Violent clashes broke out in Maharashtra over the event celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle on Tuesday, 2 January. Trains were delayed and buses vandalised in places including Pune, Mumbai and Aurangabad.
Dalit activists Sachin Mali, Sheetal Sathe and Sujat Ambedkar spoke to The Quint about the violence.
Violence Political in Nature: Sachin Mali
Mali said the atmosphere was tense when he reached Koregaon on 1 January.
He said people started pelting stones and attacking vehicles with swords and sticks, adding:
They started thrashing cars. At least 400-500 cars were burnt. They injured several people with stones. One of the injured died today (Tuesday).
Mali said Ambedkar’s followers tackled the situation responsibly in a peaceful manner, and if they hadn’t done so the damage could have been way worse.
He said there is a political angle behind the violence, which according to him, was committed keeping the 2019 polls in mind.
He said such incidents should be condemned democratically, and a judicial inquiry should be set up.
Police Inefficiency Responsible For the Riots: Sujat Ambedkar
Musician and Dalit activist Sujat Ambedkar said Dalits celebrate Vijay Diwas on 1 January, every year, to mark the “epic victory” of Dalits over the people who enslaved them.
He said a landmark event called Elgar Parishad was held in Pune on 31 December to defeat the new Peshwai. Ambedkar said the new Peshwai comprises the same Brahminical forces which use different techniques to enslave Dalits.
He said there were protests across Maharashtra, on Tuesday, because innocent Dalits and Ambedkarites were attacked on 1 January by crowds carrying saffron flags, adding that:
We want to tell the world that you may attack us, you may threaten us, we will not stay scared.
Ambedkar pinned the blame for the riots on the police, saying:
We had been trying to call the grameen police, the city police, the police SP, the control room, none of them were picking up their calls for 2 hours.
An Attempt to Pit Marathas Against Mahars: Sheetal Sathe
Sathe, a member of Kabir Kala Manch, a cultural organisation set up in Pune, and a poet, said the riots over the event were pre-planned by “Hindutva forces to pit Marathas against Mahars in Maharashtra”.
She added that Prakash Ambedkar, the chairperson of Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh, has said that Hindutva outfits Hindu Ekta Andolan and Shiv Pratishtan were behind the violence.
Earlier in the day, Ambedkar, who is also the grandson of Babasaheb Ambedkar, called for a bandh across Maharashtra on Wednesday. Sathe said the bandh should take place peacefully across the state.
She also blamed the police, saying:
The cops were not there to abate yesterday’s (1 January) violence. They are also to be blamed.