Violence against Dalits in Bhima Koregaon a stark reminder of 1997 Ramabai Nagar atrocities​

New Year’s eve was a time of joy and happiness everywhere, and Ramabai Nagar in Ghatkopar, Mumbai, was no different. But instead of merely celebrating the onset of the coming year, hundreds of families here were getting ready to leave for Bhima Koregaon to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. Mostly relying on public transport buses, these families left early on December 31 to spend the night near the Vijay Stambh (Victory Tower) at the Bhima Koregaon war memorial.

Like every year, Kiran*, a young graduate student from Ramabai Colony, went along with his family and a large group of friends to Bhima Koregaon. Unaware of the incident at Vadhu Budruk village where the discretion of the bust of Gopal Govind Gaikwad had taken place earlier that night, they started planning their day ahead.

Recalling the incident, Kiran* said, “When we woke up in the morning it was quieter than usual. We were trying to arrange breakfast, but we realised that the shops all along Bhima Koregaon were shut. It was then we panicked and realised that something was wrong. We had to walk few kilometers before we caught a ride to a near village in Pune. It was then that the driver told us that the “Bhagwa Zenda” people are out on the roads”.

The statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar that was constructed after the 1997 Ramabai Colony atrocities (Photo courtesy Daisy Katta)

It was only by the late morning of January 1 that the news started to trickle on the social media regarding the tense situation at Bhima Koregaon, following which they received the first reports related to stone pelting on cars. A call for Bandh was announced by Prakash Ambedkar of Bahujan Mahasangh (BHARIP) although almost 24 hours later.

For Kiran* and his family and many others who had travelled all the way from Ramabai Colony to Bhima Koregaon, it was a stern reminder of the horrendous morning of Ramabai Nagar Atrocity, which took place in 1997 with a very similar trajectory of events that of Bhima Koregaon.

In the early hours of July 11, 1997, bypassers from the main chowk of Ramabai Nagar, Ghatkopar East in Mumbai witnessed the desecrated statue of Dr.Ambedkar. Within minutes, the colony woke up with chants of protesters who gathered at the Eastern Express Highway which is one of the arterial roads of Mumbai. Within fifteen minutes of people gathering, people the State Reserve Police Force (SPRF) fired on the protesters killing eleven people and injuring twenty six others, many of them women and children. Even after two decades of the incident, the Colony still resonates with memories of that fateful day, many people from the families of the injured are still waiting for justice.

Amid rumours that stambh with the words ‘Jai Bhim’ written was vandalised at Siddharth Nagar, Kalyan (Mumbai), colony people feared that such an incident can easily take place again in Ramabai Colony. Kiran* added, “If they could easily desecrate the bust at Bhima Koregaon and now vandalise the Stambh at Kalyan, my main worry was such an untoward incident should not take place in Ramabai colony. By the time the protest was called off at 5.15 pm, there were only two beat policemen at the Ramabai Colony Chowk”.

Taking cognizance of the situation, Kiran and his group of friends approached the Pant Nagar Police station asking the PI to deploy more police at Ramabai Colony. The police further instructed Kiran to write a letter to the DCP stating his concerns regarding only two police officers being deployed at Ramabai Colony. Finally, by midnight, an approval was given on the letter written by Kiran and one fleet of Policemen with two police cars was stationed at Ramabai Colony. Kiran added, “Its been few days and the police fleet is still stationed here around the clock”.

Ironically, Ramabai Nagar area and the allied two areas (Kamraj Nagar and Nalanda) have been a Shiv Sena constituency for the past five years, even though the area has a large Dalit population and an active Ambedkarite movement. “This rhetoric that Ramabai Nagar is volatile place is a false narrative by the state… we are disappointed with the state response after the Ramabai Nagar Atrocity, and I do not know if Bhima Koregaon will have a similar outcome. During Ramabai Nagar Atrocity, the state tried their best to divert the issue and I see a similar pattern emerging with Bhima Koregaon”, a senior activist from Ramabai Nagar added.

Just a few days after the bandh, Deonar and Chembur, which saw a huge number of protests from Ambedkarites, was painted saffron. A large fleet of police vehicles was seen stationed, as Uddhav Thackeray was expected to inaugurate the “Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Pravesh Dwar”( A memorial commemorating Shivaji Maharaj). This was the same place where the protests took place just a few days earlier.

*Names have been changed on request.

Courtesy: Two Circles



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