Celebrating the 190th Anniversary of Dalit Martyrdom of Bhima Koregaon
As the world celebrates the New Year today, we take the opportunity to celebrate the190th anniversary of Battle of Bhima Koregaon fought on 1st January 1818, we salute the Dalit martyrs who fought courageously against the Peshwa Army. Simultaneously, the country is also celebrating the 150th anniversary of the1857 uprising, the debate on legitimizing such a revolt has once again cropped up in the academic circles. Essays, books and ceremonies are dedicated to the valorization of the 1857 Uprising. The mainstream academia is relentlessly glorifying the struggle of 1857 by positioning it as the first war against imperialism ignoring the nuances attached to it. The struggle of 1857 was not primarily driven by the sentiments of nationalism but followed due to the insecurity and curtailment of privileges of feudal lords by the British. Yet it was an unsuccessful and disorganized attempt to uphold the tradition of the religious/social divisions in the society. Even Mahatma Phule in the midst of 1857 chaos had time and again argued through writings and his public and political platform that without annihilation of the caste system, equality and tranquility would never prevail. In this context, the defeat of Peshwa army on 1st January 1818 by the small contingent of 500 untouchable Mahar soldiers of the British Army at Bhima Koregaon assumes greater significance. It was an attempt by the untouchable group to get rid of the all omnipresent and unequal caste based society led by the patrons such as Peshwas. In the early 19th century, the Maratha Empire led by Peshwa Bajirao II was gradually diminishing due to internal dissents and setbacks in the previous Anglo-Maratha wars. Maharashtrian society under Peshwas had followed nastiest kind of social discrimination wherein the lower strata of society such as untouchables were confined to the stringent Brahmanical laws and subsequently their mobility and development were impaired. The untouchables had suffered the most in the 2000 year old caste system. But regimes such as of the Brahmincal Peshwas are the best examples where untouchables and the lower caste groups experienced horrendous and nastiest form of social humiliations to carry broom sticks on their backs and earthen pots hung on their necks wherein they released their spit.
The battle of Koregaon was fought on the bank of river Bhima, situated on the
Today the celebration of the 1857 uprising has become the political need even of the Left and other ‘progressive’ sections of society ignoring the truly people’s uprising such as of Mundas. The main motive of the 1857 was premised on the religious and social divisions. This celebration of 1857 evidently shows the dominant political and academic discourse which negates the importance of the mass struggle led various tribal and marginalized groups like the Mundas. One really needs to rethink the inclusive nature of the 1857 revolt and the Indian National Movement. Untouchables’ opposition to the dominant anti-imperialist movement has been time and again decried by the ‘Nationalists’. The so called ‘Nationalist’ leaders of the freedom movement accused the untouchables of being stooges of British imperialism overlooking that they themselves were remiss in ostracizing the cause of the toiling untouchable masses. Nationalism is often referred to in the context of the anti-imperialistic struggle. But the events like Bhima Koregaon have provided an alternative framework to study the nuances of nationalism. Moreover, we need to understand that nationalism is not only an ideology which seeks liberation from the detrimental influence of foreign powers on one hand but also on the other, seeks to dismantle the unequal, hierarchical power structure. In the present context, mainstream academics and the political discourse has not yet understood the importance of assimilating the marginalized castes and classes in the dominant discourse. This illustrates the myopic attitude of the political and intellectual class. The motive of this debate is to invigorate the discussion on dominant understanding of nationalism and its consequences in the growing threat of neo-imperialism and emerging casteist Brahmanical organizations like YFE. In fact it is also a wake up call for the progressive sections of the campus which was busy in the celebration of 1857, while ignoring the real voices of the marginalized.
Sd/ Harish, Suhas, Prabodhan, Milind, Prachin, Sudarshan