On 1 January this yr, Dalits from throughout India gathered in Bhima Koregaon, a village 30 kilometers from Pune, to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of a historic battle that happened in the village in 1818. The battle had culminated in the victory of a small British battalion, largely comprising troopers from the oppressed Mahar caste, over a military of dominant-caste Peshwas. On the 200th anniversary, as lakhs marched in the direction of the Koregaon Ranstambh, or Vijay Stambh—a memorial pillar erected by the British to commemorate the battle—mobs of individuals carrying saffron flags attacked the predominantly Dalit gathering.
In the days that adopted, the police registered a number of complaints and first info studies, every 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 metropolis’s deputy mayor, Siddharth Dhende, to inquire into the violence and the occasions main as much as it. Over a span of ten days, the committee visited Bhima Koregaon and close by villages, interviewing eyewitnesses, victims, journalists who have been current in the space, and native residents. They collected proof comparable to particular person testimonies, audio-visual proof—together with recordings of telephone calls and movies from the day of the violence—and messages circulated on Fb and Whatsapp. The committee submitted an in depth report back 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 different native leaders throughout celebration affiliations. These findings corroborate an earlier grievance filed by Anita Sawale, a resident of Pune and an eyewitness to the violence. Sawale’s grievance, on the foundation of which the police registered an FIR on 2 January, said that Ekbote and Bhide have been answerable for the violence.
The contents of the fact-finding committee’s report assume significance in the wake of current arrests of outstanding civil-rights activists, legal professionals and writers—allegedly in connection to the violence on 1 January—which has introduced Bhima Koregaon again into the highlight. The police have claimed that the arrested people are Maoists chargeable for funding and instigating the violence that befell on 1 January. Nevertheless, the fact-finding committee’s report contradicts the police narrative about the occasions main as much as the violence at Bhima Koregaon.
The report is a scathing indictment of each Bhide and Ekbote, of native Hindutva teams, and of the Pune Police. Based mostly on eyewitness accounts that talk of kerosene crammed in water tractors and “sticks and swords hidden” in a tea stall the night time earlier than, the report explicitly describes what befell 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 particular people concerned in it, and describes how pleas for assist by native residents—together with the minister of state for social justice Dilip Kamble—have been ignored by the police and by state ministers.
Quickly after it was submitted, the Pune Rural Police denied the committee’s findings. They’ve additionally since made little progress in the investigation of Sawale’s grievance, regardless of supporting proof submitted by the police-commissioned fact-finding committee.As an alternative, the police has been appearing on one other FIR, registered following a grievance by Tushar Damgude, a businessman in Pune, on 9 January—eight days after the violence broke out. Damgude, who is a follower of Sambhaji Bhide, claimed that the Bhima Koregaon violence was a results of provocative speeches delivered at the Elgar Parishad, a mass public assembly carried out on 31 December 2017, organised primarily by two retired judges of the larger judiciary.
Although the current wave of arrests are in relation to Damgude’s FIR, solely one among the ten individuals arrested up to now is even named in the FIR—Sudhir Dhawale, one other of the organisers of the Elgar Parishad. In the meantime, the investigation into the position of the Hindutva leaders in frightening the violence seems to be sluggish. Milind Ekbote is out on bail and the police have stated they won’t press costs towards Bhide. A solution to the sluggish investigation into their position in the Bhima Koregaon violence maybe lies of their backgrounds. Ekbote is a former BJP corporator, who based the Shiv Jagar Pratishtan, whereas Bhide is a former RSS employee, and founding father of the Hindu Janajagran Samiti, with a big following in Maharashta and throughout the nation—together with the prime minister Narendra Modi, who has publicly referred to him as “Guruji.”
The committee’s report states that the police “deliberately failed” to curb the violence, and that that some policemen in civil garments marched alongside the mobs that carried saffron flags. It additional notes that as “Hindutvawadi crowds” approached the Vijay Stambh, a couple of individuals shouted, “Don’t worry, the police is on our side.” In view of this, the committee really helpful that the police shouldn’t conduct the investigation, and that it ought to be carried out by a Particular Investigation Staff. The Pune Rural Police didn’t reply to a number of requests for a touch upon the committee’s report. Each the Pune inspector common of police, Vishwas Nangre-Patil, and the superintendent of police, Sandeep Patil, didn’t return calls or reply to messages.
