The Pune police on Monday filed a case against five people in connection with the violence that followed the commemoration of a 200-year-old battle near Bhima Koregaon in January. For 11 months, the Pune police refused to file a case after a woman alleged that a mob had burnt down her eatery on January 2, citing lack of evidence. But they finally filed the case after viewing a video Scroll.in had recorded of the incident.
The police also said that they would set up an independent Special Investigation Team to examine the cases of violence that broke out in and around Koregaon Bhima, which is popularly called Bhima Koregaon, in January this year.
On January 2, a violent mob had burnt down the roadside biryani eatery of Mangal Kamble, a villager from Bhima Koregaon. Kamble has identified four people in the video, including the son of the district vice president of the Shiv Sena. In her written complaint, Kamble said that of a group of 100 to 150 people, around 20 to 25 people attacked her property. The police have filed the FIR against the four people she named and an unidentified person. They have been charged under the Indian Penal Code for unlawful assembly and arson, as well as under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The announcement came after months of efforts by Kamble and Rahul Dambale, a leader with the Bahujan Republic Socialist Party in Pune. “We have been asking for this for 11 months,” Dambale said. “Around 1,500 accused are still absconding, including Sambhaji Bhide and the killers of Rahul Phatangale.” Bhide was among two Hindutva leaders booked earlier this year in connection with the violent clashes, in which Phatangale died. Dalit leaders and workers at the village alleged that Bhide and the other Hindutva leader – Milind Ekbote – had instigated the violence. Ekbote was arrested and subsequently released on bail but Bhide was not questioned by the police due to “lack of evidence”.
“This SIT has been formed to investigate and gather evidence to arrest them,” Dambale said. “It is now the request of all Ambedkarites that a national monument be made at Bhima Koregaon.”
Violence at Bhima Koregaon
The attack on Kamble’s hotel was one of several instances of violence that occurred between January 1 and 2. On New Year’s Day each year, lakhs of Ambedkarites from across the state pour in to the village to pay their respects at a memorial pillar that commemorates a 19th century British victory over the Brahmin Peshwa-ruled Maratha empire. This year, however, violence broke out. Videos from January 1 predominantly show people with saffron flags and clothes attacking those with blue flags.
Days before the commemoration this year, villages in the area had issued calls for boycotting the visitors, following tensions over another memorial in a nearby village. The boycott calls instructed the villagers to keep their establishments closed on January 1.
In her first information report filed on December 3, Kamble, who is a neo-Buddhist, says that she defied the boycott and kept her biryani hotel open from 8 am to 11 am, until a group of bikers began to beat her and vandalise the establishment. Kamble went to Hadapsar near Pune for treatment that evening.
On the morning of January 2, a Scroll.in reporter was recording a live video of a peace meeting held by Vishwas Nangre-Patil, special Inspector General of Police of Kolhapur range, addressing a sit-in of Maratha women at Bhima Koregaon. Even as Nangre-Patil appealed to the women for peace, a mob a few hundred metres down the road behind him set Kamble’s eatery ablaze. Scroll.in recorded a live video of the immediate aftermath of the fire.