Why did a 200-year-old battle trigger violence

Babasaheb Ambedkar used to visit Koregaon every year on January 1 to pay homage to the untouchable soldiers

GN Bureau | January 4, 2018


#Pune Violence   #Maharashtra   #Koregaon   #Bhima Koregaon  
Protest at Thane, Mumbai (Photo: Geetanjali Minhas)
Protest at Thane, Mumbai (Photo: Geetanjali Minhas)

Maharashtra has been ravaged by violence that was triggered over a battle fought in 1818. Here’s why the 200 year old battle caused arson and rioting.

What happened?

On January 1, lakhs of Dalits attended an event to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon near Pune. Clashes broke out between Dalit and Maratha groups, which led to the death of at least one person and several people were injured. The main event at the Jay-stambh (victory memorial) at Bhima Koregaon was largely peaceful.

But, what triggered the clashes?

The genesis lies in an incident that took place in Vudhu Budruk village on December 29. The village is about 5 km from Bhima Koregaon.

A board placed at the samadhi of a 17th century Dalit was removed. The Dalit, according to Mahar accounts, defied Emperor Aurangzeb’s orders and carried out the last rites of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s son who was tortured to death in 1689.

Sushma Ovhal, a 27-year-old woman, filed a police complaint against 49 people, under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, for damaging the board, the umbrella, desecration of the samadhi and for making “casteist comments”, reported the Indian Express.

Why is the battle of Koregaon such an emotive issue?


The battle was between the British Army’s Mahar regiment and the Peshwa’s army. The Mahar regiment’s victory is also seen as an assertion of Dalit identity.

What exactly happened in 1818?

The Battle of Koregaon was fought on January 1, 1818 between the British East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy, at Koregaon Bhima. A 28,000-strong force led by Peshwa Baji Rao II intended to attack Pune, which was held by the British. On their way, they were met by an 800-strong Company force with superior weapons of more power and precision, which was on its way to reinforce the British troops in Pune.

When the Peshwa was informed about this company force at Koregaon, he dispatched around 2,000 arab soldiers to attack the Company force entrenched in Koregaon. Led by Captain Francis Staunton, the Company troops defended their position for nearly 12 hours. The Company force met with a huge loss and lost morale. But, because of the imminent arrival of a larger British force led by Brig. General Joseph Smith the Peshwa's troops ultimately withdrew.

What is the connection between Babasaheb Ambedkar and the battle of Koregaon?

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar used to visit Koregaon every year on January 1 to pay homage to the untouchable soldiers and to exhort Dalits to show similar courage and determination to end brahminism from the entire country. On January 1, 1927, he organised a big convention in Koregaon and brought the memories of bravery of the untouchable soldiers in public knowledge, reported drambedkarbooks.com

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