Convener, Ad-Hoc Committee,
PUCL condemns the pre - planned attack by Hindu religious extremists on people gathered at Bhima Koregaon, on 1st January 2018.
Thousands of people predominantly from the Dalit community gather every year on 1st January at Bhima Koregaon (30 kms from Pune) to pay homage to the Dalit warriors who won victory over the Brahminical Peshwai rule in the year 1818. This war was fought between British East India Company which had warriors from the Mahar caste and the Brahminical Peshwas of the Maratha Confederacy. The Peshwas had a long history of treating persons from Mahar caste as untouchables, and had exploited and persistently meted injustices on them. The offer of the Mahars to serve the Peshwa army was, reportedly, also unceremoniously rejected. It is said that five hundred Mahar soldiers defeated the 25,000-strong Peshwa army. The British erected an Obelisk in memory of the soldiers who lost their lives.The inscription on the obelisk features the names of 22 Mahar soldiers. This victory was significant for the Dalits, who had been marginalized and oppressed for so long.
More than ever today, Dalits view this place with pride as a battleground on which they fought and won against the tyrannical Brahminical rule of Peshwas, steeped in Caste discrimination. Dr. Ambedkar himself visited the site on 1st January 1927 and since then the respect for this place amongst Dalits has spiraled.
This year was the bicentenary of the victory and it was expected that people in lakhs will congregate. Just the day before, on 31st December 2017, in Shaniwarwada, Pune, which is historically considered as bastion of Brahminical forces, the seat of the erstwhile Peshwa empire, various progressive organizations had held a public event “Elgaar Parishad” attended by thousands and addressed by various leaders from Justice P.B Sawant (Retd. Judge, Supreme Court), Justice Kolse Patil (Retd. Judge, Bombay High Court), Soni Sori, Ulka Mahajan, Jignesh Mevani, Prakash Ambedkar, Umar Khalid, amongst others calling upon the people to overthrow “nai peshwaii” or the new form of Brahminical Peshwa rule prevalent in society today.
The awakening of Dalit community, demanding equal rights, respect, dignity and citizenship rights is seen as danger to the rule of Brahminical Caste hierarchy by the Hindu extremist forces which are backed by RSS, as well as BJP. On 29th December 2017 itself in village Vadhu Budruk, (near Bhima Koregaon) some people desecrated a memorial built in memory of Govind Gopal Gaikwad or Ganapat Mahar, a dalit icon, who is said to have performed funeral rights of Sambhaji, son of Shivaji Maharaj. A complaint was filed against those people who desecrated the memorial. There was police action against some of the persons involved in the desecration. In response to these arrests, nearby 10 -12 villages decided to boycott the occasion on 1st January 2018.
A morcha was taken out on 1st January 2018 by the upper caste villagers from Vadhu towards Koregaon. This morcha turned violent and started targeting all the vehicles which were carrying people to Bhima Koregaon. The buses were reportedly stoned even from the terrace of buildings adjacent to the road and around 40 vehicles were burnt and shops, which were open, were vandalized, burnt and looted. One person Rahul Phatangale (28), even got killed and many were wounded in this pre-planned violence unleashed by the morcha with a view to disrupt the commemoration.
As the news of this violence unleashed on people reached Mumbai, there were spontaneous protests, which broke out in various areas of Mumbai on 2nd January 2018. Prakash Ambedkar, CPI, CPM and around 250 organizations from Maharashtra came together and gave call for a Maharashtra Bandh on 3rdJanuary 2018. The Bandh was widely successful and largely peaceful, with sporadic violence reported across Maharashtra.
Only by the evening of 2nd January 2018, the police in Pimpri, on the outskirts of Pune, registered cases against two men with strong Hindu right-wing links, Sambhaji Bhide (85) who leads the Shiv Prathisthan and Milind Ekbote (60) who heads the radical Hindu outfit Samasta Hindu Aghadi. Both these “leaders” have strong links not only with BJP and its ideologue, RSS, but also with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They also have history of violent demonstrations. In 2008, Bhide along with his followers ransacked movie halls protesting against the release of movie Jodha-Akbar. In 2009, too he created violent situation in Sangli when a Ganesh pandal was denied permission. Mr. Ekbote has 12 cases of rioting, trespassing, criminal intimidation, and attempts to spread enmity between two communities against him. He has been reportedly convicted in five of these cases. During his first term as a BJP Corporator in Pune between 1997 and 2002, he had come to fisticuffs with a Muslim Corporator over the construction of Haj house.
On 4th January 2018, police also filed cases in Pune against Jignesh Mevani and Umar Khalid accusing them of instigating violence and giving provocative speeches, though they were not even present in Koregaon. Police even denied permission for a public event in Mumbai on 4th January 2018, which was planned for students many days
before, wherein Jignesh Mevani and Umar Khalid were to interact with students. In fact, police also detained organizers of the program and several other students.
From a consideration of the facts underlying the recent incidents, PUCL expresses its concerns regarding the questionable role of the Maharashtra Government and State Police in allowing violence to build up and not taking appropriate preventive action, which could have ensured that the violence did not spiral out of control. It has been reported that one of the accused in orchestrating the Bhima Koregaon violence, Sambhaji Bhide met the SP, Sangli and gave a representation to drop all cases. The impunity with which both the accused have carried out the attacks and the failure of the State Police to arrest both the accused to date is a clear indication of the state’s complicity.
PUCL demands that the Maharashtra State Government launch an inquiry into the role of government officials and take action against those guilty of dereliction of duty. The role of the state in allowing non-state players like the Shiv Pratishtan and other group to stoke and indulge in violence needs to be investigated and action ought to be taken against the erring officers.
PUCL demands that Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote be arrested and an independent probe be ordered into the death of Rahul Phatangale and culprits be punished.
PUCL also demands that the false and motivated criminal case filed against Jignesh Mevani and Umar Khalid, with a clear intention to shift the blame from the Hindu religious extremists led by Shambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, be unconditionally dropped.
PUCL also demands that attempts to curtail the indivisible constitutional freedoms of speech or movement of Jignesh Mevani, Umar Khalid and all the citizens of India be immediately stopped.
PUCL calls upon all democratic minded citizens to reject the politics of hate and intolerance and assert the importance of respecting diversity, communal harmony and peaceful coexistence of all communities and castes.