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Was Bhima Koregaon a Battle between Upper Caste Peshwas and Backward Caste Dalit Mahars?

bhima koregaon battle, maratha vs dalit mahars, violence between maratha and dalits, peshwa vs mahars
bhima koregaon battle between Maratha peshwas and Dalit mahars

Mumbai: January 1, 2018, a new beginning, apparently, turned out to be a distressing New year for Maharashtrians as the Battle of Bhima Koregaon became the topic of discussion. It was on the same day in the year 1818 that the Battle of Bhima Koregaon was fought between the Britishers and the Peshwas. To commemorate the victory of this battle, the dalits have been celebrating this eve for years now. However, this year, they were stopped from celebrating the eve by the ‘right wings’ group and this led to the conflict between the Marathas and the Dalits. This created chaos in Pune where conflict initially aroused, which later spread in the other cities of Maharashtra like a wild fire. This led to Maharashtra Bandh for a day which was called off the same day in the evening. Now the question arises, what was the reason for the rivalry between these two groups of people? The battle was won by the Britishers, but the Dalit Mahars celebrate their victory? This creates a sort of confusion and questions amongst the Indians. To find answers to these questions, we have to look into the history where the events are linked to the current situation.

Two hundred years ago in January, 1818, the leader of Marathas, Peshwa Baji Rao II tried to attack Pune which was under the rule of British. This battle was fought for 12 hours leading to destruction of many lives and properties. It came to be regarded as a moment of triumph for the British as they marked their victory. The Mahars who were Dalits were the main reasons for this victory as they were in lesser number than Peshwas but still obstructed Peshwas in a big way. In return, British officials went on to construct a ‘victory pillar’ at Koregaon. Now this is the site where the Mahar community from Maharashtra celebrate the victory of British-cum-their own victory against the upper caste, Peshwas.


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Hence, the Ultimate answer to our main question ‘Was the Bhima Koregaon a battle between the upper caste Peshwas and the backward class Dalit Mahars’, is Yes. To substantiate this answer, here are some of the facts which have been quoted from the history.


Open-status Kshatriya Naukri

This was the concept introduced by Shivaji inorder to bridge the gap between the lower caste and the upper caste. Thus this gave the Mahars, a kshatriya identity. Besides this, they were valued for their martial skills, bravery and loyalty. This was noted by one of the famous social reformer, Jyotirao Phule in his “Ballad of Raja Chatrapati Shivaji Bhonsale’’. Many of them rose to the position of captains as well. “In appearance, they were able-bodied and muscular, many of them handsome, intelligent and quick to assimilate, and possessing physical courage” stated by  Henry Baden-Powell, a British Civil servant. Sidnak Mahar is believed to hold a legendary status. One of the interesting thing is, when Sambhaji was killed in 1688 by Aurangzeb, Mahar had built a platoon in service of the Maratha state.


Peshwa Orthodoxy

The status of Mahars began to diminish during the reign of the Peshwas and were socially isolated as they were regarded as untouchables. It is believed that the Mahars were condemned to move about in public places and were subjected to inhuman acts by the Peshwas. They were made to tie brooms behind their back and a pot around their necks which was meant to collect the spit of Peshwa.


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Mahars in British Military Troops

Mahars formed the majority in British contingent during the battle of Koregaon. The event of triumph of these over the upper caste Peshwa army had played a pivotal role in elevating Dalit pride and had instilled a positive identity in them. The glory was diminished during the Peshwa rule was regained. They got back their warrior status which was prevalent during the time of Shivaji. The Mahars were elated for having regained their lost identity and joined hands with British during the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. The “victory pillar’’ which was built by the British has around 22 names of Mahars who lost their lives in the battle. However, the status of Mahars began to fade again as the British stopped recruiting them and even after India’s independence, in the history writings, the military contributions and glorious feats of the Mahars have not been mentioned which indeed is a disheartening thing.


‘Victory Pillar of Bhima Koregaon’

After analyzing the historical events what we can analyze is that there has been twists and turns in the status of the Mahars. And it’s evident that the Battle of Bhima Koregaon was indeed a battle between the upper caste Peshwas and the lower caste Dalit Mahars.


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But that was the history. History is meant to improvize our future. We have to pick up the things from it to make our future better. There is no point in carrying forward the same rivalry even now. It’s a mere stupidity to do so and that too after 200 years. Now we are in the 21st century and are believed to be “Civilized” and “Sensible”. Perhaps, these are the mere words which seem unimportant after looking at the incident that took place on January 1, 2018 when there was a huge clash between the Dalits and the “right wing” group.


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What was the result? Destruction, violence and deaths. We say we are independent, we say we have freedom, but is it true? Though it took place in Pune, it’s adverse impact was seen in major parts of Maharashtra. Even though the rivalry was between the two groups, the common people had to suffer and had to face the consequences. There is a saying ‘United we stand, Divided we fall’. The lack of unity amongst us gave an opportunity to the British to rule over us. Even after 71 years of Independence, we can still see the indifferences such as casteism existing in our society. It’s high time that we realize that we are all one, we are Indians and we should emphasize much on humanity rather than caste. The principle of equality, oneness have to be upheld and if this happens, our country will excel in all aspects and will soon become a developed nation from developing nation.


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