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Hindutva India’s Internecine Caste Wars:
The Next Chapter

MICHAEL SAFI, The Guardian





The commemoration of a 200-year-old British military victory against the Marathas has spilled over into days of violence and protests in Mumbai and across Maharashtra.

Streets in Mumbai were deserted earlier this week as hundreds of Dalit protesters blocked roads and train lines and attacked buses, forcing transport delays and the closure of schools and shops in the financial hub.

Roadblocks, arson and the death of a teenager were reported in towns elsewhere in the state where Dalits, formerly called untouchables, were protesting against the alleged disruption of a memorial event by Hindu extremist groups.

An estimated 300,000 Dalits had gathered in the Maharashtra village of Bhima Koregaon on Monday to celebrate the 1818 victory of the British East India Company over the Peshwas, a faction of the Maratha empire that ruled the region before the British.

Hundreds of Dalits -- excluded and mistreated by the Hindu ‘mainstream’ - were involved in the battle on the side of the British, forming part of battalion of 900 soldiers that repelled Peshwa forces numbering 20,000 by some estimates.

The Dalits, who occupy the lowest place in the Hindu caste system and have suffered thousands of years of exclusion and extreme poverty, sided with the British in response to mistreatment by high-caste Peshwa rulers.

Today the battle is regarded as a historical moment of self-assertion by members of the community.

The 200th anniversary memorial on Monday turned violent when Dalit activists allege members of two Hindu extremist groups attacked processions near an obelisk installed by the British to commemorate the battle.

One man died and dozens of cars were burned in clashes between the two groups. At least 100 Dalits were reportedly arrested in the protests that followed on Tuesday, which quickly spread to Mumbai and drew national media attention.

On Wednesday, outside Chembur railway station, a centre for the protests, one activist said police had been trying to shut down demonstrations in a “brutal” fashion.

“They attacked us with clubs,” the young man identifying himself as Sumit said. “I have a mark here on my back from last night.”

There were reports of journalists being attacked and vocal anger towards the media, whom one protester accused of ignoring violence against Dalits and being “sold to politicians”.

“Our women and small children were attacked in Bhima Koregaon and in Mumbai,” said the demonstrator, Rajesh. “Why don’t they talk about that?”

Fleets of protesters on motorbikes were also seen roaming the empty streets of Mumbai shouting “Jai Bhim”, a Dalit protest slogan.

Order began to return to the city by early evening on Wednesday after a key Dalit leader, Prakash Ambedkar, called for an end to the protests.

The Maharashtra chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis, has asked for a judicial inquiry into Monday’s violence.

Caste was officially abolished by the Indian constitution in 1950 but remains deeply embedded in social customs and still shapes the lives of most Hindus, particularly since its revival and state support under the Modi/BJP/RSS regime.

Courtesy: The Guardian. Additional reporting by Anish Gawande in Mumbai. Edited by]
January 6, 2018

Conversation about this article

1: Abhinesh Yadav (Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India), January 06, 2018, 8:41 AM.

900 Dalits helped demolish 20,000 Marathas? No wonder the Hindutva gang wants to hide all these historical facts, rewrite history and then claim fibs of courage and valour for their lot. All power to the Dalits, I say ... it is time things corrected themselves in this god-forsaken country!

2: Brig Nawab Singh Heer (Retd) (Mohali, Punjab), January 08, 2018, 10:43 AM.

By raking up such controversies over the past - incontrovertible history! - India is sowing seeds of a civil war. There are many battle honors won as part of British army which are being celebrated even today by the Indian army units. Many cabinet ministers do attend these ceremonies. Sometimes, the various communities of the subcontinent have attacked each other as part of different armies. Soldiers fight for the emperor or the constitution and they do not come into any politics at any stage. I hope good sense will prevail and they stop this chain reaction.

3: Kanwarjeet Singh (USA), January 08, 2018, 9:53 PM.

@Brig Nawab Singh ji - respectfully, Sir, the seeds were sown several decades ago. India is just reaping the fruit of the seeds. Hint: remember 1984?

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