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Battle of Koregaon

  • Category
    History
  • Published
    8th Jan, 2020

202nd Anniversary of Battle of Koregaon Bhima

Context

202nd Anniversary of Battle of Koregaon Bhima

About

  • Bhima-Koregaon, a small village in Pune district of Maharashtra, has a rich Maratha history. Two hundred years ago, on January 1, 1818, a few hundred Mahar soldiers of the East India Company, led by the British, defeated the massive Peshwa army, led by Peshwa Bajirao II, in Koregaon.
  • Legend has it that about 500 Mahar soldiers under the East India Company clashed with a 25,000-strong army of Peshwa Bajirao II.
  • Mahars, at this point, were considered an untouchable community, and were not recruited in the army by the peshwas.
  • This battle has, since, attained legendary stature in Dalit history.
  • The Dalits who follow BR Ambedkar view this battle as a victory of Mahars over the injustice and torture meted out to them by the Brahminical Peshwas.

So What Happens There Every January?

  • On January 1, 1927, Bhimrao Ambedkar started the ritual of holding a commemoration at the site of this pillar, one that is repeated every year.
  • It’s the Ambedkarite Dalits who gather at Bhima Koregaon to pay their respect at the Vijay Sthamb (victory pillar).
  • The pillar was erected by the East India Company in memory of those who fought the battle. The names of the Mahar soldiers who unknowingly brought an end to the Peshwa rule in 1818 are inscribed on the pillar.
  • Dalit Ambedkarites draw inspiration from this victory at Bhima Koregaon. Ever since Bhima-Koregaon Ranstambh Seva Sangh (BKRSS) was formed, they regard the stambh or pillar as a site of their valour and a symbol of their place in the political diaspora.
  • Those protesting the commemoration of the Koregaon Bhima battle victory are miffed because it basically celebrates the "British victory" against the Marathas.

Why Bhima Koregaon is seen as a Dalit symbol?

  • The battle has come to be seen as a symbol of Dalit pride because a large number of soldiers in the Company force were the Mahar Dalits.
  • Since the Peshwas, who were Brahmins, were seen as oppressors of Dalits, the victory of the Mahar soldiers over the the Peshwa force is seen as Dalit assertion.
  • Thus, in the first battle and the last battle (1757-1818) it was the Untouchables who fought on the side of the British and helped them to conquer India.

Arguments against it

  • Ambedkar's pride in Bhima Koregaon belonged very much to that age. Ambedkar was a very original and provocative thinker. Some of his views were quite cogent but belonged to those very times.
  • Many of his views on Muslims and Christians would be totally unacceptable in today's India.
  • It was not as if the British were kind to the Mahars.
  • The British had abolished the Mahar regiment after 1857 uprising. They started preferring upper castes that they called 'martial races'.
  • The Mahar regiment was restarted only during the Second World War.
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