NEW DELHI – India’s low-caste Dalit community were celebrating memorial of a 200-year-old British military victory, which ended up in mass protests in the state of Maharashtra.
Hundreds of Dalits , formerly known as untouchables, blocked roads and train lines attacking buses disrupting transportation and closure of schools and shops, reported the Guardian.
The protests emerged when Hindu nationalist groups killed a teenager in a disruption during the commemoration of the 200-year-old victory.
An estimated 300,000 Dalits gathered in the village of Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra to celebrate the 1818 victory of the British East India Company over the Peshwas, a faction of the Hindu Maratha Empire that ruled most parts of the subcontinent before the arrival of the British.
The battle involved hundreds of Dalit fighting on the side of the British, with almost 900 soldiers that deterred Peshwa forces estimated to be almost 20,000.
In Hindu caste system, Dalits occupies the lowest place suffering for thousands of years of exclusion and extreme poverty. In order to response to the mistreatment by the hands of the high-caste Peshwa rulers, Dailts sided with the British. The members of the Dalit community consider the battle one of the historical moment of self-assertion.
The 200th anniversary turned violent when Dalit activists allege members of two Hindu nationalist groups attacked processions near an obelisk installed by the British commemorating the battle.
The clashes between the two groups has so far taken life of a man, and dozens of cars were set ablaze.
At least 100 Dalits have been arrested with protests quickly spread across the city of Mumbai drawing national media attention. In one of the centre for protests, an activist stated that police had been trying to shut down the demonstrations in a “brutal” fashion.
“They attacked us with lathis [clubs],” the young man identifying himself as Sumit said. “I have a mark here on my back from last night.”
There were reports of journalists being attacked and vocal anger towards the media, whom one protester accused of ignoring violence against Dalits and being “sold to politicians”.
“Our women and small children were attacked in Bhima Koregaon and in Mumbai,” said the demonstrator, Rajesh. “Why don’t they talk about that?”
Fleets of protesters on motorbikes were also seen roaming the empty streets of Mumbai shouting “Jai Bhim”, a Dalit protest slogan. Order began to return to the city, after one of the key Dalit leader, Prakash Ambedkar, called for an end to the protests.
The Maharashtra chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis, has asked for a judicial inquiry into Monday’s violence.
Caste was officially abolished by the Indian constitution in 1950 but remains deeply embedded in social customs and still shapes the lives of most Hindus.