Caste riots: Students protest outside Maharashtra Sadan

New Delhi, Jan 3  Leftist student groups staged a demonstration outside Maharashtra Sadan here on Wednesday, demanding action against two local leaders for instigating the Bhima-Koregaon riots in Pune city in which a man was killed and many shops and vehicles were vandalised.

Protestors, including members of the All India Students’ Association (AISA) and the Students’ Federation of India, raised slogans against state’s Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, alleging them of harbouring and promoting anti-Dalit groups and demanded the latter’s resignation.

“The riots were pre-planned. Even before the people started coming to the place, shops were forced to shut down on the highway… The day has been celebrated for years and with much fanfare. This is the only time such a thing has happened,” Abhilasha Srivastava, the Maharashtra AISA state secretary, told IANS.

She emphasised that the day was now celebrated not primarily for cheering the Dalits’ contribution in defeating the Peshwas, but to counter the corporate-politician nexus which “has kept the Dalits and poor marginalised”.

“The gathering was to call out the ‘neo-Peshwai’, the fascist-capitalist structure which is nurtured by the politicians,” Srivastava added.

The students alleged that these were local leaders like Milind Ekbote of “Samast Hindu Aghadi” and Sambhaji Bhide of “Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan”, who instigated the riots and demanded that they be booked for same.

On January 1 every year, Dalits and Bahujans gather at Koregaon-Bhima near Pune to commemorate the anniversary of the Koregaon Battle of 1818 in which the British Bombay Native Infantry, comprising mostly Mahar Dalit soldiers, defeated the Peshwa army.

This date is revered by the Dalits as a victory against the Brahminical Peshwas. This year the function was especially important since it marked 200 years of the battle.

The AISA leader also alleged the two leaders of appropriating slogan — “Ek Maratha, Lakh Maratha” — used by the Maharashtra youth who were demanding reservations some time back “to give their act of rioting a wider subscription, which is false”.

The riot has spread out to Mumbai, the state capital, with police detaining many protestors.

Many Dalit-based parties had called for a “Maharashtra Bandh” on Wednesday, which was however withdrawn after sporadic acts of violence were reported, leaving the state virtually paralysed.