Why Dalits celebrate victory of British over the Peshwa, Bhima Koregaon.
200 years ago, the Marathas were organized into a loose confederacy, with the major constituents being the Peshwa of Pune, the Scindia of Gwalior, the Holkar of Indore, the Gaekwad of Baroda, and the Bhonsle of Nagpur. There were revenue sharing disputes among them which helped British take charge of the revenue and land. This resulted in battles between the British and the Peshwa, the final victory was achieved by the British in the Battle of Koregaon, a village on the banks of river Bhima on outskirts of Pune city.
The tenure of the Peshwa’s was highly atrocious for the depressed class in Pune. The treatment was inhuman and even animals would have received better treatment. This had resulted in a lot of anger in the depressed class, particularly the Mahar community.
The Mahar’s got better employment and treatment in the British companies, namely the Railway, Ports and Military. They were known for the valour, hard work and trustworthy nature. The 1st Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry, which fought the battle in Koregaon had native infantry soldiers predominantly from the Mahar community. The unit compromised of around 500 infantry of which 50% were Mahar, with remaining belonging to other depressed class and even Muslims.
The Peshwa on the other side were around 20,000 cavalry and 8000 infantry, a very powerful unit compared to the British. However, in this battle the small unit of British were successful to defeat a bigger, mighter unit of the Peshwa and celebrate victory within a very short time. The Maratha army retracted and Peshwa fled from Pune. This historic victory was achieved on 1st Jan 1818. The British in the memory of the martyred soldiers erected a pillar with engravings of their names.
This was a political battle, fought between the Peshwa and the British, where the British won, but the depressed class, who had face atrocities of the Peshwa, see this as a victory of the Dalits (Mahar’s) over the Peshwa. It also highlights their militancy and valour. It is a cry for social justice and acceptance in everyday walks of life on equal footing. Ambedkar used to visit this place and pay homage to the martyred.
Today, it has become a symbol to fight caste oppression, annihilation of caste is prime demand of the Dalits who are mostly on the receiving end from upper caste groups.
While this militancy is for social justice and equality, India does have right wing militancy functioning in favour of “their” religion and against a “foreign religion”. Arms are publicly displayed to instil fear among the minorities and create an atmosphere of where they feel as secondary citizen so that they do not ask their rights.
India has seen various militancy movements, but this dalit militancy stands out as it seeks that the people are accepted and not neglected, they wish to be part of the whole culture and not be outcasted. Other militancy movements create divisions and then seek their goals. Dalit militancy on the other hand wants others to follow the constitution and its implementation in practice with the spirit.
Even today, they are fighting the “Peshwa” and seeking inclusion. Be it Rohith Vemula or Priyanka Bhootmange, they had achieved success in their career and wished to make their lives better, not at the cost of others failure. The caste forces did not wish to see them grow and many such youths have been martyred in a long battle which still exists in the nation.
Today, this Dalit militancy has picked up pens, words and social media, and continues to fight caste oppression. The “mainstream media” shall never give them their space, so they have created their own. Their only fight is to follow the rule of land be democratic and justice to be delivered. Dalit militancy has never been against your eating habits, your choice to marry, choice to worship, etc. Dalit militancy uses words and so there is no public lynching of any one.
This battle has given them their zeal to continue the fight against caste, for equality, for justice and above all a right to life with dignity.