Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Tension Mounts as Reactionary Caste Based Violence Grips Maharashtra

- Rajesh Tyagi/ 3.1.2018


Reactionary, caste based violence has gripped entire Maharasthra, after caste groups clashed in Bheema Koregaon, near Pune, in the dawn of the New Year. The riots, erupting in the aftermath of the clash, still continue to spread around.

Violence took off after the saffron organizations Hindu Ekta Aghadi and Shivaji Pratishthan attempted to stop the commemoration by Amebdkarites of a two century old, 1818 battle, in which the forces of British East India Company had succeeded in preventing the takeover by Peshwas of the city of Pune, then under British occupation. British Colonialists had since erected a war monument in memory of its 49 victims in the battle, only 22 out of which are believed to be Mahar Dalits.


Bhimrao Ambedkar, an ardent supporter of British Colonial Rule and avowed opponent of anti-colonial movement, later a Minister in Nehru’s Cabinet and Chairperson of Constituent Assembly in post 1947 India, had visited the site on January 1, 1927 to commemorate the success of British forces in averting the Peshwa assault. Since then his followers, Ambedkarites, assemble at British monument at Koregaon, for annual commemoration of the event.

Behind the recent spate of violence, the Saffron and Ambedkarite elites are the chief motivating force.

Saffron State, true to its upper-caste, hindu chauvinist character, supports upper-caste violence and domination in more than one ways. Ambedkarite elite uses this oppression and discrimination to incite and mobilize the oppressed on caste lines behind it. Both Saffrons and Ambedkarites finally bind their supporters to the very same regime of capitalists.

In stirring up violence in Koregaon, Amebedkarites had been extolling the British colonialists, while Saffrons, the medieval rulers. None of them is oriented to workers and toilers. Both are backward looking forces of darkness, inseparably bound up with gangs of oppressors and exploiters and are inimical to the cause of oppressed mass.

Caste strife among the exploited mass, assists the exploiters to reinforce their control over the divided working class and preserve capitalism.

Parties of the rich and elite are interested in exploiting the caste equations, to their sectarian ends. All of them are hostile to the cause of liberation of the exploited.

The caste chauvinism, that both the groups are lauding about, is based upon complete distortion of history and outright falsification and forgery of historical facts.

According to historical data, it were not Mahars alone, as claimed by Amebdkarites, that fought in the ranks of British force in Koregaon. The 800 strong British force was comprised of soldiers from 
Maratha, Rajput, Muslim and Jew communities besides Mahar dalits. Total 500 soldiers of the 2nd battalion of the 1st Regiment of ‘Bombay Native Infantry’ backed by 300 cavalry of auxiliary horsemen, were deployed under 4 British officers to block the Peshwa advance upon city of Pune.

The battle took place on the banks of Bheema river after the British force tried to engage the army of Maratha ruler, Peshwa Bajirao II, advancing upon the city of Pune under British occupation. Commanding 28,000 troops for Pune offensive, Peshwa sent three infantry regiments of 300-600 each, in total less than 1800 in any case, to confront the British Native force. Peshwa’s forces comprised of Arabs, Gosains and Marathas.

The battle that took place on January 1, 1818, took heavy toll upon the British Army. In the very first attack, Peshwa's forces seized the two guns and major artillery of British force and killed two of its commanders. In the battle, out of the 834 Company troops, 275 were killed, wounded or went missing. The dead included two officers- Assistant Surgeon Wingate and Lieutenant Chisholm. Lieutenant Pattison also died later of his wounds in Shirur. Among the infantrymen, 50 were killed and 105 wounded. Among the artillery,12 were killed and 8 were wounded. The dead Company soldiers of Indian origin included 22
Mahars, 16 Marathas, 8 Rajputs, 2 Muslims, and 2 Jews.

Terrified native soldiers wanted to surrender to Peshwas, but Lieutenant Pattison warned them of dire consequences of the surrender, showing beheaded body of his colleague officer, who was killed in first Peshwa assault.

After inflicting huge loss, Peshwas withdrew safely as they anticipated arrival of British reinforcements in the night. By the time reinforcements under General Smith arrived in Koregaon, Peshwas had already withdrawn. A company force led by General Pritzler tried to chase Peshwa while escaping to Mysore, but in vain. Later, after Smith captured Satara, he intercepted Peshwa in another battle on 19 Feb 1818 at Ashtoon. Peshwa’s commander Bapuji Gokhale was killed in the action, while other commander Trimbakji Dengle was captured near Nashik and imprisoned at Chunar Fort. Peshwa fled to Khandesh. After his jagirdars betrayed him, Peshwa was forced to sign the pact with John Malcom on June 2, 1818 to surrender his royalty in exchange for pension and residence at Bithnoor.

Mahars were also part of Peshwa’s army in the past. They joined forces with British not for any caste hatred or grudge against Peshwas, but only for better wages and service conditions offered by the British army long before the battle of Koregaon. British used the native soldiers as cannon fodder to delay the advance of Peshwas upon city of Pune till arrival of reinforcement under General Smith in the night.

