The Pune Rural Police and district administration stepped up security in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune on Tuesday as lakhs of people assembled at Jaystambh –
a memorial in the village set up to commemorate the 201st anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon – on Tuesday. Internet services were reportedly shut down in the village, according to The Indian Express.
Ambedkarite group Bhim Army’s chief Chandrashekhar Azad was expected to visit the village in the evening.
On New Year’s Day each year, lakhs of Ambedkarites from across India visit the village to mark a 19th-century British victory over the Brahmin Peshwa-ruled Maratha empire. Members of the Dalit Mahar caste had fought for the British. The Maratha empire’s Peshwa hereditary prime ministers were notorious for their rigid enforcement of caste segregation. Dalits mark the battle as the first major step in their struggle against caste-based discrimination.
However, in 2018, the event shot to the national spotlight after unprecedented violence broke out in the village and its surrounding areas. Videos of the violence on January 1, 2018, predominantly show people with saffron flags and shirts attacking people and vehicles with blue flags. Over the next few months, as the Pune police investigated the incident, they claimed to have unearthed a Maoist conspiracy to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi and overthrow the government. Ten human rights lawyers and activists – “urban Naxalites”, as police called them – have been arrested for the alleged conspiracy so far.
“Meticulous security arrangements have been made with the four-pronged approach – crowd management, traffic flow management, maintaining law and order situation and anti-sabotage vigil,” Inspector General of Police Vishwas Nangre Patil told The Indian Express on Monday after reviewing the situation. “We are confident that the event will be conducted peacefully and smoothly.”
The police had banned the entry of Hindutva leader Milind Ekbote, one of the people accused of instigating the violence last year, as well as activists of the Kabir Kala Manch into the area from December 30 to January 1.