Bhima Koregaon—One History, Two Hundred Years Apart


Whether we are aware of it or not, we stand to witness now what will be history tomorrow. A history that will do its provenance proud, in fact, leaving it a lot more glorious.

Even the xenophobic right who asked for this new chapter in the first place, are left with no ‘foreign conspiracy’ theory to tout. For ‘Bhima Koregaon II’ is being scripted entirely for, of, and by the Dalits of an independent India.

In this episode, the ‘Maharashtra bandh’by 250 Dalit groups led by Prakash Ambedkar, the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh leader and grandson of the great B.R.Ambedkar,rides the crest of Dalit resistance and liberation of our times.If a bandh is what it takes for non-Dalits to catch up with historical facts, it is a fitting response to the disruption of Dalits’ observance of the Bhima Koregaon battle that concluded on 1 January 1818, a battle that saw Mahars fight alongside the British to defeat the oppressive upper-caste Peshwa near Pune.

It is not only that. Dalits across have not just reacted quickly and spontaneously to what was an immediate infringement of their fundamental rights and the unfortunate loss of one human life, they have, in doing so, shown the rest of us that they will stand up on behalf of all of us to safeguard the fabric of humanity that is being gnawed away by intolerant Hindutva forces in the country. The Mahars may have fought on the side of the British 200 years ago, but here they are out in the streets in 2018, not acting on any one’s orders but their own, coming out in the open, unafraid of being beaten up or arrested by our so-called law-keepers, and fighting on the side of a disregarded humanity. While all that the rest of us can do is grumble about how we have been inconvenienced by a day or two’s disruption of our daily, comfortable, and dishonest lives.

The corporate media, once again, trips on itself, losing an opportunity steeped in history for self-reflection. “It has been two terrible days for Mumbaikars with vandalism, traffic, road blockages…” is how upper-caste journalists on a mainstream TV channel ranted,saying each time the same thing from a different part of Mumbai. They seemed to talk more of their own discomfort to us. Footage after footage showed how “the common man” was most affected by the bandh, with train services disrupted and people having to walk home along the tracks, with nothing to eat “as restaurants were all closed and dabba services disrupted.”That leaves us wondering – what about the other common man (read protestors), carrying on what should be our collective battle?

If India – that part of India which has never imagined or known what it means to be dalit – could feel even a tiny fraction of what it has been for dalits to find schools, temples, water sources, public paths, means of transport, and eateries and homes slammed shut on their faces all their lives – by the ‘inconveniences’ caused by the 3 January bandh– then this bandh was totally worth it.

The media has also thoughtlessly hurled words such as violence and vandalism at the Dalit protestors, who were in fact protesting nothing but violence itself.  Two years ago, Anand Teltumbde, the scholar and civil rights activist, in this interview said in a different context, “The deep-rooted venom of caste needs a strong antidote, and this can only happen through retaliatory violence.”He wasn’t professing violence, but talking about its inevitability when all reasonable recourses fail. In this light, it is actually commendable that the Maharashtra bandh has sent across a “you can’t mess with us anymore without a strong reaction” message across the entire nation, rather peacefully. For this, it isn’t the police or administration, but the protestors themselves we have to thank.

Secular, anti-caste,and so on are not just words that sound good to air or wear as labels;these are to be internalized and  lived by; often by jolting ourselves out of our comfort zones.How many of us are able to feel proud deep down today, and cheer the Dalits for their true act of courage in confronting head on the threat to our basic human values by those who instill fear, terror, and false notions of nationalism?

The vacuous media will lose no timein extending the script in all directions, in writing ill-informed commentaries, inpicking holes and angles, making conjectures about the Bhima Koregaon battle of 1818, an event that most non-Dalits had no inkling about till 1 January 2018. But the most important message of ‘Bhima Koregaon II’ is simply this – no uprising is too big a cost to pay for the independence of those among ourselves we have kept oppressed for thousands of years. Let us learn to welcome them – and join them – rather than worry about having to walk a few extra kilometers to reach home.

(SowmyaSivakumar is a freelance writer based in Tamil Nadu. Email: [email protected])


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