The Pune City Police have granted permission for Elgaar Parishad, a conference to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, but laid down several conditions for the event, which have been opposed by multiple outfits. Police have specified that the one-day event should not include any objectionable slogans, posters, banners or acts that would “hurt the sentiments of members of any caste or religion”.
The event will be held at Shaniwar Wada on December 31.
Police have also asked organisers to avoid taking out rallies that “would disturb public movement around the venue, make proper parking arrangements, deploy volunteers and ensure that the historical place is not damaged”. Police have also asked the organisers to submit a video of the conference to the Vishrambag police station, and warned that legal action would be taken if the conditions are not adhered to.
A letter granting permission for the conference was handed over to Kishor Kamble of Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Samajik Seva Sanstha, one of the organisers of the event.
In the battle of Bhima Koregaon, which took place on January 1, 1818, the British Army is believed to have defeated the Peshwas. Members of the Dalit community believe that the British force comprised largely of soldiers from the Dalit Mahar community, who waged a ‘war for freedom’ from the alleged casteism of the Peshwas, who were upper-caste Brahmins.
The British government had erected a Jaystambh (victory memorial) at Perne village near Bhima Koregaon in Pune, in the memory of soldiers in the British Army who had died in the battle.
To mark the 200th year of the battle, activists of various Dalit organisations have organised the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ at Shaniwar Wada, which was once the headquarters of the Peshwas. A pamphlet by the organisers had asked the public, mainly members of Dalit, tribal and minority communities, to unite and be inspired by the martyrs of the battle, in order to defeat the “new Peshwas” — the BJP, RSS and other “Hindutva” forces.
Claiming that the event was “casteist”, the Akhil Bhartiya Brahman Mahasangh (ABBM), some other Hindutva outfits, as well as Udaysinh Peshwe, a descendent of the Peshwas, had raised objections and demanded that police should deny permission for it. “Peshwas represented the kingdom of Maratha Chhatrapati and their forces included soldiers and sardars (officers) from different castes, including Dalits. It was a battle between the British Army and the Maratha kingdom. Celebrating the victory of the British is not right…,” Peshwe had said.
The ABBM, however, changed its stance later, saying it was not against the conference but “against casteism”. The outfit also “welcomed” Dalit leader and newly-elected Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, as well as the other speakers at the conference, and called for an open debate on the battle.
Meanwhile, Pune Rural Police have deployed personnel at the Jaystambh since Wednesday, and more policemen are likely to be deployed at the site to maintain law and order, as lakhs of people are expected to gather at the memorial on January 1.
A stretch on the Pune-Ahmednagar Road would be closed to traffic on the day of the event, and vehicles would be diverted to alternate routes, said police. Several people, including social activists, politicians and traders, have already started the process of installing stalls and pandals, and preparing for functions to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle.