I am an inevitable product of my history. It shadows me from the battlefields of Bhima Koregaon to the streets of London outside the Indian Embassy. This is where my history meets my destiny. My name is Saunvedan Aparanti. My ancestors were Mahars, shackled under the yoke of the caste system for millennia, not centuries. The 1st of January 1818, is what I call ‘the beginning’, not because there were no anti-caste revolts before this date but because anti-caste assertion was reified in the Victory Pillar at Bhima Koregaon. I can touch it and trace my fingers over the names of the martyrs and feel it. Reading about a battle in a history book is different from sitting in its precincts and living the assertion in your mind’s eye. It is a feeling similar to when I first touched the Taj Mahal. It was merely beautiful until then, but when I touched it, I fell for it.
The Battle of Bhima Koregaon itself did not occur in such a distant past to make it history with a capital H in my view. I can easily picture Mahars relishing the thought of finishing off the Peshwas to exact revenge for the humiliation they were subjected to, during the Peshwas’ reign. Times were good during the reign of Shivaji Maharaj and Sambhaji Raje who were more benevolent and inclusive. The British merely offered an opportunity for Mahars to settle the score, eye for an eye. 500 of the Company’s troops comprising of a large number of Mahars holding off 28,000 of the Peshwa army says a lot about both sides without me boasting about it. The main takeaway for me is the eye for an eye part. You see, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar struck an apocalyptic blow to the Brahminical caste empire from which it will never recover. He destroyed in one lifetime what caste supremacists built over millennia and he did it inter alia through academic rigour and relentless struggle.
Bhima Koregaon is different. It has the power to eviscerate caste by informing us that we can not only win the intellectual argument ‘Babasaheb-style’, but our ancestors also put these casteist rascals to the sword. I have never seen Brahminical caste pride beat a hastier retreat than at the mere mention of Bhima Koregaon. If caste survives on endogamy then I would say endogamy survives on caste-pride and deflating Brahminical caste-pride by exposing Peshwa cowardice is a sight to behold. This is why the modern Peshwas don’t like Bhima Koregaon. They have a much smaller problem with Ambedkar Jayanti because they can’t counter Babasaheb intellectually. You can see the modern Peshwas even holding rallies with the photo of Babasaheb alongside Hedgewar. ‘If you can’t beat them, appropriate them’ seems to be the new maxim. But Bhima Koregaon for them is a humiliating defeat on their own turf in terms that they perfectly understand, namely death. I recently wrote a Facebook post which generated some mirth among my friends, I wrote ‘There should be free screenings of Bajirao Mastani in theatres around Bhima Koregaon so we can go laugh in theatres.’ Essentially the Battle of Bhima Koregaon and Babasaheb’s work have pincered caste-pride into a mere puff.
I was born a Buddhist, no caste, no gotra, no rubbish. Yes, my ancestors were Mahars and for casteists I am still a Mahar but it doesn’t bother me. The reason is because when I think of myself as a Buddhist, I remember my grandfather proudly telling me about how he exited Hinduism at Babasaheb’s call in 1956 and accepted Buddhism alongside half a million others in Nagpur. So I don’t have an identity crisis. And when casteists tell me that I am still a Mahar, Buddhist or not, and therefore untouchable, I remember the Battle of Koregaon and how my ancestors let the sword do the talking. So if ever there was a win-win for an identity, I am it. Thus, when I heard that Ambedkarites were attacked at the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon this year, I was not surprised. What else can caste-supremacists do? They have lost the intellectual argument and they were hacked at the hands of Mahars at Bhima Koregaon. They cannot reconcile their inflated idea about themselves with their history of defeat. Hence, they resort to cowardly attacks on innocent Bhima Koregaon revellers and conspire and instigate others to do their dirty work for them. If we remove the religious and social systems that perpetuate Brahmindom, the whole sub-continent will be free.
Recognising Brahminical treachery and exiting it is a slow and rigorous process. Caste is everywhere. Luckily Babasaheb extracted us from this quagmire and liberated us forever. Other groups are slowly but surely moving towards Ambedkarism as they become unwilling to play second, third or fourth fiddle in the caste quartet. Their gaze is moving upwards towards their oppressors as erstwhile outcastes inspired by Babasaheb are developmentally leapfrogging everyone on all counts. Suddenly, ditching the Brahminical religion seems the best way out of a system that only advantages the priest. Hence, the Dalit Bahujan movement is gaining pace as it exposes Brahmindom and offers a taste of the freedom that lies beyond it. I have enjoyed not having rings in my fingers nor threads round my wrist my entire life and still find it fascinating to hear of people discovering that the door was always open when they finally decide to walk out.
After reading the reports of the caste attacks on Ambedkarites at Bhima Koregaon, I decided to do something about it. There is a sizeable global Ambedkarite diaspora that is well-connected thanks to the power of the internet, social media and the smart phone with whom I am in touch with. I floated the idea that we hold global protests across as many nations as possible within a small 1-3 day window. This suggestion was lapped up and protests were quickly organised in the UK, US, Germany and Australia at short notice. Meanwhile the police were picking up thousands of Ambedkarite youth in ‘combing’ operations across Maharashtra when they should have been arresting Manohar Bhide and Milind Ekbote who instigated the caste attacks on Ambedkarites. Modern-day Peshwas seem to forget that attacking Ambedkarites at places of pilgrimage like Bhima Koregaon will be met with defiance and greater celebrations next year. I rounded up fellow Ambedkarite Students who were receptive to holding a demonstration outside the Indian High Commission in London at the earliest date of the 12th of January to demand inter alia justice for the victims of the Bhima Koregaon caste-attacks.
We met outside the embassy and stood in silence holding our banners which spoke of our anguish and of our resolve. A few of us made some speeches and shouted slogans which seemed to stop London in its tracks thanks to the rise in our decibel levels when we take Babasaheb’s name or that of Bhima Koregaon. I was not interested in submitting any memorandums or petitions to the High Commissioner because the whole state machinery would be employed in not arresting Bhide and Ekbote whose caste-status provides a kind of immunity that even a head of state can only dream of. However, I did post a petition anyway outlining our demands simply as a matter of protocol. As I stood there on a cold January day on the street outside India House in London, I remembered these words of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: ‘My final words of advice to you are educate, agitate and organise; have faith in yourself. With justice on our side, I do not see how we can lose our battle. The battle to me is a matter of joy. The battle is in the fullest sense spiritual. There is nothing material or social in it. For ours is a battle, not for wealth or for power. It is a battle for freedom. It is a battle for the reclamation of human personality.’ Jai Bhim.
Saunvedan is a London-based Ambedkarite. He has an MA in Human Rights from UCL (University College London).