Just why do Dalits celebrate the British victory over the Maratha Peshwa 200 hundred years ago? A documentary by Somnath Waghamare (above), titled The Battle of Bhima Koregaon: An Unending Journey, provides some answers.
Not by telling the story of the battle, however. The 50-minute documentary captures the the annual commemoration of the battle, which takes place on January 1 every year, and its relevance to contemporary Dalit politics in India.
The 500-and-odd Mahar – the precise number is debated – soldiers in the army of the East India Company, who fought the battle against the Peshwas in 1818, won in spite of being largely outnumbered in battle. While the conventional view would see this battle as a victory of British forces against Marathas, leading to the passing of the territory to British hands, Dalits view it as a victory against Brahmin oppressors.
Waghamare’s film explores the reasons that the anniversary of the battle is observed with such energy year. As one of the people ineterviewed in the documentary says: “This (Bhima Koregaon) gathering is for the liberation of humanity, for the struggle towards annihilation of caste and for moving towards freedom, equality and fraternity...The pillar that stands at Bhima Koregaon is a testimony to the war and an inspiration to continue to fight the discrimination.”