BR Ambedkar Also Hailed Battle of Koregaon – What Did He Say?

BR Ambedkar visited the Bhima-Koregaon war memorial on the 109th anniversary of the battle on 1 January 1927.

3 min read
Hindi Female

Not many would know that the battle of Koregaon – whose 200th anniversary was observed on Monday, 1 January – was once upon a time hailed by Bhimrao Ambedkar.

In the battle that took place on 1 January 1818 in the village of Koregaon, the British Army comprising Dalit Mahars had defeated upper-caste Peshwas representing Maratha ruler Baji Rao Peshwa. The battle has been seen by the ‘lower-caste’ Mahars as a triumph of their community over the oppressive Peshwas, and has been celebrated on the first day of every new year as an exemplar of Dalit valour and sacrifice.

On Monday, 1 January 2018, violent clashes broke out between Dalit groups and Marathas during an event marking the 200th anniversary of the battle, leaving one person dead and several others injured.

Ambedkar visited the Bhima-Koregaon war memorial on the 109th anniversary of the battle in 1927. The memorial – a pillar – was constructed in remembrance of the soldiers who died in the battle, and it is said that the pillar included the names of 22 Dalit Mahars who had fought in the battle.


Ambedkar's visit to the memorial is also said to have snowballed its popularity among the Dalits, with thousands paying homage to it every year on 1 January.

Notably, Ambedkar also referred to the battle of Koregaon in 1930 during the First Round Table Conference in London, as he underlined the vital role played by the 'Untouchables' in helping the British to conquer India.

Who were these people who joined the army of the East India Company and helped the British to conquer India? …the people who joined the Army of the East India Company were the Untouchables of India. The men who fought with Clive in the battle of Plassey were the Dusads, and the Dusads are Untouchables. The men who fought in the battle of Koregaon were the Mahars, and the Mahars are Untouchables. Thus, in the first battle and the last battle (1757-1818) it was the Untouchables who fought on the side of the British and helped them conquer India. The truth of this was admitted by the Marquess of Tweeddale in his note to the Peel Commission which was appointed in 1859 to report on the reorganisation of the Indian Army.

His comments came in a context when the British had apparently started excluding the ‘lower castes’ from the army (especially after 1857), to which he asserted that "nothing can be more ungrateful than this exclusion of the Untouchables from the Army".


‘Both Ambedkar and His Father Fought For Mahar Recruitment in the British Army’

Nonica Datta, associate professor of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), details how Ambedkar was very angry with the exclusion of Mahars and other 'lower castes' from recruitment in the Army.

With the distinction between martial and non-martial classes gaining ground post 1857, the ‘lower castes’ were excluded from the army as they were labelled ‘non-martial’. Ambedkar was upset with this, and went on to emphasise the important role the Mahars played in the East India Company. His motive was to inculcate a sense of pride among the Mahars and the battle of Koregaon was one such symbol of Mahar pride.
Nonica Datta to The Quint

She goes on to explain how Ambedkar – who came from a family with an army background (his father and six uncles were subedar majors in the British Army) – campaigned extensively for the establishment of a Mahar regiment.

It was because of Ambedkar that the new Mahar regiment came into being during the Second World War. Moreover, it was not just Ambedkar, but his father, Ramji Maloji Sakpal, also fought for Mahar recruitment.

Talking about the significance of ‘lower castes'’ presence in the British Army, such as during the battle of Koregaon, Datta says it gave them a sense of identity which boosted their self-esteem.

These were the ‘lower castes’ who had carry a pot so that their spit doesn’t fall on the ground. They had brooms tied to their back. After all the oppression they faced, their recruitment into the Army gave them visibility and self-respect. They celebrated their recruitment, and regarded the battles they fought as acts of heroism.

(With inputs from Indian Express.)

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