Recently, there was violence in Maharashtra on 1st January 2018 as persons carrying saffron flags attacked people at Bhima Koregaon. In the violence a person died, many injured and vehicles were damaged. The propaganda by rightwing media is to attribute the violence to ‘instigating speeches’ by younger activists who had gathered.
The saffron attempt at depicting violence in Bhima Koregaon is to blame Jignesh Mewani and Umar Khalid, who had emerged from the Una dalit resistance and JNU opposition. The point not depicted is that the event in Bhima Khoregaon is being celebrated since the last two hundred years. This year the RSS aligned forces were present weeks before the event and were intensifying efforts to see that no such event is held. They had even called for a ban on entry of outsiders. A
number of rightwing groups such as Akhil Bharatiya Brahman Mahasabha and Hindu Aghadi and Rashtriya Ekatamata Rashtra Abhiyan had gathered and were propagating the event as anti-national and casteist.
It was not any provocation by Mewani and Khalid but a meeting on December 31 held by Marathas which created tensions. Dalits who had come for the event were attacked. The prime accused Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote are known for their saffron leanings. Bhide is a sangh pracharak and also from Shiv Pratishthan Hindus. Modi had even defined Bhide as his ‘Guru’. Ekbote had launched Hindu Ekta Manch and is also from Samast Hindu Aghad. Both these organizations were involved in carrying out protests against the movie ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ and ‘Valentine’s day’. Hence the violence rather than any provocation by Jignesh and Umar were a direct result of involvement of RSS.
Another way the event is being depicted is to project it as an anti-national event. In the war between the Marathas and the Britishers, the mahar dominant British East India Company won putting an end to Maratha kingdom. Mahars were considered polluting and were excluded from the Peshwa army. Their offer of joining Peshwa army was also rejected, which ultimately made them to join Britishers. Moreover, they had undergone caste atrocities under Peshwa rule. Dalits had to tie broom behind backs to clean their ‘polluting’ footprints and pots around necks to collect spittle. Caste oppression under Peshwas thus forms a part of the historical memory of Dalits. The event is celebrated each year. Even Dr. Ambedkar visited the site in 1927.
The event celebrated by the Dalits, is not the victory of the Britishers but Dalit resistance to caste atrocities and oppressive regime by the Peshwas. It continues to inspire the current Dalit resistance. Hence depicting it as an anti-national event only tends to undermine the aspect of caste oppression. It is what is celebrated (fighting caste oppression) rather than the victors (Britishers) that should matter.
In the current times, any opposition to Hindutva forces is being seen as a threat to establishing a Hindu theocracy. Hence they get branded as anti-national and put behind bars. Hindutva by its very nature is casteist and aims at maintaining the traditional caste inequities and religious supremacy. However, this is receiving severe resistance from the counter voices.
Hindutva thesis is being countered through an anti-thesis consisting of struggles by dalits, minorities and youth. The ‘Hunkar rally’ which followed the Bhima Khoregaon saw the gathering of younger activists Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid, Jignesh Mevani. Assam’s leader Akhil Gogoi and Senior Supreme court lawyer Prashant Bhushan also attended. The speakers pointed how the current regime poses a threat to the idea of ‘India’ as defined by the constitution and how the plans are underway to bring in rule of manusmriti. Opposing arrest of Chandrashekhar Azad, it called for his release. Questioning cultural terrorism, Mevani declared “We believe in India’s polity. We are not love jihad guys. We’re pyaar ishq muhabbat guys. We will celebrate 14th February (Valentines’ Day)”.
The rightwing government is in the process of changing the current narratives of historical events and bringing in its own ‘nationalist’ narrative which in reality is ‘communal, casteist and racist’. These narratives need to be countered to preserve the idea of India.
T Navin works with an NGO as a Researcher.