Bhima Koregaon’s myth in Maha reinforces identities it seeks to transcend

The resolve to fight Hindutva forces is certainly laudable, but the myth used for the purpose may be grossly counterproductive


Two hundred years ago, the last battle of the Anglo-Maratha war was fought at Koregaon village on the banks of Bhima river near Pune. The battle marked the firm hold of the British Empire in India. The British erected an obelisk at the battleground in the memory of the dead. It has 49 names, 22 of them are identified by their ‘nak’ suffix as Mahars. It was construed as the testimony to the gallantry of Mahar soldiers, and was rightly used by the first batch of Mahar leaders such as Gopal Baba Walangkar, Shivram Janba Kamble and even Ramji Ambedkar, B R Ambedkar’s father, when pleading the British for the restoration of Mahar recruitment in the British army when it was stopped in 1893. The stoppage of Mahar recruitment was a consequence of the Indian uprising of 1857, after which the British reassessed their recruiting strategies to include only those from ‘martial races’ in the army.

But when Babasaheb Ambedkar painted the Battle of Bhima Koregaon as the battle of Mahar soldiers against their caste oppression in Peshwa rule, he was creating a pure myth. As myths are required to build movements, he perhaps saw its necessity then. But after a century, when it solidifies into a quasi-history and tends to push Dalits deeper into an identitarian marshland, it should become a worrisome matter. Many Dalit organisations recently formed a joint front to observe the 200th anniversary of this battle as a campaign to launch an attack on the new Peshwai, the rising Brahmanic rule of the Hindutva forces. Their long marches culminated into an Elgar Parishad (conference) at the Shaniwarwada at Pune on December 31. While the resolve to fight the Hindutva forces is certainly laudable, the myth used for the purpose may be grossly counterproductive insofar as it reinforces identitarian tendencies whereas the necessity is to transcend them.

As regards history, it is a fact that when the East India Company developed its military aspirations, it recruited Dalits in disproportionately large numbers, perhaps for their unflinching loyalty and faithfulness and also because they were cheaply available. One finds disproportionate numbers of the Namshudras in Bengal, the Parayas in Madras and the Mahars in Maharashtra in its army. If the Dalits wanted to claim significant contribution to the establishment of the British Raj in India, it may not be as such incorrect. But to attribute motive of fighting caste oppression to their soldiery shall be far-fetched and unhistorical.

The East India Company fought and won several battles from the first one in Plassey in 1757 before the last battle of the Anglo-Maratha war. Obviously, all of them were not against the Peshwas. Most of them were not even against the Hindus….

Click here: Maharashtra bandh


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