At least one person died and four were injured after violence broke out in Maharashtra’s Pune district on Monday during celebrations to mark the bicentenary of a British-era war, police said.
The violence resulted from an altercation between two unidentified groups near the memorial of the 1818 battle between British and Peshwa forces in Bhima Koregaon, around 40 kilometres from Pune, police added.
“Among the five injured, one person succumbed late in the evening at Sassoon hospital,” a senior police official said on condition of anonymity.
District majistrate Saurabh Rao told Hindustan Times that the violence quickly spread to four nearby villages and around 40 vehicles were burnt or damaged with stones. Police resorted to caning the crowd and called for additional reinforcements. It wasn’t clear who had begun the altercation or over what subject.
“We have deployed heavy police bandobast even as tension continues in some areas on Pune-Ahmednagar highway. We are hoping that by midnight situation will be under control,” Rao told Hindustan Times over phone.
Hundreds of thousands of people gather at Bhima Koregaon every year to mark the anniversary of a war between British, who had several Dalit soldiers in their regiment, and the Peshwa, the then rulers of parts of Maharashtra.
Dalit leaders believe the war was won by the British and the Dalit soldiers played a key role in defeating the Peshwa, who were said to have instituted oppressive caste practices. The celebrations gathered momentum in 1927 after BR Ambedkar visited the spot. Historians are divided on the subject.
But the celebrations this year have been fraught with controversy. Several groups such as the Pune-based Akhil Bharatiya Brahmin Mahasangh, has called the event anti-national. On Sunday, a massive event was held at Pune’s Shaniwar Wada, the erstwhile seat of the Peshwa administration, where many Dalit leaders, including Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, spoke.
Sources said the violence first began in Vadu, a village near Bhima Koregaon. Last week, the grave of a prominent Dalit leader, who is said to have conducted the funeral of Shivaji’s son Sambhaji, was desecrated in the area.
As news of Monday’s violence spread, Dalit groups took out protests in Pune and Aurangabad. Police blocked traffic on the Pune-Ahmednagar road and imposed section 144. Rao said a decision on imposing curfew in the area would be taken later “There is outflow of people in large number from Koregaon Bhima. Imposing curfew at this moment is not feasible.”
Union minister of state for social justice Ramdas Athawale demanded police protection for Dalits and asked Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis for additional forces in Bhima Koregaon.
“Dalit groups visiting Bhima Koregaon village in vehicles were halted at Sanaswadi, a village near Koregaon. Stones were hurled at them. No police force was available for their protection,” Athawale said in a statement in Mumbai in the evening.