Ahead of the ‘symbolic’ programme to mark the 203rd anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon on January 1, security has been beefed up at the Jaystambh in Perne village and surrounding areas to prevent crowding In view of the Covid-19 outbreak.
On Thursday, police and government officials reviewed the security situation at the premises of the war memorial, the village of Koregaon Bhima, Vadhu Budruk village and other nearby areas so as to prevent crowding on January 1.
Meanwhile, preparations for the ‘symbolic’ programme at the Jaystambh, on the Pune Ahmednagar highway, have been completed. Maharashtra Energy Minister Dr Nitin Raut is slated to visit the war memorial around 6 am on Friday and partake in the programme organised by the Bhima Koregaon Vijaystambh Shauryadin Samanvay Samiti, a coordination committee comprising members of various Ambedkarite organisations.
As per a press release issued by the group, Union Minister Ramdas Athavle, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad alias Ravan and Dalit leaders Anandraj Ambedkar, Professor Jogendra Kavade, former deputy mayor Siddharth Dhende, Bhima Koregaon committee head Rahul Dambale and Advocate Bhai Vivek Chavan are among the dignitaries attending the programme. Police have confirmed that Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi will also be visiting the memorial.
The state government and members of several Ambedkarite outfits have made an appeal for people to avoid coming to the Jaystambh on January 1 and instead tune in to the programme on live television or social media platforms.
Keeping the pandemic in mind, Pune district Collector Rajesh Deshmukh had earlier issued a prohibitory order under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), 1973, as per which no outsider would be allowed to visit the war memorial in Perne village between 12 pm on December 30 to 6 pm of January 2, 2021. Exemptions will only be made for those with passes issued by the Pune Rural Police. Additionally, a stretch on the Pune-Ahmednagar road has been closed for traffic — vehicles on their way from Pune to Ahmednagar, Ahmednagar to Pune or Ahmednagar to Mumbai will be diverted on alternate routes.
On January 1, 1818, a battle was fought between the British and Peshwa forces on the banks of the Bhima river in Koregaon village, about 30 km outside Pune. As per a Dalit narrative, the British forces then comprised largely of soldiers from the Dalit Mahar community, who had overpowered the Peshwa forces in the single-day battle. The Dalit community sees this as a victory over the alleged casteist rule of the Peshwas.
Every year on January 1, several Dalits, mainly from the Ambedkarite Mahar community, visit the Jaystambh war memorial that was erected by the British to commemorate the battle and in memory of its soldiers who fought against the Peshwas. Until ten years ago, the annual congregation used to consist of only a few thousand people, but many more people have been attending the event in recent years.
Persons visiting the Jaystambh often also visit the Vadhu Budruk village, located at a 5-km distance, which is known for the Samadhi of the legendary Maratha king, Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj. Hence, heavy security will be deployed at the village on January 1. Besides Ambedkarite leaders, state ministers including Ajit Pawar and Nitin Raut are expected to visit Vadhu Budruk on Friday.
The village also hosts a tomb-like structure, which according to the Mahar community, is the Samadhi of Govind Gopal Dhegoji Meghoji, a 17th century Dalit figure.
Vadhu Budruk has also been the centre of a dispute between Maratha and Dalit Mahar communities over who conducted the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj. The Marathas from the village believe it was their ancestors, the Shivale Deshmukhs, who defied the orders of Aurangzeb and performed the last rites of Sambhaji. According to the Dalit narrative, it was Govind Gopal who performed the last rites of the king.
A board with the “disputed history” of Govind Gopal, allegedly erected by a local Dalit family in Vadhu Budruk on the intervening night of December 28 and 29, 2017, was allegedly removed by members of the Maratha community. This had led to an altercation, which is seen as a trigger for the violence in Koregaon Bhima on January 1, 2018, in which one person had died and several others were left injured.
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