Although the findings of the committee couldn’t be independently verified, given the gravity of the conclusions in the report and in view of the bigger public curiosity, The Caravan is releasing the unique Marathi report together with an English translation. As well as, over a collection of telephone conversations in early September, Tusha Mittal, an assistant editor at The Caravan, spoke to Siddharth Dhende, who headed the fact-finding committee. Dhende, a member of the Republican Get together of India (Athawale), which is in coalition with the BJP in Mahrashtra, is the deputy mayor of Pune elected on a BJP ticket. Dhende rejected the Maharashta police’s claims of Naxal involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence, and said that Hindutva teams had instigated caste tensions in the space forward of the 1 January occasion. When requested about the police response to the report, he stated, “There is pressure from the government, because this report totally goes against saffron groups and the people with a Hindutva agenda.”
Tusha Mittal: What is the context by which your fact-finding befell? What was your mandate?
Siddharth Dende: After the violence in Bhima Koregaon on 1 January, there was agitation by Ambedkarite teams throughout Maharashtra, in districts, villages and cities. In that context, [the inspector general of police of Maharashtra’s Kolhapur Range] Mr Nangre Patil held a gathering with Dalit activists at the SP’s workplace in Pune. Almost 200–250 Dalit organisations and their leaders have been current. I used to be additionally there.
In that assembly, the Dalit activists have been demanding that the police arrest Mr Bhide and Mr Ekbote. To chill the activists down, they stated you individuals make a committee, [to find] no matter details there are, as a result of there have been a number of movies, photographs, audios.
So ten of us shaped an off-the-cuff committee. We went to Bhima Koregaon, Vadu gaon, Sanaswadi, and the close by villages. There we met all the crucial individuals, press reporters, gram panchayats members, police officers and the widespread public—not solely Dalit but in addition non-Dalit individuals. We interviewed almost 400 eyewitnesses. All the [information about the] incidents we obtained, and almost 200–250 pictures, movies, audio clips we collected, we submitted to the police.
TM: Based mostly in your investigation, what occurred on 1 January and the occasions main as much as it? What was the primary set off?
SD: We got here to a conclusion that this specific riot was a pre-planned one. The Elgar Parishad passed off on the night of 31 [December] in Pune metropolis, close to Shaniwar Vada, however the riot passed off on 1 [January]. It wasn’t an incidental factor. It was completely a conspiracy by individuals and organisations with a Hindutva agenda. This was not a dangal, this was a pre-planned assault on Ambedkarite and Dalit teams who have been going to gather in Bhima Koregaon on 1 January.
The Dalit commemoration [of the battle at Bhima Koregaon] was hurting the sentiments of upper-caste Hindus who dispute their model of historical past. Individuals like Bhide, Ekbote, and different Hindutvawadi teams have been making an attempt their greatest to wipe out this historical past and unfold falsehood in thoughts of younger individuals. These incidents have been orchestrated to destroy the bicentennial [celebration] of this historical past.
A couple of days earlier than 1 January, an issue stirred up after a banner was put up in Vadu gaon, three kilometres from Bhima Koregaon, associated to the Mahar group’s model of historical past. [The Vadu Khurd village is home to the samadhi, or final resting place, of Sambhaji Bhosale, the son of the Maratha king Shivaji, and Govind Gaikwad, who the Mahar community believes conducted Sambhaji’s final rites.] The banner was torn by Hindutva teams in the village. Following this, an FIR was lodged and 49 individuals have been booked underneath the SC-ST act. This brought about resentment and outrage amongst Savarna Hindu teams. They conspired towards Dalits and deliberate the complete incident.
TM: The police have claimed that provocative speeches made throughout the Elgar Parishad led to the violence, however your report says that a plan to create the violence existed a lot earlier than the Elgar Parishad assembly. What proof did you discover and undergo help this?
SD: We discovered no proof that connects Elgar Parishad to the 1 January violence.
The Elgar Parishad occurred on 31 December, however there have been plans to create dysfunction a lot earlier than that. The proof we discovered is from 25 December onwards, and a few even earlier. Messages have been circulating on Whatsapp and Fb that on 1 January, “we have to gather against Dalit activists, we have to come together in Vadu gaon and teach them a lesson, we have to retaliate”—we’ve submitted these findings to police.
Then, there was a bandh referred to as. So as to be sure that Dalit teams don’t get any meals or water, or any amenities [when they come to Bhima Koregaon for the bicentenniary celebrations], a proper bandh was referred to as by the gram panchayats in writing. You possibly can’t do this.
The police knew about these grievances, they knew that lakhs of individuals will acquire in Bhima Koregaon and that one thing will occur on 1 January, however they didn’t take any precautionary measures.
