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News > World

India's 'Dalits' Continue Nationwide Protests Over Celebrating 200-yr-old British Victory

  • Members of the Dalit community shout slogans as they block a road during a protest in Mumbai.

    Members of the Dalit community shout slogans as they block a road during a protest in Mumbai. | Photo: Reuters

Published 3 January 2018
Opinion

The demonstrations erupted after Hindu nationalists attacked a commemmoration attended by over 300,000 Dalits.

With road blocks and arson, hundreds of protesters continued their protest on the streets in India's Mumbai on Wednesday as a response to the distruption caused by the Hindu nationalist groups to an earlier event where nearly 300,000 people, 'Dalits' gathered to celebrate 200th anniversary of the 1818 victory of the British East India Company in defiance of the regional royalty of Peshwas, a faction of the Maratha empire that ruled much of the subcontinent before the British.

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A large number of Dalits sided with the British to defeat the imperialist high-caste Peshwa rulers at the time. 

The nationalist groups on Monday clashed with the demonstrators celebrating the event which marked the historic moment in a Maharashtra village leading to violent clashes, one death, and over 100 arrests of Dalits.

“Our women and small children were attacked in Bhima Koregaon and in Mumbai,” a demonstrator, Rajesh told the Guardian. “Why don’t they talk about that?”

“They attacked us with lathis [clubs],” another young man identifying himself as Sumit said. “I have a mark here on my back from last night.”

Protests have already been rocking Mumbai, partially shutting down parts of the city, as the Dalit community demands the BJP-led Hindu Nationalist government address their concerns. 

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Dalit leaders, including the grandson of legendary Dalit activist and drafter of the Indian constitution, Dr B.R. Ambedkar issued a statement calling for all democratic and progressive forces in the country to bring the protests nationwide.

 Although the history of the battle is scorned by Hindu nationalists, for many Dalits it is celebrated because numerous Dalits fought in the battle, on the side of the British. At the time, it was a way of fighting against their treatment as “untouchables” under Peshwa rule.

The celebration of the battle dates back to when Ambedkar, now revered as a spiritual and political leader of India's lower castes, decided to recognize the Dalit's role in the battle.

The attacks and subsequent police crackdown ignited what are long-brewing sentiments that the BJP government, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has failed to live up to its promises to bring jobs and wellbeing to India's lower castes, and has instead ignored their livelihoods and concerns.

Although there are numerous people of Dalit and tribal origin in various government positions, including the president, many have felt that this has done little to help their status or position in the country's politics and economy. 

There are also more than a million government employees and hundreds of IAS and IPS level officers and we have a Dalit President at present. Yet, all of them fail to protect the interests of the Adivasis (tribal) and the Dalits? Are they morally obliged or are they stooges of the establishment?" Dalit activist Ashok Bharti said to Times of India. 

Maharashtra's chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis has called for an interrogation into the violent clashes. 

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