As lakhs of Dalits gathered in the city to attend an event to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon, there were violent clashes between Dalit and Maratha groups, resulting in the death of at least one person and injuries to several others. The main event at the Jay-stambh (victory memorial) at Bhima Koregaon was largely peaceful but clashes were reported from neighbouring villages. Police said an unrelated incident in the nearby village of Vadhu Budruk last week, in which a case had been registered against upper caste Marathas, could have triggered the clashes.
According to the police, more than five lakh people, mainly from the Dalit community, had assembled in Pune this year for the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle, in which British forces had defeated an army of Peshwas on January 1, 1818. Every year on January 1, thousands of Dalits march to the Jaystambh (victory memorial) at Bhima Koregaon, about 30 km northeast of Pune, to mark the occasion. There have been no records of any violent incident at these commemorations in the previous years. This year, however, tension had been prevailing in areas around Bhima Koregaon because of a different dispute.
On December 29, a board had been found erected near a structure believed to be the tomb of Govind Gopal Mahar in Vadhu Budruk village, about 5 km from Bhima Koregaon. The board said Mahar had defied the orders of Mughal king Aurangzeb and performed the last rites of Maratha king Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj after he was killed by Aurangzeb in 1689. Mahar is a Dalit community. Local Marathas, however, believe that it was their ancestors who had performed the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj.
The Marathas along with the gram panchayat authorities took an objection to the board, saying it was mentioning false history having no documented evidence. It led to a quarrel between the two communities, the police said. On the same day, an offence was registered by Dalit activists against 49 persons of Vadhu Budruk village under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, for damaging the board, police said.