The Curious Case of Elgar Parishad

The whole world celebrates its New Year on January 1. However, this date holds more value than a normal new year for the Mahar community in Mumbai. The Mahar is the Dalit community that majorly resides in the state of Maharashtra. They gather near the victory pillar and celebrate an event that took place 200 years ago – The Bhima Koregaon Battle.

The Koregaon memorial is a pilgrimage site for them. They take extraordinary pride in the battle that the pillar celebrates.

On January 1, 1818, the British East India Company on one side and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha confederacy on the other fought a battle. This battle was mostly fought over the capture of lands between the Marathas and the British. However, it is of utmost importance to the Dalits, who consider this a victory over the Peshwas by the Dalits.

The Peshwa’s army consisted of 2,000 soldiers while the Company regiment was just 834 men. According to the documents, there was no decisive victor in the battle; nevertheless, because this was the last battle of the Anglo-MarathaWars, which resulted in the victory of the Company, we see that the colonizers won this battle. They constructed the victory pillar in honour of the soldiers.

This celebration of the battle is not liked by the current day Marathas as they consider it as the victory of the British forces, which does not deserve to be celebrated.

The Elgar Parishad was an event that was held on 31 December 2017, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle. The organisation of the event was done by 260 Non-governmental Organisations at the Shaniwarwada Fort in Pune. This function was attended by many famous activists, theatre performers and artists. This Fort was of the mighty Peshwas. The Peshwas belonged to the community of ‘Chitpavan Brahmin’. The victory of Bhima Koregaon is seen as a victory over the Peshwas by the Mahar Dalits. Hence, conducting the event on this fort was seen as a symbol of assertion by the Dalits.

On January 1, 2018, unwanted elements of the society had entered Bhima Koregaon and there was unrest everywhere. A person had been killed, and 3 more were injured. Many people, who attended the event were arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). This included Umar Khalid, Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen and Stan Swamy.

Pune Police has allegedly claimed that the event had been sponsored by the Communist Party of India (Maoist). However, Justice BG Kolse-Patil and PB Sawant had refuted these claims based on the organizers’ involvement in anti-communalism and Hindutva back in 2015 at the same place.

Mr Varavara Rao is an 82-year-old Indian activist, poet, teacher, and writer from Telangana, India. He was one of the persons who had been arrested under the UAPA in the Elgar Parishad Case in 2018 for allegedly reciting poems that could harm the peace of the society. He has recently been in news due to getting a temporary bail from the Bombay High Court for 6 months because of his failing health.

The Division Bench of Justices SS Shinde and Manish Pitale had recently stated that “With all humility at their command, keeping in mind human consideration, the well-recognised fundamental rights of the under trial to have quality medical aid for serious ailments suffered by him, advanced age, inadequate facilities in the Taloja jail hospital. We are of the opinion that this is a genuine and fit case to grant relief; or else, we will be abdicating our constitutional duty and function as a protector of human rights and the right to health is covered under the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”

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