Pune Police is diverting the Bhima Koregaon investigation, protecting Bhide, Ekbote: Deputy mayor Siddharth Dhende

The Caravan publishes report of police-appointed committee, headed by Dhende, that finds Hindutva outfits “pre-planned” the Bhima Koregaon violence

09 September 2018
Courtesy Pune Municipal Corporation
Courtesy Pune Municipal Corporation

On 1 January this year, Dalits from across India gathered in Bhima Koregaon, a village 30 kilometers from Pune, to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of a historic battle that took place in the village in 1818. The battle had culminated in the victory of a small British battalion, largely comprising soldiers from the oppressed Mahar caste, over an army of dominant-caste Peshwas. On the 200th anniversary, as lakhs marched towards the Koregaon Ranstambh, or Vijay Stambh—a memorial pillar erected by the British to commemorate the battle—mobs of people carrying saffron flagsattacked the predominantly Dalit gathering.

In the days that followed, the police registered multiple complaints and first information reports, each with competing narratives about the origins of the violence. In early January, the Pune Rural Police appointed a ten-member fact-finding committee, headed by the city’s deputy mayor, Siddharth Dhende, to inquire into the violence and the events leading up to it. Over a span of ten days, the committee visited Bhima Koregaon and nearby villages, interviewing eyewitnesses, victims, journalists who were present in the area, and local residents. They collected evidence such as individual testimonies, audio-visual proof—including recordings of phone calls and videos from the day of the violence—and messages circulated on Facebook and Whatsapp. The committee submitted a detailed report to the police on 20 January.

The report identifies two Pune-based Hindutva leaders—Milind Ekbote and Manohar Bhide—as the  “main conspirators” behind the violence, supported by other local leaders across party affiliations. These findings corroborate an earlier complaint filed by Anita Sawale, a resident of Pune and an eyewitness to the violence. Sawale’s complaint, on the basis of which the police registered an FIR on 2 January, stated that Ekbote and Bhide were responsible for the violence.

The contents of the fact-finding committee’s report assume significance in the wake of recent arrests of prominent civil-rights activists, lawyers and writers—allegedly in connection to the violence on 1 January—which has brought Bhima Koregaon back into the spotlight. The police have claimed that the arrested individuals are Maoists responsible for funding and instigating the violence that took place on 1 January. However, the fact-finding committee’s report contradicts the police narrative about the events leading up to the violence at Bhima Koregaon.

The report is a scathing indictment of both Bhide and Ekbote, of local Hindutva groups, and of the Pune Police. Based on eyewitness accounts that speak of kerosene filled in water tractors and “sticks and swords hidden” in a tea stall the night before, the report explicitly describes what took place in Bhima Koregaon as a “pre-planned attack.” The report explains the day-to-day incidents in the build-up to the 1 January violence, identifies specific individuals involved in it, and describes how pleas for help by local residents—including the minister of state for social justice Dilip Kamble—were ignored by the police and by state ministers.

Keywords: caste Maharashtra Dalit Hindutva caste violence Bhima Koregaon Pune Dalit activism Milind Ekbote Pune Police Siddharth Dhende Manohar Bhide