The Big Story: Smoke and mirrors
In 1927, BR Ambedkar organised an event to commemorate a little-known battle during the second Anglo-Maratha war in which the Peshwa rulers of the Maratha Empire were defeated by a British force, which is said to have included a large section of Dalits. Since then, Ambedkarites have celebrated the Battle of Koregaon as the first step towards overcoming the caste attrocities they faced under Peshwa rule as well as an affirmation of Dalit pride at having taken part in a famous military victory.
This year’s commemoration, however, came under attack. On New Year’s Day, groups of people carrying saffron flags assaulted Dalits in Bhima Koregaon. Outraged at the violence, Dalit groups hit the streets across Maharashtra. On Wednesday, a bandh called by Dalit groups saw the cities of Mumbai, Pune and Aurangabad shut down.
With a caste rift opening up, the task for the Maharashtra government was clear: investigate the attack on Dalits in Bhima Koregaon and bring the perpetrators to book. Politically, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party needs to reassure Dalits that they willl remain safe in the state.
Yet, it seems the BJP is more interested in deflecting blame. On Thursday, the Mumbai Police shut down a student’s conference at which newly elected Gujarat MLA and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid were expected to speak and detained hundreds of students. The Mumbai Police issued a search warrant for the two.
Concurrently in Pune, the police filed a criminal case against Mevani and Khalid for promoting enmity between two groups by delivering allegedly provocative speeches in Pune on December 31.
This is a charge that is difficult tounderstand. The speeches of both Mevani and Khalid related to social justice and caste equality using the Battle of Bhima Koregaon as an ideal. How could this be construed as promoting social enmity or be linked to the January 1 violence where Dalits were attacked is mystifying.
Meanwhile, members of the saffron groups that are actually accused of the violence on January 1 are yet to be arrested. On Thursday, Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar reiterated his demand for the arrest of Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, two leaders seen to be close to the BJP, and accused of planning the January 1 violence. Yet, addressing the Rajya Sabha, BJP MP from Maharashtra Amar Shankar Sable only ended up blaming Mevani and Khalid for making “incendiary speeches”. This charge has also been taken up in full force by television channels seen as leaning towards the BJP.
By diverting public attention with its focus on Mevani and Khalid, the BJP is deepening caste fissures in Maharashtra. It needs to concentrate its energies on delivering justice for the Dalits attacked in Bhima Koregaon on January 1.
The Big Scroll
Mridula Chari explains why lakhs of Indians celebrate the British victory over the Maratha Peshwas every New Year.
“Are Dalits really oppressed?”: Rohan Venkataramakrishnan lists out five predictable responses to the Bhima Koregaon bandh
The Bhima Koregaon attack may be fallout of vandalism of Dalit icon’s tomb last week, reports Mridula Chari.
- In the Indian Express, M Rajivlochan recounts the actual history of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon.
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Is restoration of the Sabarimala temple’s old name meant to pave the way for women’s entry. TA Ameerudheen reports from Kerala.
“Hearing the plea, the court had asked whether the deity Dharma Sastha lived with two consorts, Poorna and Pushkala, and why women were barred from visiting the Dharma Sastha Temple.
By associating the temple with Ayyappa, a Naishtika Brahmachari vowed to celibacy, the board could argue that letting in young and adult women would be tantamount to breaking the deity’s vow.
In October 2017, the Supreme Court referred the petition to a five-judge Constitution Bench.
Thus, the decision to restore the temple’s name has kindled women’s hopes of offering prayers at Sabarimala.”