Participation of few Dalit Mahars alongside others was accentuated not by any political motives, but for the choice of better employment. In all battles between the British colonial forces and the native rulers, troops from different native castes and communities have always participated on both sides.


In fact, there has been no caste angle to the battle of Koregaon and it was never a caste issue till Bhimrao Ambedkar, son of a Subedar in army of British East India Company, visited the monument in 1927. 

For the first time, distorting the historical facts, Ambedkar presented the battle of Bheema Koregaon as a battle between oppressed and oppressor, Mahars and Peshwas. This was absolute falsification of historical facts and fabrication of factual data to bind the poor Mahar dalits to the then oppressors of theirs, the British, who had used dalit Mahars among others as cannon fodder in their battle at Koregaon. Instead of its denunciation, Amebdkar eulogised the battle, falsely magnifying the role of Mahars in it and making the poor victims, war heroes. Apparent motive of Ambedkar was to garner favour with the British colonialists by portraying their wars of invasion as liberation wars for dalits. 

Ambedkar was in fact laying foundation for his fascist maneuver, that he would come out with later in 1946, in his book, "Who Were Shudras" presenting dalit castes as martial castes of Suryavanshi race. Alongside, this subordinated dalits to the historical establishment of the British colonialists, giving their military invasion a false democratic character and face as a war of dalit liberation against Peshwas.

There is no doubt that as all other medieval lords, Peshwas were notorious in their oppression of dalits. But the colonial oppression was no less than theirs. Rather, the colonialists everywhere had doubled up this oppression through agreements and arrangements with medieval lords. At the end of Koregaon they would do this. They would raise an annual pension of two million pounds for Peshwas, only to recover it from underneath the skin of poors and toilers besides their own pound of flesh.

Neither British Colonialists were averse to the oppression of poors and toilers at the hands of medieval lords till they subordinated themselves to the regime of East India Company, nor Ambedkar himself was averse either to colonialists or to medieval lordships. In fact Amebdkar, owed a debt to both. The son of a Subedar in army of East India Company, Ambedkar was brought up by Gaekwads of Baroda and made his career on their hefty scholarships, without any toil of his own. 


The forces of darkness have always manipulated history while abusing it to their sectarian ends.

Like Saffrons, Amebdkarites also used and abused history to insinuate ever new divides among the workers and toilers on sectarian lines and bind them to the establishment of their oppressors.

Supporting the celebrations at Koregaon, self proclaimed espousers of dalit cause like Jignesh Mewani and Umar Khalid, are inflicting immense damage to the cause of liberation of dalits by fanning the caste conflicts. Any such conflicts would result in polarization and reinforcement of the caste praxis.

Ambedkarite maneuver to celebrate the failure of the Pune offensive of Peshwa Maratha warriors at the hands of colonial armies of dalit Mahar soldiery, in distant past, is sheer nonsense. The same instead of serving any cause of the toilers, had only opened the threshold to collaboration between the British and Peshwas, to become partners in suppression and exploitation of toilers.Battle put the double yoke of oppression upon the toilers-of medievalism and the colonialism.


Participation of the oppressed and poor toilers, as foot soldiers in this butchery between the two gangs of their oppressors, while sacrificing their own lives, far from being a matter of any caste pride, has been a simple matter of bread and butter for the poor Mahars. In fact, it was of no importance for them as to who wins till they were paid to fight, to keep their body and soul together.

Nevertheless, from a revolutionary standpoint, support to one exploiter against the other, much less the support to colonial powers, could never be the path to liberation for toilers. It is their united class struggle against all of the oppressors, that can only ensure liberation of the oppressed. This is impossible without class bonds among the workers and toilers across the caste lines.

Caste based violence and clashes are the offshoot of reactionary collaboration between medievalism and capitalism. Development of capitalism in the country has resulted in preservation and further intensification of social inequality, discrimination, oppression and social injustice based upon caste. 

Unjust allocation of resources, widening social inequalities and rising gaps in income under capitalism, have created social environ of alienation and hostility among people and communities, vying for the scant resources.

Capitalism has brought all contradictions face to face in the city that otherwise were lying dormant inside belly of the village. Results are devastating. Caste hostilities that owe to long drawn alienation of social life in cocoons of castes inside the villages, supply fuel to such sectarian strife. 


As the ruling bourgeoisie fails completely to resolve the contradictions, contradictions of the past piled up under those of the present, are dragging bourgeois society into a whirlpool of social and political crisis. Bourgeois society is virtually falling apart under the weight of these social conflicts that remain irresoluble. 

Escalated caste violence would only further reinforce the caste praxis and prevent the working class from seeing the reason for its unification on class basis across the caste divide and against the class of exploiters. This would consolidate the reaction and weaken the revolution.The task ahead, is thus to mount a challenge to this reaction on the basis of proletarian internationalism.

The path to liberation of workers and toilers passes through their international unity that demands transcending and outright rejection of all narrow and sectarian divides among the working class, be it the frontiers of nation, race, caste, creed, or community.

No comments:

Post a Comment