I have been visiting Bhima Koregaon regularly since last 10 years on every first of January to pay my homage to my ancestors for their valour and bravery. The 200th anniversary year (1st January 2018) of Bhima Koregaon battle brought more than one million people not only from Maharashtra but also from various parts of our country. People came from afar. They came from Andhra Pradesh. They came from Telangana. They came from Rajasthan. They came from all over India. After 200 years, the monument at Bhima Koregaon is transformed into the symbol of social revolution throughout India.
The battle of Bhima Koregaon is a historic battle in many aspects. On 1st January 1818, the disciplined and organised army of 500 defeated the 28,000 army of the Peshvas/Brahmins. The 500 disciplined Mahars (now converted to Buddhism), some other marginalised castes along with the British officers defeated what can be considered as the inhuman draconian casteist rule of the Peshvas. The Peshva/Brahmins enacted the caste codes of Manu Smriti and the Mahar-Nags were forced to wear earthen pot around their neck and broom at their back so that if they spit, they spit in the pot tied around their necks and their footprints will be swept with the broom tied to their back. Their touch was considered so polluting by the Brahmins that they had come out on the streets after midnight or other times of the day when the shadow is small. Even their shadow was considered polluting by the Brahmins.
In the history of the world, there are many battles and revolutions fought for the liberation from the slavery. The Haitian Revolution that started in 1791 by the African slaves resulted into the complete takeover of Haiti by the year 1804. The fight of the African American through the military and the rebellion of Nat Turner are some of the landmark events in the history of the world when the oppressed classes took up the arms.
Bhima Koregaon battle is important because the worst kind of oppressors were defeated. The origin of Mahars is discussed by Babasaheb Ambedkar in the short paper on “Who were the Mahars?” and historically Mahars were the martial race. They were the brave classes who fought and fought with the bravery to defeats the Brahmins. Not only the Mahars, but the major untouchables castes were the martial races.
That was the time India was divided into many small kingdoms ruled by different Maharajas. Though there were many kingdoms, the Manu Smriti reduced the erstwhile martial classes of untouchables (and former Buddhists) to the lowest rung. Babasaheb Ambedkar found the origin of the word Mahars and he found that it came to usage in 1700 AD. Gustav Oppert, a remarkable German Indologist, in his book “the original inhabitants of India” showed that the untouchable castes throughout India have a common social origin. They got different names over the period of time. If we trace their history, it goes back to the history of the conflict between the Buddhism and Brahminism. Untouchability is the outcome of the Brahminical hatred towards the Buddhists, that still continues to date.
Now coming back to the battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818, the people who were treated less than the humans by the Brahminical Peshvas took revenge and the revenge was brutal. After the battle of Bhima Koregaon, the British became the masters of India. Even in the battle of Plassey and Buxor in Bengal, the untouchables of the regions fought side by side with the British army.
Though India was united politically under the British and the untouchables fought with the hope of their rights and their liberation, the British were ungrateful and they recruited other castes in the military after they won India. They delisted the untouchables. They only started listing them when they realised that untouchables have risen politically through the social mobilisation. Babasaheb Ambedkar played a role in starting the Mahar regiment again in the 1940s.
Present context: 1st January 2018
What was strange this time was the way everything was arranged by the RSS/BJP administration. If you are visiting from Pune by Nagar Road, your vehicle was halted 5 km before the spot where the monument devoted to the soldiers is erected. Before you reach the actual place of the pillar, 100 meters of a distance would take you 50 minutes to walk. In total, one had to walk 5 km to reach the place in the throng of people. It is laborious exercise. Now imagine so many mothers and sisters walking with their children for 10 km in total. It is completely enervating. The mass of people at the Bhima Koregaon must be into lakhs and the people were floating in and out every moment. It is difficult to estimate the number of people that might have visited, but surely a few lakhs of people.
If this toil was not enough, the caste Hindus instigated by RSS/BJP pelted stones at the people coming from Nagar approach road. They set vehicles on fire and created an atmosphere of fear among the people coming from all over the places. The atmosphere of fear was created, but the descendant of Siddhanak did not fear anyone and they will not fear anyone. The crowd remained undeterred and nonviolent. The attack on the crowd was preplanned by the RSS/BJP and they attacked from the weaker side from where people were coming to Bhima Koregaon. Only after this fearsome violence instigated by the Brahminical Hindutva forces, the Dalits came to streets in the protest of what seems like BJP/RSS’s brahminical hand in instigating riots on the peaceful participants in the celebration of the victory of the oppressed over the Brahmins.
