Updated: August 5, 2021 9:11:10 am
The cross-examination of Rekha Shivale, who was the sarpanch of Vadhu Budruk village in January 2018, at the time of the Koregaon Bhima violence, concluded before the Koregaon Bhima Commission of Inquiry on Wednesday.
Located about 4 km from Koregaon Bhima, Vadhu Budruk is known for the samadhi of Maratha king Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj. Vadhu Budruk also has a disputed tomb-like structure, which, according to the Dalit Mahar community, is the samadhi of Govind Gopal Dhegoji Meghoji, a 17th-century Dalit figure.
Marathas from Vadhu Budruk village believe it was their ancestors, the Shivale Deshmukhs, who defied the orders of Aurangzeb and performed the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj after he was killed by the Mughal emperor. The Dalit Mahar community, however, claims that Govind Gopal performed the last rites of the king. The Gaikwad family from the village claim to be successors of Govind Gopal.
A board with the ‘disputed history’ of Govind Gopal was erected by the Gaikwad family in Vadhu Budruk on the intervening night of December 28 and 29, 2017, and was allegedly removed by members of the Maratha community. This led to an altercation, which was seen as one of the triggering factors that led to the violence in Koregaon Bhima on January 1, in which one person was killed and several others were injured.
During her cross-examination by state lawyer Shishir Hiray, Rekha Shivale said, “Peace and harmony prevailed in the village till December 28, 2017…. if the disputed board with the name of Govind Gopal Mahar was not displayed on the evening of December 28, there would not have been any breach of peace.”
During Wednesday’s hearings, the lawyers also questioned Shivale about the letters submitted by the Vadhu Budruk Gram Panchayat to government authorities on December 28, 2016 and December 19, 2017, seeking police protection at the samadhi of Sambhaji Maharaj on January 1.
In the letter sent in 2017, the gram panchayat had claimed that in the preceding few years, several people who used to visit the Jaystambh in Koregaon Bhima on January 1 every year would come to the samadhi of Sambhaji Maharaj as well, and some of them would make objectionable statements, “disturbing peace” in the village. The Jaystambh or victory memorial is visited by thousands of people, mainly from the Dalit Mahar community, on January 1 to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon Bhima.
Advocate Kiran Channe, representing Dalit activist Ravindra Chandane of Republican Party of India (Secular), told Shivale that these letters seeking police protection were submitted at the “instance of Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide and Hindu fundamentalists, who had planned to attack the Dalits” on January 1. Shivale refuted the allegation.
Advocate Pradeep Gawade, representing NGO Vivek Vichar Manch, claimed that it was “due to the activities of BAMCEF (All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation), that the villagers of Vadhu Budruk had an apprehension that the samadhi of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj may be damaged” on January 1, and so police protection was sought. In response to this, Shivale said, “It is correct.”
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