The situation remained tense in areas located between Lonikand and Shikrapur on the Pune-Ahmednagar Highway on Tuesday, following clashes between Maratha and Dalit communities following clashes between Maratha and Dalit communities in areas around Bhima Koregaon near Pune, in which a 30-year-old man was killed on Monday. The incident had taken place during celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon.
Markets in the area remained shut and police issued prohibitory orders against people assembling. Local residents, most of them from the Maratha community, defied the order to stage a rasta roko on the Pune Ahmednagar Highway for about an hour at 11.30 am. The protesters demanded that no false case of atrocity should be lodged against any resident and the government should provide adequate compensation to those who have suffered losses in the violence. They dispersed only after Inspector General of Police, Vishwas Nangare Patil, promised stern action against the ‘rioters’.
Sporadic incidents of violence were also reported from areas near Bhima Koregaon, where some iron sheds were set on fire by a mob. Police teams and the fire brigade rushed to the spot and brought the situation under control. On Monday, when a large number of people had gathered at the ‘Jaystambh’ (victory memorial) in Perne village to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, clashes had broken out between Marathas and Dalits in the adjoining villages. A 30-year-old man, Rahul Babaji Phatangade, had died in clashes at Sanaswadi on Monday evening. Protesters had set over 100 vehicles on fire and 10 policemen were also injured in the violence.
More than five lakh people, mainly from the Dalit community, had assembled in Pune this year to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle, in which British forces had defeated an army of Peshwas on January 1, 1818. In Dalit narrative, the battle represents the victory of the Mahar community, which constituted a majority of British forces that day, over Peshwas, who were upper-caste Brahmins. Though authorities are still trying to ascertain what triggered the violence on Monday, police suspect that an incident in the neighbouring village of Vadhu Budruk, which took place last week, may have had something to do with it.
On December 29, a board had been erected near a structure, believed to be the tomb of Govind Gopal Mahar, in the village, located about 5 km from Bhima Koregaon. The board claimed that 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. Local Marathas, however, believe that it was their ancestors who had performed the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj. The Marathas, along with Gram Panchayat members, objected to the board, saying it mentioned “false history that had no documented evidence”. The incident had led to an argument between the two communities, said police. 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 allegedly damaging the board and an umbrella on Govind Gopal Mahar’s tomb, said police. Members of the Maratha community also filed a cross-complaint in the matter. However, after the intervention of police and local leaders, the two parties agreed to withdraw their complaints and settle the case.
Minister of State for Home Deepak Kesarkar visited Vadhu Budruk on Tuesday. He interacted with both parties and appealed to them to maintain peace. The Dalits demanded that the government reconstruct the umbrella demolished during the December 29 incident, and the residents assured Kesarkar that they would settle the issue at the local level through discussions. Kesarkar also visited the violence-hit areas in Koregaon Bhima and Sanaswadi, and reviewed the law and order situation.
So far, six offences pertaining to the clashes have been lodged at the Shikrapur police station and more offences have been lodged at other police stations. These include a case on the murder of Rahul Phatangade and a case of attempt to murder policemen at Koregaon Bhima.