Kolhapur, Pimpri-Chinchwad (Maharashtra): Sunday, June 25 the occasion of Shahu Maharaj’s birth anniversary, the city of Kolhapur, also the city that gave us rationalist, Dr Govind Pansare, witnessed a march for peace and harmony: sadbhavna or goodwill marked the rally which aimed at promoting unity in a district recently wrecked by communal violence, targeting the minorities.
Shahu Maharaj, who ruled Kolhapur in the late 19th 20th century, was a social reformer lauded for his progressive ideals. Read Sabrangindia’s tribute to this remarkable ruler here. Dilip Ramchandra Vaze has made a tribute to him in the Marathi newspaper, Hindustan that may be read here. Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj reigned over the princely state of Kolhapur for 28 years, from 1894 to 1922. His reign is fondly remembered for his relentless efforts to uplift society and promote social reforms. He played a significant role in the eradication of untouchability by issuing a Proclamation that declared all public wells, buildings, Dharamshala, state houses, and water resources open to all, without any discrimination.
Reports from Kolhapur obtained by Sabrangindia show that thousands of people participated in the rally, organised by the Rajarshi Shahu Salokha Manch. Former Congress MLA Malojiraje Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, Congress leader and MLC Satej Patil, former rural development minister and Nationalist Congress Party MLA Hassan Mushrif, Congress MLA Rituraj Patil, Swabhimani Farmers Association leader Raju Shetty, along with other MLAs, former mayors and corporators, and office bearers of various organisations participated in this rally.
The Times of India reported that Vasantrao Mulik, the national vice-president of Akhil Bhartiya Maratha Mahasangh was on record saying that, “An untoward incident had taken place in the city that disturbed peace and social harmony. Therefore, to show the strength of our unity and tradition of social harmony, this rally has been organised.” Ironically however, right-wing outfits under Sakal Hindu Samaj –responsible for hate speeches in the state since September 2022 –have alleged that the Sadbhavna rally is being carried out to disrupt the law and order situation in the city
Deepak Desai, district president of Hindu Ekta Andolan to TOI said, “This Sadbhavna rally seems to have a political motive behind it. The district administration should investigate who is behind this.”
Meanwhile the Free Press Journal has reported that the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation has organized a two-day program, ‘Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj Vichar Prabodhan Parv-2023,’ at Sai Mandir Udyan, Sambhajinagar, in honor of Rajarshi Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj’s birth anniversary. The event aimed to commemorate the life and contributions of Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj, known for initiatives for eradication of poverty, ignorance, superstitions and backwardness prevalent in the society.
The program began on Sunday with a guest lecture, and Monday, June 26, featured a folk songs program. All citizens are invited and encouraged to participate in these discussions, where the teachings and ideals of Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj will be highlighted and celebrated.
Kolhapur has had a longstanding tradition of equality and social harmony which has been upheld since the time of Shahu Maharaj. However, in recent months, there have been attempts by some individuals and organisations to disrupt social peace in the city.
Sabrangindia has reported extensively on the recent violence starting June 5, a 16-year-old minor boy from Kolhapur shared a video on his Instagram account featuring pictures of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan. In the background, the Haryanvi song ‘Baap to baap rahega‘ was playing. This status quickly went viral.
The very next day, June 6, marked Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s coronation day. Hindutva organisations in Kolhapur claimed that the video “insulted” the Hindu community. By evening, members of these organisations went to the Lakshmipuri police station in the city, filed a case against the 16-year-old as well as some other minors. Many named were not even involved, reportedly. Unchecked by the administration, on June 7, these organisations called for a shutdown in Kolhapur city. The protests created a tense atmosphere and over 30,000 people gathered at the Shivaji Chowk. Stone-pelting against targeted Muslims and their shops including vandalizing them was allowed initially unchecked by the community.
At Sunday’s rally, Vijay Chormare, a senior journalist from Maharashtra, spoke about the role played by political parties in fostering this violence.
“Certain individuals have been fostering an atmosphere of hatred between Hindus and Muslims in recent days. There is significant anger and negative sentiment among the public towards the two-party government that has taken office in the state,” he said.
These parties could be functioning under the idea that such incidents are necessary for their success in the upcoming elections, the journalist said.
“During the Kolhapur riots, the state’s home minister [Devendra Fadnavis] made a rather irresponsible appearing more like a representative of a particular organisation than the people, in stating that they would teach a lesson to Aurangzeb’s children instead of promising strict action against those who disrupt law and order. It is believed that the riots started in the state due to these political motives,” he added.
Chormare further said that the riots in Kolhapur happened due to police inaction. “The police failed to stop the people who came to Kolhapur from outside, so the police, administration and government are responsible for this whole incident.”
Protest marches organised by the Sakal Hindu Samaj and involving a large number of participants have taken place, accompanied by hate speech targeting the Muslim community. These marches dotted Maharashtra including Kolhapur. Over the past few months, incidents of communal riots and arson have been witnessed in cities such as Kolhapur, Akola, Ahmednagar, Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar, Jalgaon and others in Maharashtra.
Kolhapur is renowned for its food culture, wrestling, Kolhapuri chappals, football and Mahalaxmi temple. The city symbolises the legacy of Shahu Maharaj, and his impactful contributions to society will always be remembered. The Muslim Boarding established by him still operates in the Dussehra Chowk neighbourhood, providing education to the children of economically weak families.
Kolhapur district has been associated with the principles of equality, justice and brotherhood espoused by Shahu Maharaj. Notable figures like Govind Pansare and Prof N.D. Patil have dedicated their lives to spreading progressive ideologies among the people. However, in recent days, there is an emergence of a religious atmosphere in Kolhapur.
Shahu Maharaj a ruler of the people
In addition to a reign that was radical for his times, Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj introduced a reservation policy for backward classes in 1902, reserving 50 percent of jobs in government offices for them. History tells us that artists Dattoba Pawar and Dittoba Dalvi introduced the two revolutionary leaders to each other. Their common goal to uplift oppressed communities inspired many such meetings between 1917–1921.
In 1920, they organised a conference wherein Shahu made Ambedkar the Chairman, believing that he would lead to the betterment of Dalits in India. As a token of this faith, he donated Rs. 2,500 for the other’s newly established ‘Mooknayak’ newspaper.
Other than such broad policies, he also established the Miss Clarke Boarding School for segregated groups and Vedic Schools allowing all to learn the scriptures and Sanskrit. As for adults, he started special schools for village heads to make for more competent administrators.
Under his rule, policies were implemented and people encouraged to treat each other as equal regardless of social status or caste. This meant that Dalits could use the same wells, ponds, and hospitals as Brahmins. Inter-caste marriage was encouraged and revenue collectors became democratically-elected posts rather than hereditary titles. Further, he prepared gymnasiums and wrestling pitches to preserve the sport.
For women, he legalised widow remarriage, prohibited child marriage and called for a law banning the devadasi tradition wherein girls were offered to Gods as sacrifices and then sexually exploited by priests.
These and several such efforts in social, political, educational, agricultural and cultural dimensions of society inspired the title of Rajarshi (royal saint), bestowed upon him by the Kurmi warrior community of Kanpur. His achievements lost their lustre following his demise in the turmoil of national and regional politics. Nonetheless, sympathisers and supporters of Shahu and his beliefs continue his legacy even today.