a meeting with Inspector General of Police Vishwas Nangare Patil on Wednesday. Police are also probing the role of “outsiders” in the incident.