Nagpur: The Pune Police on Wednesday arrested six people including activists and a lawyer linked to Dalit protesters in connection with the violence at Bhima-Koregaon on New Year.

The police arrested Rona Wilson, activist and Jawaharlal Nehru University alumnus and another activist Rana Jacob, both from Delhi. Sudhir Dhawale, a Dalit activist and office-bearer of Elgar Parishad, was arrested in Mumbai. Activists Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut and lawyer Surendra Gadling were arrested in Nagpur.

All those arrested have been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, a senior police official in Nagpur associated with the state’s anti-Naxal operations said on condition of anonymity.

“We have been able to establish the money trail between these Naxal sympathizers and Naxals ahead of the Elgar Parishad in Pune on 31 December 2017. Offences were registered against some of these activists, including Dhawale, in January for the violence in Bhima-Koregaon on 1 January that we believe was triggered by their inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad. We have accumulated more evidence in the last few months and have a stronger case now," the official said.

The Elgar Parishad was organized by Dalit activists and intellectuals on 31 December near Shaniwarwada in Pune. Shaniwarwada was the seat of power for the Peshwas, the military and administrative heads of the Maratha empire.

Bhima-Koregaon on the outskirts of Pune holds a significant symbolic position in Dalit folklore because some Dalit historians and activists believe the battle of Bhima-Koregaon on 1 January 1818, which the Peshwas lost to the British army, accelerated the fall of the Peshwas. According to this Dalit narrative, the Mahar regiment (Mahar is a Dalit caste to which Babasaheb Ambedkar belonged) which fought on the side of the British army, was instrumental in this victory. The Peshwas were Brahmins and considered by Dalit activists as caste oppressors.

Thousands of Dalits had gathered in Bhima-Koregaon on 31 December-1 January to commemorate the “valour and victory" of the Mahar regiment over the Peshwas on the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon. Incidences of arson and stone-pelting were reported from Bhima-Koregaon and adjoining villages. One person died in the violence and several were injured.

The violence triggered a Dalit backlash and Maharashtra bandh on 3 January, which saw more arson and stone-pelting. On the charges made by Dalit activists, the police filed first information reports (FIRs) against Hindutva activists Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote for “inciting the violence". Ekbote was arrested and released on bail.

The Pune Police also filed an FIR against Dalit activist and Gujarat legislator Jignesh Mevani for making “an inflammatory speech" at the Elgar Parishad.

Close