Social Issues

A war of Labels

Dhyeya IAS | IAS, PCS, UPSC, Best Institute for IAS, PCS Exam Preparation

This article discusses about the recent Dalit protests in Maharashtra, why its happening ? Its impact are being further discussed on our society and political scenario. There was a caste conflict in Bhima Koregaon and Wadhu Budruk in Maharashtra recently. It is indicative of the larger issues of caste oppression and sub-nationalism.

 The Battle of Bhima Koregaon

  • The Battle- Bhima Koregaon is a tiny village in Pune.
  • A battle in Koregaon took place between British troops and Marathas (Peshwa Bajirao II) on January 1, 1818 and the English won.
  • Significance - The English troops constituted a sizeable number of Mahars, a dalit community in the region.
  • The outcome of the battle is seen as a victory of the dalitsagainst the injustices perpetuated by the Brahminical Peshwas.
  • Vijay Sthamb - The East India Company erected the Vijay Sthamb (victory pillar) in memory of the battle and it includes the names of the Mahar soldiers.
  • Dr B R Ambedkar had also visited it repeatedly and had emphasized the Mahars's defeat of the Peshwas.
  • In the following years, thousands have been gathering in Bhima Koregaon on January 1 to pay homage.
  • Current conflict- The 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle was commemorated recently.
  • Dalits increasingly regard the pillar as a symbol of renewed political aspiration.
  • The denunciation of the Peshwas is being related with Mahars' social and political marginalisation in contemporary times.
  • This is driving the Hindutva forces to doubt the conspicuous politicisation of Dalits.
  • The resulted in the clash and violence during the anniversary and led to the deaths.

What happened at Wadhu Budruk?

  • History- Wadhu Budruk is a village near Bhima Koregaon, is where Sambhaji, the eldest son of Shivaji, was cremated. As the legend goes, killed by the Mughals in 1689, Sambhaji’s body was mutilated and thrown into a river by Aurangzeb.
  • It was Govind Mahar, a Dalit, who then gathered the body parts and arranged for the last rites.
  • Sambhaji’s memorial was said to have been erected by the Mahars of that village.
  • Consequently, Govind Mahar’s tomb was also erected in the village after his death.
  • Current conflict- Recently, Marathas, refused to acknowledge the role played by the Mahars in the last rites of Sambhaji.
  • They also objected to a sign at the site that recounted the story and complaints were filed with the police by both sides.
  • Notably, the violent clashes in Bhima Koregaon were an extension of the conflict in Wadhu Budruk.


Its Social and Political implications 

  • Both the conflicts indicate an effort to situate Maratha history within the Hindutva framework.
  • Dalits- Being the 200th anniversary, the gathering in Bhima Koregaon was larger than usual and a big public conference was also organised. The agenda was evidently against Hindutva politics.
  • Notably, Hindutva politics is increasingly being projected as the neo-peshwai (new Peshwas).
  • Hindutva- The new political articulation of the Dalits by equating Hindutva with the Peshwai has made the right-wing forces concerned.
  • Certainly, some of the Hindutva organisations are polarising the political landscape on religious and caste lines. This is particularly to weaken the Ambedkarite Dalits who are seen as impediments to ensuring a Hindutva regime.
  • Nationalism- The agitation underscores the latent sub-nationalistic impulses currently active in Indian society.
  • In a way, this is a struggle between two nationalisms - religion-based versus caste-based.
  • Dalits, including thousands of Mahars, visit the obelisk every year on January 1, seeing it as a memory of their forefathers overthrowing the casteist rule of the Peshwas. To them, this was the beginning of the Annihilation of Caste, even if it included war against their fellowmen.
  • While 2017 was dominated by the Marathas demanding dilution of the Prevention of Atrocities Act (the central law that protects Dalits) as well as reservations in jobs and higher education, the perpetrators of the violence against Dalits in BHima-Koregaon are not Maratha. 

Nationalism twisted - In a way, this is a struggle between two nationalisms - religion-based versus caste-based.

  • The concept of nationalism got a new twist when resistance came against the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Koregaon victory from groups who claimed that celebrating the defeat of native Peshwas at the hands of the British was a violation of nationalism and national pride.
  • In one stroke, then, those seeking to celebrate the fall of the Peshwas became non-nationalist (if not anti-national) and the Peshwas became a symbol of the national fight against colonialism.