Bhima-Koregaon violence

Kashmir Times. Dated: 1/6/2018 4:04:02 PM

Those guilty of Maharashtra violence and how it went out of hand must be investigated thoroughly in the interest of justice

The large scale violence that rocked Pune and spread to other parts of Maharashtra including Mumbai holding the financial capital of the country to ransom for a day is unfortunate and condemnable. But the interesting turn of events has been the members of the ruling party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who sparked the violence and have been booked by the police after cases have been registered against them. In fact, it is notable that the cases were registered by the police against those owing allegiance to right wing groups after pressure from the agitating people. The formal investigations against those accused of flaring up the violence on the outskirts of Pune on Monday are yet to begin and there has been lackadaisical approach on the entire issue. Another interesting aspect is that the speed with which tension spread from Bhima-Koregaon, a village on the outskirts of Pune, on Monday to bring cities across Maharashtra to a shutdown by Wednesday, is a pointer to multiple failure of law enforcing agencies. It appears that the police miserably failed to anticipate the potential for trouble breaking out in Bhima-Koregaon and then ensure that normal life continued in the days after. Usually every year on January 1, a large number of Dalits visit a memorial in Bhima-Koregaon to mark an 1818 battle in which the East India Company, with Mahar soldiers prominent in its ranks, had defeated the Peshwas. From being a local battle lauded in colonial times only to be forgotten by the British, over the years Bhima-Koregaon came to be marked as a site of Dalit valour and repudiation of caste stereotypes. With a visit by Dr B R Ambedkar in 1927, it got involved with political and spiritual meaning beyond the specifics of the original battle and in a forward-looking politics. This year being the 200th anniversary, the commemoration was always going to be larger and more high-profile with Dalits being targeted in various parts of the country for one reason or the other. The police should have increased security and taken precautionary measures beforehand. But there were also indications of tensions brewing after a vandalisation attempt in late December near the samadhi of a Mahar, who it is believed, had performed the last rites of Sambhaji, Shivaji's son. This is not far from Bhima-Koregaon and the administration was aware of the incident and its potential for causing trouble. The pent-up anger, which resulted in widespread incidents of arson and vandalism, ended with the bandh that brought Mumbai and other places to a halt on Wednesday before the strike was called in the afternoon.
The judicial probe promised by the Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis must determine who provoked the violence, how it spread, and to what extent right-wing Hindu groups were responsible for fomenting it. Law and order may have been restored in Maharashtra, but there is a political failing framed by the caste tensions that have bubbled over in the state. At one point, members of the right wing groups, in the first instance, started blaming Dalits for the violence while the situation was totally different on the ground. These are the result of many factors ranging from contested histories, at a more abstract level, to economic insecurities about jobs and livelihood, on the ground. The tension situations of the last week have come against the backdrop of neo-reservation movements, such as by the Marathas in Maharashtra over the past couple of years. This and demands by Marathas to dilute the provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act may be borne of economic and social anxieties - but they, in turn, have created understandable anxieties among Dalits about being left adrift to wage the political battle for their protection on their own. This time the Dalit assertion appears to have resulted in a degree of consolidation as well. The country's politics must bridge differences by addressing anxieties holistically - instead of nurturing new polarised constituencies by widening these fault lines. Moreover, blaming the socially and economically weaker sections for all the ills in the country will not be right thing to do. For ensuring the harmony in the state, the government needs to hold the probe in a transparent manner to inculcate a sense of security among the common masses.



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