The sirens screamed and so did the night. Vehicles torched, burned and dusted. Thousands marched on to the street to commemorate the 200 year old tinge of a historical affair on the eve of a new year. Yes, that was a sight of the Koregaon- Bhima (Maharashtra) violence between the pride of the Marathas “Ek Maratha, lakh Maratha” and the Dalit uprising that has been a stalwart for centuries. But what transpired?
On the eve of Dalit commemoration at Koregaon dated January 1, 2018 – violence broke out between the Dalit community and the Marathas. Although the fire was fueled by intrinsic state elements, it led to the death of a teenage boy in the Nanded district, whereas several people and police personnel got injured- leading to a registration of 102 police cases across the entire state. The normal life in the cities of Pune, Mumbai and nearby districts got severely disrupted leading to a complete shutdown during the state-wide bandh called by the Dalit groups. It is estimated that around 11 policemen (some cite 9) suffered injuries while controlling the protestors late in the day. Some constables and a police officer were further injured when an agitated mob of around 3,000 people gathered at the Cidco police station in Aurangabad, forcing the policemen to fire numerous rounds of pellet guns and tear gas to disperse their own countrymen.
A BJP MLA’s office consequently got vandalise leading the lawmakers to spring into action with the arrests of over 30 people, while 1,278 (presently 1500) were detained under the Maharashtra (Bombay) Police Act. In Kolhapur- clashes broke out between the Shiv Sainiks and Dalit protesters. Both the sides torched public vehicles. In Mumbai- local train services were affected repeatedly, shops and establishments were closed throughout the day. All disrupting the innocent lives.
Surprisingly for the first time ever in the politics of Indian subcontinent M.K. Gandhi was nowhere to be seen. For it was the Ambedkar vs Shivaji battleground all along. The Koregaon- Bhima became a flash-point because of the contingency where at least three political projects and ideologies collide, despite their work to collude with each other. This evidences those uncertain times when friends and foes are hard to recognise within the blur of political sentiments.
The said conflict includes the involvement of Brahmins, the Marathas, the Mahars/ Dalits, the Hindutva forces, the Indian heritage and cultural contradictions, and the pleading political parties. Amidst the entirety of turmoil, the issue at hand got lost and what was re-routed was a political agenda. A history that has been the cause at the fore for centuries.
Delving into the history: the battle of Koregaon
The issue began with a British installed war memorial/ a pillar at Koregaon- Bhima commemorating the third Anglo-Maratha war wherein the British East India Company on January 1, 1818 consisting of a few British officers (total 834 troops of which 500 were Mahars/ Dalits) successfully stopped the advancement of the numerically stronger Peshwa army (some 3000-5000 men). It marked not the continuity of the British rule but rather the end of the Peshwa rule. Therefore, for the forever suppressed community of the Mahars it is marked as the occasion where they rose above the oppression and stood their ground (the Marxist concept of Bourgeoisie and Proletariats), commemorating their valour in their struggle for equality.
Its political importance was further upheld by the learned Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in January 1927 wherein he visited the site to commemorate the Dalit self-respect and struggle. Over time this parallel memory acquired power as members of the Mahar regiment continuously visited this pillar to pay homage to Mahar militarism and valour.
The Dalit and Maratha point of view- a socio-political point of a trajectory
The caste violence that rocked Maharashtra actually spawned two separate narratives (the political ads up to three). In one, there is an attempt to project the unrest as Dalit oppression versus Maratha pride face-off, and in the other, there is confrontation primarily between Harijans and the groups affiliated to BJP-RSS who hail themselves as Hindutva purists. Surprisingly, there is truth in both the side(s) of the story.
The state has seen immense mobilisation of the Maratha community which feels left behind in the economic downturn, job-quota regimes, and education availability. This has led to their legging up after the Dalit(s) and the OBCs. Whereas the Dalit mobilization in the entire country as it is- is a counter-mobilization against the forces of oppression and misdemeanors. The entire spread of protests is a show of strength by the Dalit community which has lasted throughout the NDA rule of 3 years. Dalits for the second time in the history of Indian sub-continent are coming out vocally against the cultural majoritarianism and attempts to flatten cultural diversity.
