The Bhima Koregaon case traces back to January 1, 2018, when the bicentenary celebrations of the Bhima Koregaon battle turned tragic. The commemoration was marred by violent clashes between Dalit and Maratha groups, leading to the loss of one life and injuries to many others. Subsequent police investigations into the incident resulted in the arrest of several activists with alleged "Maoist links."
The authorities claimed that the arrested activists had funded the Elgar Parishad meeting on December 31, 2017, where inflammatory speeches were made, allegedly inciting the violence. Among those arrested were prominent individuals like writer and poet Varavara Rao, lawyer and activist Sudha Bhardwaj, academic and activist Vernon Gonsalves, and human rights activists Arun Ferreira and Gautam Navlakha.
Understanding Bhima-Koregaon: A Battle of Significance
Bhima-Koregaon, a small village in Pune district, Maharashtra, holds immense historical significance in Maratha history. On January 1, 1818, a British Army, dominated by the Dalit community, achieved a remarkable victory over the Peshwa army, led by Peshwa Bajirao II, in the Battle of Koregaon. The battle holds a legendary stature for Dalits, who view it as a triumph against the injustices perpetuated by the Peshwas. The installation of the Vijay Sthamb (victory pillar) by the East India Company in memory of the fallen soldiers further solidified the battle's importance to the Dalit community.
The Bhima Koregaon Violence: A Tragic Turn of Events
The bicentenary celebration of the Battle of Koregaon on January 1, 2018, drew larger crowds to Bhima Koregaon than in previous years. However, tensions had already started simmering on December 29, 2017, when Govind Gopal Mahar's memorial was found desecrated. The incident found mention during the Elgar Parishad, a public conference organized by Dalit and Bahujan groups on December 31, 2017. Police alleged that inflammatory speeches were made during the event, leading to the violent clashes the following day.
Key Dates and Events:
January 2, 2018: Pune police files FIR against Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, accusing them of instigating violence in Shaniwar Wadi.
February 9, 2018: The Maharashtra government constitutes a two-member commission to inquire into the events leading to violence on the Bhima Koregaon bicentenary.
June 6, 2018: Pune police arrests prominent Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale, Nagpur University head of English department Shoma Sen, activist Mahesh Raut, and Kerala native Rona Wilson, accusing them of conspiring to incite the Bhima-Koregaon violence.
August 28, 2018: Maharashtra Police arrests Telugu poet Varavara Rao, activists Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira, trade union activist Sudha Bharadwaj, and civil liberties activist Gautam Navlakha.
September 5, 2018: Maharashtra government claims in the Supreme Court that activists were arrested due to cogent evidence linking them with the banned CPI (Maoist). Allegations of involvement in a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi and wage war against the country were also made.
September 28, 2018: The Supreme Court refuses to interfere with the arrests and declines to appoint a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the matter. Justice DY Chandrachud dissents, emphasizing the importance of upholding voices in opposition.
January 14, 2019: The Supreme Court declines to quash the FIR against activist Anand Teltumbde in connection with the Elgaar Parishad event.
January 22, 2020: The new Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra orders a fresh probe into the case.
January 24, 2020: The investigation is taken over from the Pune Police by the central agency NIA, sparking a political squabble over the transfer's constitutional implications.
October 7, 2020: The NIA files its first chargesheet, claiming a "well chalked-out strategy" behind the violence against Dalits in January 2018.
March 21, 2021: The NIA special court dismisses Father Stan Swamy's application for bail on medical grounds.
April 20, 2021: Washington Post reveals evidence planting on activists' computers, raising questions about the legitimacy of the arrests.
July 5, 2021: Father Stan Swamy tragically passes away, sparking anger over his treatment while in custody.
May 5, 2022: Varavara Rao is granted regular bail on medical grounds by the Supreme Court.
November 19, 2022: Gautam Navlakha is released from Taloja Central Prison and placed under house arrest due to his deteriorating health.
July 1, 2023: The Maharashtra government grants another extension to the Koregaon Bhima Commission of Inquiry.
July 28, 2023: The Supreme Court grants bail to Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira, who have been in custody for over five years.