The context: past and present
The violence perpetrated during the celebration of Bhima Koregaon by the Brahminical Hindutva forces must be contextualised in the larger contemporary political scene of India. First of all, it should be understood that the battle of Bhima Koregaon was decisive for the future evolution of the Bahujan movement for social justice. If it had not been for the battle of Bhima Koregaon, the oppressed Indians would have languished in the perpetual social degradation.
When the Marathas were ruling a significant part of India after the social, political, cultural revolution of Shivaji Maharaj, the society was not so widely divided on the basis of caste. The great Maharaja never discriminated on the basis of caste and religion. On the contrary, the arrogant Brahmins disrespected Maharaja as evident from so many historical sources as the Shudra king.
The Marathas are not the name of the caste, it is a linguistic identity which is not equated with a social class in the past, but now the dominant farmers are using it to assert their caste pride. The word Maratha emerged after the language (Marathi) that the majority of the people in the kingdom of Maharaja spoke (present day Maharashtra, whose name is derived from the Mahars). The Marathas included not only the kunbis, but also Mahars, dhangars, matangs, and most of the castes of the Bahujan Samaj. The Marathas ruled in many parts of India from central India to East India: Gwalior, Kolhapur, Nagpur, Baroda were some of the kingdoms of the Marathas. The history Marathas is connected with the Vakatak/Satvahans who were the Buddhist rulers.
However, through the political machinations, the Brahmins took over Pune kingdom and they ruled on the basis of manusmriti. The great son of Shivaji, Sambhaji, was killed according to the diction of Manu as he dared to study the Sanskrit language: that the Shudras cannot read, write, or hear the Sanskrit texts were pretext on which he was killed. When Sambhaji Maharaja was thus killed, it was a Mahar soldier in Vadu who collected Sambhaji’s mortal remains and gave it an honorable funeral. That is the reason why the Brahminical forces vandalised the tomb of Govind Gaikwad on 28th December 2017 who buried the remains of Sambhaji.
Had it not been the victory in the battle of Bhima Koregaon, there would be no Mahatma Phule: the father of India’s social revolution. Famously, his father told Jotiba that had it not been for the victory of the British and the defeat of the castiest Brahmin Peshvas in Pune, he would have been reduced to a plaything of the Brahmins. While warning young Jotiba not to go against the Brahmins which would invite the wraths of Brahmins, he described graphically that Brahmin Peshvas would have slayed Jotiba’s head and played “ball and stick game” with his head as a ball and their swords as the sticks. As this was the punishment meted out to Kunbis, Telis, and Malis according to the Brahminical Smritis and Shashtras. Thanks to the battle of Bhima Koregaon that the great Mahatma Jotiba Phule emerged. If Jotiba had not emerged, Bhimba (Babasaheb Ambedkar) would not have emerged and the Bahujan Samaj would still be ruled by the inhuman Brahminical Peshvas.
The battle of Bhima Koregaon is the successful contest for the social and political emancipation of the Bahujans that includes the Marathas and the other castes. Therefore, the architects of the Bhima Koregaon victory are the founders of the ongoing battle between the 85 percent Bahujans and 15 percent Brahmins and Banias. This is a historical trajectory that must be understood in this context.
The present context is important as the ex-untouchables all over India are asserting and the symbol of their assertion is the Bhima Koregaon battle as the decisive point in their history of liberation. Just a handful of united people defeated the larger body of inhuman oppressors. The history of Bhima Koregaon gives them confidence that they can easily come out of the manufactured inferiority imposed on them by the Brahminical media and system and empowers them to fight back.
The Bahujans led by the MaharNags did it once and they can do it again, but this time the paradigm is changed. The battleground is now shifted to the fight to safeguard democracy in India and the democratisation of the Indian society through peaceful means. The Peshvas have taken the mask of RSS/BJP, and the descendants of Sidnag (the leader of the Mahars in the battle) are mobilising against the mighty media, Brahminical militia, Hitlerian regime, and Bania capitalism. The only way is to fight the battle, but this time, the battle will be fought on many fronts and the peaceful mobilisation of the Bahujans all over India is an indication of things to come.
Author – Mangesh Dahiwale, Human Rights Activist
Image Credit – The Indian Express