Before we come to terms with the contradictions, there are certain aspects which need to be looked into. The Maratha pride and their mobilisation has been taking place from past 3 years. This has been unprecedented in the Independent India’s history and has deeply impacted the minds of the community, further aggravating the deepest fears of the opposite vis-a’-vis the Dalits. Thus we have two contradictory dimensions of the Maratha mobilisation. On one hand it brings forth the stratification within the community and on other it has given the same a sense of pride and collectivism.
Sadly, the entire issue lost its focus from debate to that of street violence. Violence does not allow two things to happen. Firstly there is a failure to recognise the cracks between the inter-group violence because prima facie the focus shifts to the restoration of peace and normalcy. Secondly, in the haste to garner political mileage not much thoughts are poured on the deeper trends, a dissatisfaction that the violence signifies.
The socio-economic perspective-
This socio-economic reality needs to be qualified from two perspectives. Firstly, the Marathas are lagging behind the affluent OBCs (in some scenarios Dalits). Secondly, their demands for quotas reflect anxieties regarding education and jobs. While dominant casts do well in terms of Income, they systematically lag behind other forward castes in terms of education primarily because of their rural background. That is evident from the Indian Human Development Survey.
In Maharashtra (2011-12) 26% of Brahmins have recorded graduates whereas Marathas were only 8.1%. The Dalits stood at 5.1 % and OBCs at 7.6%. However, the fascinating aspect is that the Dalits and the OBCs have raked a faster rate in education from 2004-05 onward(s) viz. 1.9% in 2004-05 to 5.1% in 2011-12 respectively. Whereas the Marathas were 4.6% in 2004-05 and 8% in 2011-12 only.
This rise of the OBCs and Dalits has caused resentment amongst the Marathas because of reservations. Since they cannot compete with the upper castes because of their under-representation in the English medium colleges, the Marathas have not benefited as much as upper castes from the rise of the services in post-liberalized 1991 India.
The present services-led economic growth demands a certain level of education, social demands, skills, and attributes. The dominant castes often lack all these attributes whereas the OBCs and the Dalits make it up with the want of reservations. The salaried jobs they are offered generally make it up for the stability and average income they are offered’ compared to the informal sector and agriculture.
The third wing:
The dissatisfaction on part of both the classes and castes is not a punitive result of historical action but rather a failure of the political divinity to adhere to their respective promises. Amidst the readings and cross cutting fault-lines the assertion by the country’s underprivileged is categorically loud and clear. The onus is on the government to uphold the rule of law in fair and impartial ways, by not discriminating between its vote banks. The BJP-RSS led government needs to look beyond the prism of casteism, for the hullaboo at Koregaon- Bhim were the results of dissatisfaction amongst the two of the most resonated castes in the country and a shout out to the Bourgeoisie vs Proletariat debate.
The ideology of “Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas” (“We work together, we grow together”) has slowly started losing its meaning. Vikas has reportedly been missing while communal dis-harmony is playing its bogul.
Depending on the point of views, credits are being given to communal outfits, anti-social elements, casteist, and outsiders. A common cast of characters such as Marathas, Mahars, Brahmins and newer political inventions like Dalits, OBCs and Hindutvadi forces are presenting a sharply divergent politics and conspiracies. It needs to be kept in mind, taking a cue from the Maharashtra violence, that a deliberately vague and vivacious idea of a nation cannot be politically sacralised or en-cashed indefinitely. Can one be patriotic and still be proud of the Koregaon- Bhima achievements? Or can the Hindutva forces still undermine the importance of the minorities and their social-economic appeasements? How will the current governing entity differentiate between majoritarianism and a democracy?
There is one thing crystal clear. In the light of fascism and history- justice lost its cause.