Ringing in the New Year with Same Old Caste Politics


Ringing in the New Year with Same Old Caste Politics

Illustration: Akshita Monga

f India’s 2018 resolution was to get rid of the politics of caste and hatred, it was possibly the most short-lived vow ever. On January 1, violence erupted in the Bhima-Koregaon village near Pune during the 200th anniversary celebrations of an Anglo-Maratha battle. On January 2, the tension spilled over to Mumbai. On January 3, Maharashtra is being held ransom after a call for a state-wide bandh by Dalit leaders.

The first three days of the year have been spent sparring over a battle that took place in 1818, when the East India Company — with help from the Mahars, considered untouchables at the time — defeated the Peshwa’s army. Two hundred years on, the Dalits celebrate it as a victory against the caste-based discrimination and oppression they faced during the Peshwa regime.

Many right-wing groups and self-proclaimed champions of nationalism have deemed the Battle of Bhima Koregaon and its celebration “anti-national”. Just a gentle reminder: 200 years ago, the concept of India as an independent, united “nation” (and not a coagulation of provinces and princely states) seemed far-fetched. But facts and logic have never been our strongest trait and our politicians and local strongmen keep as far away from them as Hrithik from Kangana.