On 1 January, mobs holding saffron flags gathered in Vadu gaon. They might have been stopped there itself, however once more, the police didn’t do something. The mob shouted Hindutva slogans and walked three kilometres to Nagarpur, the place the Bhima Koregaon statue is located. On the Nagarpur freeway, they began pelting stones on individuals who have been coming from throughout Maharashtra for the 1 January occasion. All the Ambedkarite individuals who have been visiting Bhima Koregaon have been attacked. Ladies, senior residents and youngsters have been attacked. Hundreds of automobiles and two-wheelers and three-wheelers have been damaged and burnt. Stones and lathis rained down on individuals.
This specific assault was pre-planned. For those who see on the roads, the stone pelting was happening from the roof. In the movies too, you’ll be able to see native residents standing on the prime of their homes, on the roof, and pelting stones. How can it happen from the roof until you go up with stones to the terrace?
There have been additionally shares of kerosene, and home of Dalits have been burnt. One native shopkeeper, Mr Athavale, in Sanswadi [village], was referred to as by an area village chief and advised, “Please run away, because your house will be burnt.” How did they know this? In one other incident, the home of an area, Mr Sakat, was burnt, not on 1 January, however the day after, on 2 January, as a result of he belongs to the [Scheduled Caste] group, and since he was serving to ladies and senior residents escape throughout the violence the earlier day.
TM: Who’re the important perpetrators and organisations behind the violence? What was the involvement of Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote?
SD: When it comes to the organisations and other people concerned, Milind Ekbote’s identify is utterly there. The primary perpetrators have been Ekbote—and Bhide, not directly—however Ekbote I can say immediately. We’re rattling positive that he is related to the riot. Each amavasya—[the night of the new moon as per the lunar calendar]—Ekbote involves the samadhiof Sambhaji Maharaj in Vadu gaon and has conferences. He comes solely throughout night time hours. He has his personal organisation in these specific villages, the place he is inciting hatred towards Dalits for a few years now.He has teenager teams the place he is having mind-changing vocabulary, and making the youth to go towards Dalit organisations.
This yr, a number of days earlier than the January 1 gathering, in the similar Bhima Koregaon village the place the violence occurred, Ekbote held press conferences to inform those that the historical past of January 1 is fallacious. He stated that 1 January must be noticed as a black day. The notes he despatched to native reporters earlier than the press convention can be found. What is the function of going to Bhima Koregoan itself and holding such a press convention there? What is the intention? It clearly exhibits that he needs to vary the historical past, to point out that it is unattainable that a Dalit might have carried out the final rites of Sambhaji Maharaj. The intention was to create friction between Marathas and Dalits and he was not directly profitable in it.
The individuals who participated in the violence are beneath Ekbote’s management, they’re members and cadres of his organisation. Individuals from Ekbote’s group—Anil Ghuge and Somnath Bhandare—have been the ones who did the work of amassing and organising the mobs, and making speeches towards Dalits.
TM: The report additionally states that an assault was deliberate for 1 January, underneath the watch of two individuals, Rahul Hargude and Datta Hargude. Who’re they?
SD: They’re the native Shiv Sena leaders in the village. They’re hooked up with Bhide and Ekbote’s Hindutva teams.
TM: Do Bhidhe and Ekbote’s Hindutva organisations have membership throughout political events?
SD: Sure. In Maharashtra, Mr Bhide’s followers are from all the events. Each NCP and BJP are additionally there. Each their followers and members minimize throughout get together strains.
TM: The report additionally mentions the involvement of native leaders throughout political events. Might you specify?
SD:Politically, NCP is there in energy at village degree and Shiv Sena is there. They’re each concerned on this.
TM: The report mentions that lots of the accused are family members of Baburao Pacharne, a BJP member of the legislative meeting in Maharashtra, and that there are “attempts to save the accused.” Is that this influencing the investigation?
SD: Sure, the individuals concerned in the stone pelting and violence on 1 January are family members of the BJP MLA. I can say this 101 %. This is certainly one of the the reason why the police are underneath strain. The fast-track investigation that ought to occur into this is not occurring. It is not solely the BJP MLA, the native leaders additionally belong to the Shiv Sena and Rashtrawadi [NCP]. All these political events not directly give significance to the Hindutva agenda. The one distinction is BJP and Shiv Sena do it brazenly, and NCP and Congress do it from behind.
TM: In the report, you have got requested for the case to be transferred to a Particular Investigation Staff. What is your evaluation of the Pune Rural Police’s investigation into the instances towards Ekbote and Bhide?
