The riots that took place in Bhima Koregaon in the very beginning of this year significantly shook Maharashtra, as thousands of Dalits fought over days after coming under attack by Hindu- nationalist reactionaries. On Wednesday the Indian government directly backed this attack against the people, by not arresting those who organized the attack on the Dalits’ gathering, in which one Dalit youth was slain, but those activists and lawyers who demanded justice for this cowardly attack that sparked the clashes.
The Battle of Bhima Koregaon between the East India Company and Peshwa forces on the 1st of January 1818 came to be an important part of popular history in Maharashtra, for the bulk of the British forces consisted mostly of members of the cast of the untouchables that stood their ground against the higher-cast Brahmans of the Peshwa forces. With the eventual defeat of the latter, this battle is a part of the Dalits history of successful struggles against the higher casts.
And as such, it is annually celebrated by the Dalits and forces siding with their struggle against exploitation and oppression. As this years celebration marked the 200th anniversary of this battle it was of great importance. However, the celebration came under heavy attack by a mob of at least 1.000 Hindu-nationalist reactionaries, mobilized by archenemies of the people, close to the BJP1. In this attack, at least one young Dalit was brutally murdered2.
For more than two days Mumbai, Bhima Koregaon's neighboring city Pune and many other parts of Maharashtra saw a mighty uprising of Dalits. Although two companies of the State Reserve Police Force and several Quick Response Teams of the police were stationed around the area and although the local police cyber crime cell issued notification warnings of “stern action against socially divisive social media posts” and jammed phone signals around Koregaon Bhima and surrounding villages3, the people, in their justified anger, built barricades, blocked roads and trains, went to the streets protesting and striking as well as targeting state and higher-cast property.
On April 17 the reaction, in their attempt to shift the blame away from the state and the BJP and to criminalize democratic struggles, carried out a number of search operations in Maharashtra against political activists of a broad democratic spectrum. At around 6:00 in the morning, the Pune police conducted simultaneous raids at the homes of prominent activists in Maharashtra, namely Sudhir Dhavale (Dalit activist, Republican Panthers), Harshali Potdar (Activist, Republican Panthers), Ramesh Gaychor, Jyoti Jagtap, Sagar Gorkhe, Rupali Jadhav and Dhawala Dhengle (all artists of the cultural group Kabir Kala Manch) allegedly in relation to the violence that sparked after the bi-centenary celebrations of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon and the subsequent bandh. At the same time as the residence of prominent people’s lawyer Surendra Gadling was searched also a raid in Delhi was carried out, targeting Rone Wilson, Public Relations Secretary of the Committee for the Release of the Political Prisoners (CRPP). In this arbitrary raid, the police seized his laptop, phone, various books and some money.4
These raids were carried out with the reactions direct goal of creating general opinion against the democratic forces and was an attempt made in order to create facts for the main narrative that was widely circulated in the bourgeois press: “That the democratic / Dalit / Maoist forces had instigated the whole affair and willingly let the event come under attack (and the youth be killed) so they can afterwards manipulate the masses into rioting”5. All the while, the real culprits behind the planning (and it was planned) and carrying out the attack, the two Hindu-nationalist activists Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote with close ties to the BJP and Sangh Parivar6, walked free. Or as the CRPP put it on occasion of this raids:
"The police forces have failed to arrest Sambhaji Bhide in connection with this case. Rather, they seem interested in conjuring up an elaborate tale of how the songs of peoples’ resistance sung by activists at the commemoration on 31st December were deliberately intended to incite violence!"
Four days ago the reaction open the curtain for yet another act in their stage play of framing the democratic and revolutionary forces for being responsible for the uprising. In the early hours of Wednesday the 6th of June, police arrested Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Prof. Soma Sen, Sudhir Dhavale, Mahesh Raut by falsely framing the under UAPA.
Wilson is a long time activists and current Public Relations Secretary of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners. As such he has been at the forefront in organizing numerous activities against the unconstitutional nature of the draconian laws in India and the arbitrary use of death penalty (especially against Dalits and Muslims).
Advocate Surendra Gadling is also a (executive) member of the CRPP and the General secretary of the International Alliance of People's Lawyers. He has been fighting the cases of many innocent people who have been framed under UAPA and was instrumental in the acquittals of many including Sudhir Dhawale. He has also been representing Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba and others who were punished with life sentence last year under UAPA by the Nagpur Sessions Court.
Professor Soma Sen of Nagpur University, the Dalit activist and Republican Panthers member Sudhir Dhawale as well as the anti-displacement activist Mahesh Raut are all active voices of resistance in solidarity with people movements. As such, each of the five arrested is a thorn in the back of the old Indian State.
The reaction, in this sense, hopes for a success on different levels: Firstly, they want to frame the Communist Party of India (Maoist) for being responsible for the deaths that came from the riots in January when it was clearly the state and the Hindu-nationalists. Hence, they now proclaim in the press that the five arrested activists would be “top urban Maoist operatives”. Secondly, they try to criminalize the struggle of the Dalit resistance in a time when each upsurge is followed by an ever wider spreading avalanche and to spread terror among those willing to fight. Thirdly, it must be highlighted that the arbitrary arrests have come at a time when the CRPP has been able to gather public opinion against the conviction of Prof. GN Saibaba and others. Hence, framing the CRPP lawyer responsible for Saibabas case as a Maoist, which in bourgeois press boils down to "terrorist", serves the reaction to disperse the public opinion gathered. And fourthly, the recent attacks mark yet another step taken against the people by the BJP led government in the light of the upcoming elections next year, as they attempt to crack down on any forces considered to denounce the farce of this event.7
Our solitary is with the five arrested! We reject any attempt staged by the Indian government to frame democratic activists and defenders of people's rights as criminals. The Dalits at Pune were targeted in a planned attack by Hindu-nationalist forces in service of the old Indian state and the imperialists. No tale spun in the Indian press will make the people think otherwise. It is the reaction and the continues exploitation and oppression that Dalits are subjected to, that led to the justified rebellion in January!
The full statement regarding the recent arrests of the CRPP can be found here.
1 Bharatiya Janata Party: Biggest Parliamentary Party; Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi; well known for its various links to paramilitary anti-people militias
2 Police footage of this brutal murder was released only now, as part of the footage in connection with the recent arrests. It was not published, after the actual crime took place and the footage might have been used to hunt down the actual murderers. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukmw38GUXOw
3 The Hindu, “Protests spread in Maharashtra post clashes during bicentenary celebrations of Bhima-Koregaon battle”, 2nd January of 2018
4 Committee for the Release of the Political Prisoners, “Strongly condemn the harassment of Rona Wilson, Public Relations Secretary of CRPP, and others in the name of ‘search operations’”, 17th April of 2018
5Compare for example The Indian Express, “Koregaon Bhima violence case: Pune police arrest ‘top urban maoist operatives’ from Delhi, Mumbai, Nagpur”, 7th June of 2018: “The complaint has also alleged that the suspects, as per strategy of the banned CPI-Maoist, tried to mislead Dalits and incite violence.”
6Reactionary umbrella organization for organizations such as the paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)
7Committee for the Release of the Political Prisoners, “Condemn the Arrests of Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Prof. Soma Sen and Mahesh Raut”, 8th June of 2018