Millennium Post

Maharashtra marred

Maharashtra was torn apart by caste violence on Tuesday, as celebrations of subverting caste identities ironically backfired to become a debacle in the quest for wresting power. The bi-centenary celebrations of the Bhima-Koregaon battle, a clash between the upper caste Peshwas and the colonial rulers represented by the Dalits, was markedly reduced in its memorable intensity, as mob violence raged the streets of Maharashtra, bringing the state to a standstill. The government was left befuddled over the 'correct method' to arrest such an incidence while being sensitive to the concerns of each caste that was at loggerheads with each other. January 1, 1818, had witnessed a historic battle as the British troops represented by the Dalits, clashed with Peshwa Bajirao II's forces at Koregaon along the Bhima River, a little off Pune. Though outnumbered severely by the powerful Peshwas, the fight ended with Bajirao's troops withdrawing themselves to fight another British contingent impinging upon the Pune territorial boundary. To commemorate this symbolic victory, the British had set up and obelisk that carried the name of 22 Dalits, known as the Mahars. Maharashtra witnesses annual celebration among the Mahars to celebrate this historic event that had alternated caste superiority and witnessed the totemic victory of 'good over evil'. Remembered time and again as an important event in the Dalit dictionary, this year witnessed about 10 lakh supporters who gathered to voice their power that would not succumb to the pressure of casteism. Yet, ironically, a day that should be celebrated across India, and not just by the Dalits, as an overcoming of mythical caste structures, was severely reduced in its valour and meaning as violence erupted among the mob with Dalits claiming that they were attacked by men from the right-wing. The situation rapidly escalated as 25 vehicles were torched by members who opposed this gathering that has been a routine affair since the last several decades. Stones were hurled, further damaging public property and ultimately a young 28-year-old bypassing the protests on his way from office fell prey to the violence and succumbed to his injuries. While activists and governments are at loggerheads to pinpoint the source of the mishap, hoping to capitalise upon the miscreant and enter another battle emerging from differences in caste and colour—the unquestionable fact remains this: 200-years since the British lent a hand of support to the Mahars, we are still living in a society that is deeply fragmented and difference is celebrated with animosity far before a hand of comfort is extended. The upliftment of Dalits will not only assign victory to that community, it will mark the victory of our entire country.
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