SD: We aren’t glad with the investigation up to now. Ekbote was arrested, however he has been granted bail. They don’t seem to be conducting a correct investigation, and haven’t produced correct proof. Simply to point out Dalit teams that they’re doing one thing, [the police] arrested Ekbote and produced him in courtroom, however now he’s out. So he can pressurise all the teams. Sambaji Bhide, the police haven’t even touched. Bhide visited Vadu gaonmany occasions, and has given lectures there, and we now have given proof of how his followers are concerned. He have to be interrogated. He will get interviewed in the media however not by the police.
TM: What do you assume is stopping the police from doing a extra thorough investigation?
SD: It is political. The police are underneath strain of the state authorities. The police doesn’t need to hurt the political picture of the state authorities. Mr Bhide is himself the strain level and related to BJP teams. Bhide is a [former] RSS member, and completely extremist in his Hindu views, and is delivering his lectures in the course that is going to favour BJP. In his Hindutva agenda, BJP and Shiv Sena are the important ones who’re going to get profit. Due to his reputation and his follower teams, no political get together, even Congress and NCP is daring to speak towards him. He have to be taken into custody.
TM: Did you discover any proof to help the police declare that individuals affiliated with the CPI (Maoists) instigated the violence?
SD: No. There is no proof and no such involvement of Naxals. I don’t understand how these philosophies of City Naxalite are coming. The police are misguiding the investigation. It was beforehand on Bhide, Ekbote and Hindutva organisations and now they’re altering the monitor.
The path started to vary when the FIR was lodged towards the Elgar Parishad with the [Pune] Metropolis Police. They’re linking Elgar Parishad with Naxalite teams. However we have now investigated the 1 January [violence] completely, and we need to say these incidents are under no circumstances associated to Naxal teams. The NIA must be there for a radical investigation.
TM: Why is the police making an attempt to vary monitor?
SD: This is being achieved to guard Hindutva leaders like Ekbote and Bhide and different Hindutva teams. Due to the investigations into the demise of [Narendra] Dabholkar, [Govind] Pansare, and Gauri Lankesh. To divert the consideration from this, they’re making an attempt to make the Naxalism connection. To place these individuals in the background, different names have been introduced ahead. From the investigation of the Karnataka SIT, it is clear that Sanatan Sanstha was concerned. Sanatan teams have been investigated completely and at the moment are being arrested with proof. Now there is strain on the state authorities of Maharashtra. When the focus got here on Hindu extremist exercise, it was going towards the authorities agenda. Then Pune Police, who have been investigating Elgar Parishad, arrested the 5 intellectuals from totally different elements of the nation. When the Sanatan was on the hit record in media, and their individuals have been getting arrested on a regular basis, all of a sudden this Elgar Parishad was linked with Naxalites.
TM: How did the Pune Police reply to your fact-finding report?
SD: After the submission, the police denied it, but in addition assured that they might examine on the strains of the information from the report. It is their duty to additional examine as per the path that we’ve informed. In the event that they need to do another investigation beside our reviews, we now have no drawback with that. However the factor is they purposefully denied this [report]. Why? There is strain from the authorities itself, as a result of this specific report completely goes towards saffron teams and the individuals with a Hindutva agenda. We’ve got given sufficient proof. We advised the police, you include us instantly, or go meet the individuals whom we’ve interrogated, however they didn’t do this. For instance, we gave names of eyewitnesses who noticed kerosene being stocked in the water tractors. However the police haven’t met them. They haven’t interrogated all the individuals whose names I submitted. The police is doing it based on their comfort. The path of the police has not even moved even an inch in the direction of the native leaders of the village. Solely the widespread public is getting harassed.
TM: Has the IG formally communicated to you if they’re denying or accepting your report?
SD: No, they didn’t reply formally, as a result of the state authorities issued a committee on the day of the riot itself for the reality discovering. They’re ignoring [the report.] They’ve denied it. Due to the political strain they don’t seem to be moving into the path we would like.
TM: You’re a part of the RPI(A)-BJP coalition in Maharashtra. What has been the response of the BJP authorities to your findings?
SD: We met Chief Minister Fadnavis in January and requested him to research. However contemplating the incident, I need to say that the fact should come ahead. It should not be co-related immediately with a political agenda. We nonetheless have hopes. We’re preventing with the authorities and officers that you simply conduct a radical investigation.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Reality-finding committee report (Marathi)
Reality-finding committee report (English translation)
Tusha Mittal is an assistant editor at The Caravan.