Bhima-Koregaon Battle

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    • Recently, it was the 205th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon Bhima.

    What Was the Bhima Koregaon Battle?

    • The Battle of Koregaon took place on 1 January 1818 in the village of Koregaon, Maharashtra between troops of Maratha ruler Baji Rao Peshwa II and 800 troops of the British East India Company.
    • The soldiers of the East India Company successfully fought the Peshwa troops, preventing them from advancing into Pune. 
      • After a 12-hour-long battle, the loss of 600 men, and fearing reinforcements from Pune, Baji Rao II withdrew his troops from Koregaon and gave up his efforts to attack Pune.

    Why Did The Battle Take Place?

    • The Peshwas had established themselves as overlords of the Deccan till the end of the 18th century. 
    • By 1802, the British East India Company had entered into treaties with Maratha rulers of the Deccan, which included the Peshwas of Pune, the Scindias of Gwalior, the Holkars of Indore, the Gaekwads of Baroda, and the Bhonsles of Nagpur.
    • Under the treaties, these former rulers ceded a large number of their rights of lordship, revenue, and other privileges.
    • Peshwa leader Baji Rao II who was the last of the reluctant Maratha leaders was defeated by the British in the Battle of Khadki in November 1817 and had escaped to Satara.
    • Baji Rao, cornered after being pursued by British Colonel Smith for two months, turned his focus and his 30,000-strong army to Pune at the end of December 1817.

    Who Were the Mahars?

    • Historically, Mahars were considered untouchables. 
      • But the nature of their work, often in administration or military roles, situated them with upper castes quite regularly.
    • Maratha King Shivaji recruited a number of Mahars into the Maratha army in the 17th century. 
      • The Mahar men often served as guards or soldiers.
    • The Mahar community even fought alongside Peshwa forces in many battles, including the third battle of Panipat.
    • However, relations between the Mahars and Peshwas turned sour after Baji Rao II reportedly insulted the community by rejecting their offer to join and serve in his army.

    Why Is the Battle Significant for Dalit Rights?

    • In the 19th century, Peshwas were considered high-caste Brahmins, while Mahars were considered untouchables.
    • The Peshwas were notorious for their persecution of Mahars. 
      • Mahar Dalits faced several injustices under the Peshwa rule. 
      • This victory was significant for the Dalits who had been marginalised and oppressed for so long.
    • A 60-foot-commemorative obelisk, to honour the fallen soldiers of the Bombay Native Infantry, was erected at the battle site and inscribed with the names of 49 soldiers. 
      • Twenty-two of the names mentioned in the list belonged to people from the Mahar community.
    • While it was built by the British in 1818, the obelisk was carried on the Mahar Regiment’s crest till as late as 1947.
    • Dr BR Ambedkar visited the site on 1 January 1927, on the 109th anniversary of the battle.

    Why Is There Violence Over Bhima Koregaon Now?

    • The event commemorating the 200th anniversary of the battle had been met with protests even before 1 January, with a number of right-wing groups such as the Akhil Bhartiya Brahman Mahasabha, Hindu Aghadi, and Rashtriya Ekatmata Rashtra Abhiyan – opposing the event as anti-national and casteist.
    • The commemoration is a call to all Indians to rise against forces that are promoting hatred and violence on caste lines. 
    • The British army had people from all castes, including Mahar, Maratha, and even Brahmins. 
      • The Peshwa army too had people from all castes, including Maratha and Mahar. 
      • This was a war between the British and Indian rulers, and not between Mahars and Peshwas.

     

    The Bhima Koregaon case

    • It dates back to January 1, 2018.
    • During the celebrations there were violent clashes between Dalit and Maratha groups.

    Source: TH