Ankush Uttam Helode
Maharashtra is a state where the dominant Maratha caste has wielded significant political and economic control. David Mandelbaum termed this dominant caste as having a “self-image as rulers.” However, this perception did not shifted after independence when Marathas became a majority and gained dominance in various areas. Despite constitutional and legal safeguards, their historical dominance influenced their continued influence. This led to conflict with the Neo Buddhist community, inspired by Dr. Ambedkar, challenging the Maratha status quo.
As tensions escalated, atrocities against Neo Buddhists increased, with the dominant Maratha caste often receiving covert support from state institutions. In response, Dalit social movements emerged, exemplified by the formation of the Dalit Panthers in 1972 after caste violence in Bavda village. The Neo Buddhist community, aligned with Ambedkar’s teachings, disrupted the caste hierarchy, triggering anger from certain sections of the Maratha caste, which resulted in a series of atrocities.
Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra serves as a backdrop for ongoing caste-related atrocities against the Neo Buddhists, who dared to challenge the prevailing dominance. In 2014, a neo-Buddhist boy named Nitin dared to love a Maratha girl, but he was brutally murdered by Maratha goons. In 2017, the district court did not find them guilty. Nitin’s father, while speaking with the BBC, asked a questioned the judiciary: if the court is saying that the killers of my son are not guilty, then who killed my son? Nitin’s father mentioned that after the court’s decision, he had thought about suicide. However, he found inspiration in Dr. Ambedkar’s teachings, and he declared that he would fight for justice until his death.
In 2015, a caste atrocity occurred in Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra, where a 23-year-old Dalit youth was beaten to death because his phone had the ringtone of a song praising Babasaheb Ambedkar: “Tumhi Karare Kitihi Halaa, Lay Mazboot Bhimacha Killa” – which translates to “attack as much as you may, long live Ambedkar.”
Recently, on August 27th, another atrocity occurred in Ahmednagar where four SC youths were falsely accused of goat theft, tied upside down from a tree, and beaten. A viral video captured a Neo Buddhist boy in this distressing scenario. While speaking with Prakash Ambedkar, the boy described the incident. The boy explained that while he was at home, two Maratha individuals visited. They summoned him and took him to Yuvaraj Patil’s house, where a group of drunk Maratha goons were present. Upon the neo-Buddhist boy’s arrival, the Marathas began physically assaulting him. Despite repeated inquiries, the boy couldn’t comprehend the reason for the attack. The assailants forcibly removed his clothing and continued their assault, accusing him of stealing their pigeons. The boy suggested that they review their house’s surveillance cameras to ascertain his involvement. He even proposed legal action if found guilty on camera.
In front of the Maratha goons, the underage neo-Buddhist Ambedkarite boy discussed the possibility of pursuing legal action if he was found on camera. However, the Maratha group, driven by their self-image as rulers, lynched him from a tree and subjected him to severe beatings, even resorting to urinating on his body. The goons also spat on their shoes and forced the boys to consume the spit. Some time later, a group of Dalits arrived, intervening and freeing the boys from the Maratha attackers. One of the Maratha individuals remarked that this child, being a Mahar, had the audacity to oppose them, emphasizing that Mahar individuals had only one role: to endure their contempt.
Furthermore, the Maratha group warned the neo-Buddhist boy that pursuing legal justice could result in harm to him and his family, emphasizing their ability to inflict harm if he chose that path.
The atrocities on Neo Buddhists by the Marathas are motivated by the Mahars educating themselves now, claiming equal citizenship, and audacity to break the status quo. The Marathas kill Neo-Buddhists when they dare to love, when they play Dr. Ambedkar songs publicly, when they seek justice, equality, and challenge the Marathas’ status quo, and when they attempt to break the image of Maratha self-rule.
Ankush Uttam Helode did his B.A Political Science from Garware College, Pune. Now he is pursuing Master of Arts in Public Policy and Governance from Azim Premji University, Bangalore.