WSS condemns the wave of state repression following the peaceful commemoration of the Ambedkarite community on the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon. The most recent wave of repression is a set of raids without a warrant conducted simultaneously at 6 am on 17 April, 2018, upon the homes of Kabir Kala Manch activists Rupali Jadhav, Jyoti Jagtap, Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Gorkhe and Dhawala Dhengle in Pune; Republican Panther activists Sudhir Dhavale and Harshali Potdar in Mumbai; and Nagpur-based lawyer Surendra Gadling and Delhi-based CRPP activist Rona Wilson. Rupali and Jyoti are also members of WSS and staunch feminist activists.
January 1, 2018 marks 200 years since the battle between the Peshwas and the British fought across the banks of the Bhima river in the village of Koregaon, close to Pune in Maharashtra. The British regiment consisted of a large number of soldiers from the Mahar community. Their fight against the Peshwas was commemorated by Babasaheb Dr. B. R. Ambedkar as a historic blow dealt to the notoriously casteist Peshwa regime. It has since then been observed annually on January 1 by Ambedkarites all over the country who gather at the monument erected by the British at the site that bears the names of the soldiers martyred there to pay their respect.
On the evening of 31 December, 2017, a broad platform of activists came together as the Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan and organized an ‘Elgaar Parishad’ in Shaniwarwada, Pune, to protest against Nava Peshwai, the new forms and systems of caste discrimination and Hindutva fascism emerging today. They planned to later proceed to Koregaon to salute the martyrs. The spontaneous mobilization at Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018 was even larger than usual because of the 200th year anniversary, and as always, was conducted peacefully and in an orderly manner. Moreover, many members of the Elgaar Parishad and some invited speakers could not even proceed as planned due to security concerns.
The reaction of right wing organizations and the state to immediately file legal charges against some members of the Parishad and speakers at the event, as well as mass arrests of Dalits in and around Pune demonstrated the new face of Peshwai. The ensuing saffron violence simply proved what the organizers were focusing on which is that there is a Nava Peshwai or Brahmanical Hindutwa rule in the country today. This was an attack on a community’s claiming of history that portrays the caste reality in a grave light complicating a simple anti colonial narrative. Crowds of individuals brandishing saffron flags were captured on video attacking people near the memorial, and in the ensuring violence one person, Rahul Fatangale, died while three people were injured. There were media reports stating that stones were pelted, cars bearing Ambedkarite signs were burnt, and the Buddhist Panchsheel flag was stamped upon; however most media outlets did not cover this and reported these as generic clashes without contextualizing them. The violence is thought to have begun in the village of Vadhu Budruk where some people vandalized the tombs of Shivaji’s son Sambhaji, and that of Gaikwad, a Dalit man who is said to have defied Aurangzeb’s order to provide the last rites for Sambhaji when he was killed by Aurangzeb. Violence then spread to several areas in Maharashtra and mass arrests were reported, including arrests of people from the Dalit community who were peacefully traveling to and from Bhima Koregaon.
Following this, a peaceful Maharashtra bandh was called for by Prakash Ambedkar and endorsed by Dalit, OBC, Muslim and Maratha groups across the state, naming the divisive politics of Hindutva as its target and proclaiming the unity of all these groups. It was observed on a mass scale on January 3 throughout Maharashtra, unprecedented since the Ramabai Nagar police firing in 1997, with peaceful sit-ins and marches throughout. However, at several places, there were mass arrests of peaceful protesters, with around 5000 arrests all across Maharashtra, especially in Aurangabad, Nanded and Mumbai. While the police claim have only arrested “miscreants”, reports say that some arrests were made of people in their homes, and many of the arrestees include minors. This repression was barely reported in the media, which chose instead to focus on the inconvenience caused by the bandh. This casteist media blackout reflects the manuvadi nervousness in the face of a growing and increasingly confident Dalit assertion, as well as fear that just as is in the past, Marathas, OBC and Muslims had united in this commemoration and stood against Nava Peshwai. For example, Sambhaji Brigade, a Maratha organisation actively participated in the campaign as well as the protests following the violent attacks by Hindutwa forces. A few days later an FIR under sections 153A, 505(1), 117 and 34 of IPC was filed against the organizers and speakers at the Elgaar Parishad at Bhima Koregaon. Meanwhile it must be noted that both the homes of Surendra Gadling in Nagpur and Rona Wilson in Delhi were searched without a warrant based on a court order relating to the FIR filed against Elgar Parishad organizers, despite neither having been named in the FIR. This suggests that the FIR is being used as an excuse to attack activists.
Media reports suggest another 5000 people have been booked in cases across Maharashtra! It is a matter of great concern and irony that serious cases under the Amended Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 2016 and inciting violence and rioting, filed against Brahmin right-wing ideologues have been not acted upon, while so many thousands of people from marginalized communities have been booked and arrested in a draconian manner. For example, one of the men accused of fomenting the violence, Sambhaji Bhide, has still not been arrested despite a case being booked on serious charges of rioting, attempt to murder and sections of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and Arms Act. The other accused, Milind Ekbote, was arrested after a prolonged mass mobilization and legal battle in which his multiple applications for anticipatory bail were denied at the Sessions and High court level, and his interim bail from the Supreme Court was only canceled after he repeatedly refused to cooperate with the investigation. In fact, the seizure of pen drives, hard drives and laptops by the police has had the effect of depriving the activists of all the video and other forms of evidence they had amassed indicating the involvement of Sambhaji Bhide in fomenting the violence at Bhima Koregaon. Along with the attack on Ambedkar press, the dilution of the SC/ST atrocity act, the mass violence and incarceration of men from dalit communities after the nation-wide Bharat Band mobilization, and the state sanction for rapes perpetrated and justified by BJP MLAs, these can be read as a clear strike against the survival and self determination of historically marginalized castes and communities, with impunity guaranteed to the perpetrators.
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression condemns this crackdown and the role this state repression has played in unilaterally repressing the communities struggling against casteism, while giving a free hand to the Nava Peshwai right wing forces that have incited violence and instigated divisive politics against marginalized communities.
1. An end to the state repression and a withdrawal of the FIR lodged against the activists who organized or spoke at the Elgaar Parishad, and an end to the use of the related court order being used against activists not even present at the Parishad.
2. A high-level investigation into the widespread violence organized against dalit, OBC and muslim communities in the aftermath of the Bhima-Koregaon commemoration.
3. Immediate action must be taken against Sambhaji Bhide upon serious charges of rioting, attempt to murder and the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.