While preparations are in full swing to celebrate the 200th year of the battle of Bhima Koregaon, which was fought between the British India Army and the Peshwas’ army in January 1818, a controversy has erupted over the ‘Roll of Honour’ tile on the Jaystambh (victory memorial) set up after the battle.
The memorial is located at Perne village on the Pune-Ahmednagar Road. A few years ago, the ‘Roll of Honour’ tile was put up on the Jaystambh by the Poona Horse regiment of the Indian Army. It has names of martyrs who belonged to the regiment, including Param Vir Chakra recipients, who fought in the 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan.
The victory in the Bhima Koregaon battle is the first ‘battle honour’ of the Poona Horse, which was then a part of the British India Army that defeated Peshwas’ army. The British government had constructed the Jaystambh at Perne in memory of soldiers who died in the battle.
Days before the 200th anniversary of the battle, certain messages are circulating on social media about the tile. These messages, seen by The Indian Express, appeal to members of the Dalit community to remove the ‘Roll of Honour’ tile as “it has nothing to do with the 1818 battle”. The act of putting the tile on ‘Jaystambh’ was “a conspiracy by Brahminical forces to distort the history of the battle,” claimed these messages.
The Jaystambh is considered important by the Dalit community, as it is believed that most soldiers in the British Army, who defeated the army of the Peshwas, belonged to the Mahar caste. They believe that the Mahars fought the battle to end the ‘Brahminical rule’ of the Peshwas. Dr B R Ambedkar had also visited the Jaystambh in the 1920s.
A book — 1 January 1818 Swatantryache Bund (Freedom struggle of 1 January 1818) — written by Professor Vilas Kharat and released recently, claims that the Roll of Honour tile on the Jaystambh, which has “names of upper-caste Brahmin soldiers” martyred in the 1965 and 1971 wars, was an “act of erasing the history of January 1, 1818”. The book even warns of unrest unless the tile is removed.
Manoj Garbade, member of Samata Sainik Dal, a social organisation founded by Dr B R Ambedkar, said, “Dr Ambedkar used to visit the Jaystambh, so it is a major source of inspiration for the Ambedkarite movement. Misconceptions exist among some Dalits about the Roll of Honour tile. But Ambedkarites have deep respect for the Indian Army and salute the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the nation. Steps should be taken for curbing any kind of hatred…”.
He added, “The government should ensure that proper amenities are provided on January 1, 2018, as twice the usual number of people are expected to visit the Jaystambh to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle.”
Captain (honorary) Balasaheb Jamadar (Malvadkar), who claims to be an heir of Kandojibin Gajoji Jamadar (Malvadkar), a havaldar in British Army who fought and was wounded in the battle of Bhima Koregaon, said, “Indian soldiers from various castes had fought bravely in the British Army in the 1818 battle”.
On Wednesday, a civil court had rejected an application filed by members of Jamadar family, seeking an order of permanent injunction to stop the state government from evicting them from the Bhima Koregaon Jaystambh land. The family has claimed that the British government had not only appointed Kandojibin Gajoji as the caretaker of the land, it had also given him the land as an award for his service in the battle.
An officer from the Indian Army, who did not wish to be named said “The historic war at Koregaon Bhima was fought by a force comprising of units from different regiments of the then British Indian Army. It undoubtedly one of the important battles of the past. In the recent times, when some senior officers of the Poona Horse, were made aware of the existence of the war memorial at Koregaon Bhima, they decided to install a plaque bearing the names of some of the recent war heroes of the regiment. Also when some senior officers of the Mahar Regiment were briefed about the memorial, they too have paid their respects by laying wreath at the memorial. It is pertinent to note that, Poona Horse, which was then a Cavalry regiment, is now a regiment of the Armoured Corps.”
The officer added,”However in the recent times, when it became clear that the historic battle was being given labels of conflict between identities or castes in particular, the Army naturally preferred to stay away. It has to be made very clear, that the gestures by the Army at the memorial in the past, had no connotation related to identity. But were just the way of the Army to be respectful to the history. However, at any point in time, Army would be willing to take over the memorial for the purpose of preserving and maintaining a historical reference point. But for this, the ownership of the land and monument has to be legally decided. So that the process of taking over the memorial can move to next level.”