Updated: January 2, 2022 9:48:17 am
An event to mark the 204th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon at the Jaystambh in Perne village in Pune district remained peaceful on Saturday. But as a large number of visitors turned up at the ‘military monument’, social distancing was not maintained and the Covid-prevention norms laid down by the government went for a toss.
The event took place four years after violence had broken out in the area, leading to the death of a youth. January 1, 2018, was the 200th anniversary of the battle, and lakhs of people had visited the monument to pay their respects. Many people, including police personnel, were injured in the subsequent clashes while property worth crores was damaged.
Every year since then, the police and district administration have made security arrangements to maintain law and order during the January 1 gathering. Nearly 5,000 police personnel were deployed in Perne, Koregaon Bhima, Vadhu Budruk and surrounding areas this year.
Deputy Chief Minister and district Guardian Minister Ajit Pawar, Minister for Social Justice Dhananjay Munde, state Energy Minister Nitin Raut, senior Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, Anandraj Ambedkar of Republican Sena, Union Minister Ramdas Athavale, and Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad alias Ravan were among those who visited the Jaystambh to pay their respects.
Pawar, citing the rising number of Covid-19 cases, had urged citizens to follow the restrictions laid down by the government. However, as the number of visitors at the Jaystambh swelled, precautionary measures like social distancing were not followed. While the district administration distributed face masks at the spot, many visitors were seen moving around the area without masks.
Citing the threat of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the state Home Department had passed an order on December 29 to ban public meetings, protests and even book stalls at Jaystambh and surrounding areas on January 1. While no public programmes took place in the area on Saturday, stalls selling toys and books were set up at certain places.
The district administration had made special parking arrangements at different locations and PMPML buses were arranged to take visitors from parking lots to Perne.
The Jaystambh was erected by the British government in 1821 in memory of its soldiers who fought against the Peshwas at Koregaon Bhima on January 1, 1818. As per a Dalit narrative, a British Army comprising 500 soldiers from the Dalit Mahar community defeated a 28,000-strong force of Peshwas (who were Brahmins) in the battle. Lakhs of people, mainly from the Ambedkarite Mahar community, visit the Jaystambh on January 1 every year to pay tribute to the soldiers who, they believe, fought a war for freedom against the alleged casteism of the Peshwas.
Last year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a ‘symbolic’ programme was held as the government had issued an order prohibiting people from visiting the Jaystambh.
But this year, according to government sources, nearly two to three lakh visitors, mainly Ambedkarites from different parts of Maharashtra and also from other states, started gathering at Jaystambh from the night of December 31 till late evening on January 1.
Joint Commissioner of Pune City Police Ravindra Shisve said, “The tentative number of visitors is being calculated. Everything was held peacefully.”
The programme at Jaystambh was organised by the Maharashtra government’s Ministry of Social Justice and it was broadcast on Doordarshan.
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