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Dalit protests, violence mar Bhima-Koregaon battle anniversary event

NCP chief Sharad Pawar demanded that the Devendra Fadnavis government should probe the incidents of violence during the event to mark 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in Pune district. Photo: Hindustan TimesPremium
NCP chief Sharad Pawar demanded that the Devendra Fadnavis government should probe the incidents of violence during the event to mark 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in Pune district. Photo: Hindustan Times

A person was killed in the stone-pelting and vandalism that occurred at Bhima-Koregaon in Pune when people were heading for the war memorial in the village

Pune: The event to mark 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in Pune district, in which forces of the East India Company defeated the Peshwa’s army, was marred by incidents of violence on Tuesday, with at least one person getting killed.

Dalit leaders commemorate the British victory, as it is believed that soldiers from Mahar community— then considered untouchable—were part of the East India Company’s forces. However, some right-wing groups in Pune had expressed opposition to celebration of the “British" victory.

Incidents of stone-pelting and vandalism occurred at Bhima Koregaon in Shiroor tehsil Tuesday afternoon when people were heading for the war memorial in the village, police said. A man died in the violence, a top police official told the Press Trust of India late in the evening.

However, his identity and how exactly he died was not known yet, the officer said. The violence erupted after a local group and some members of the crowd on its way to the memorial had an argument over some issue.

“Stone-pelting started after the argument. During the violence, some vehicles and a house in the vicinity were damaged," a police officer deployed for security at Bhima Koregaon said without elaborating. He said the police stopped traffic on the Pune-Ahmednagar highway for sometime following the incident.

The situation in the village is under control now, he said. “More police personnel, including companies of State Reserve Police Force, have been deployed," the officer said. According to him, mobile phone networks were also blocked for some time to stop circulation of inflammatory messages.

The battle of Bhima Koregaon was fought on 1 January 1818. Some Dalit leaders and thinkers view its outcome as a victory of oppressed classes over the upper-caste establishment of those times.

Earlier in the day, Dalit leader and Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani visited the war memorial in the village. Mevani had also attended “Elgaar Parishad" held in Pune to commemorate the battle on Monday.

Meanwhile, MoS (social justice) Ramdas Athawale demanded police protection for Dalits in the wake of Tuesday’s violence. “Dalit groups visiting Bhima Koregaon were stopped at Sanaswadi near Koregaon. Stones were hurled at them. No police force was available for their protection," Athawale said in a statement. He appealed to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to deploy additional police force in the village and provide protection to the members of local Dalit community. PTI SPK ND NSK KRK

Fadnavis, on his part, said a judicial inquiry has been ordered into the violence. “A sitting high court judge will head the inquiry," Fadnavis said.

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