A 200-year-old battle and the sentiments associated with it were the powder keg. A stone-pelting incident provided the sparks for the flame that engulfed Mumbai in violence on Tuesday, January 2.
A group of Dalits in Mumbai on Monday, January 1, started a march to Pune to commemorate the Koreagon battle between the British and Peshwas in 1818, where the Peshwa troops — consisting of higher-caste Marathas — had succeeded in defending the village of Bhima-Koregaon, but lost several of their men in the process.
The Dalits have since celebrated the British victory as a symbol of their own win over the upper caste, as there were many Mahars — all Dalits — in the British forces then.
What began as a peaceful march on Monday turned violent after unknown assailants pelted stones at the groups. While several reports said the stone-pelting was initiated by some right-wing groups as they had earlier opposed the celebration of the battle, others said it was the result of an argument between the Dalits and few Maratha people.
At least one person was killed in the violent Dalit protests that resulted from the stone-pelting on Monday, and over 30 vehicles were on Tuesday torched in Mumbai.
Protests spill over
What began as protests near Pune spilled over to Mumbai on Tuesday. By afternoon, many areas of Mumbai — specifically in eastern suburbs of Chembur, Mulund, Mankhurd, Ghatkopar and Bhandup, and other north-eastern parts of the city — saw Dalits pelting stones over Monday's death.
The Eastern Express Highway was completely jammed from Ramabai Nagar to Chembur as a result.
The protesters groups allegedly raised slogans against the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), and even tried to vandalise the Ambedkar Garden in Chembur, but were stopped by the police.
Even bus and train services between Mumbai and Pune were hit by the protests.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said a request would be made "to Supreme Court for judicial inquiry in Koregaon violence matter."
He added in a tweet: "CID inquiry will also be conducted on the death of the youth. Rs 10 lakh will be given as compensation for victim's kin. [sic]"
Maharashtra CM @Dev_Fadnavis orders judicial enquiry for #BhimaKoregaon incident.— CMO Maharashtra (@CMOMaharashtra) January 2, 2018
Also orders a CID enquiry for the death of a youth & an assistance of ₹10 lakh to his kin.
Strict action will be taken against the all those who are spreading rumours & trying to invoke violence. pic.twitter.com/TvMVVgSWRV
Prakash Ambedkar calls bandh
Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar, on Tuesday welcomed the announcement of judicial inquiry into Monday's violence.
An activist and the leader of the regional party Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) in Maharashtra, Ambedkar named three persons as accused in the spilling over of the protests.
Ambedkar told reporters: "I am blaming three persons as I had said earlier also. One is Sambaji Bhide, second is Milind Ekgote and third is Mr Ghughesh... I don't know his first name."
Meanwhile, the BBM convener has called for a peaceful bandh on Wednesday as he said that the issue would be dealt with by the apex court and that the judge hearing the matter should not be a Dalit and should be empowered to allot the punishment to the perpetrators.