Bhima Koregaon violence turns creation of award-winning artist into heap of ashes, inflicts over Rs 50 lakh loss

FP Staff

The handiwork of an artist were subsumed in the flames of anger and violence over marking the 200th anniversary of Bhima Koregaon battle in Pune.

The caste-based clashes that spilled over to few other parts of Maharashtra too, including Mumbai, cost Eldine Fernandes, a national award-winning Pune-based sculptor, over Rs 50 lakh worth of his paintings, sculptures, and equipment as protesters torched and vandalised his studio in the Bhima Koregaon area in Pune.

Fernandes, a Christian, could barely hold back his tears as he recounted his losses. Apart from immense hard work in the form of artworks, that were at various stages of completion, being reduced to ashes, Fernandes says he also lost three years worth of his life's savings.

He said he noticed that four to five statues of Buddha were stolen, while everything else was charred. The sculptor, who has lived in Bhima Koregaon for the last three years, said that there was no tension among different communities before Monday's incident. "Each year the rallies used to pass by quietly," he said.

Despite his loss, Fernandes is positive he will rebuild his work from scratch. However, he is not alone who was affected by the protests.

Tremors of the violence, which left one person dead near the Bhima Koregaon village, also shook other parts of the state where numerous vehicles were torched, and shops were vandalised. Commerce and commute in several parts of Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Mumbai, Aurangabad and Marathwada were thrown off the gear.

All shops, except medicine shops, were forced to remain shut on Tuesday; the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) leader Prakash Ambedkar has called for Maharashtra bandh on Wednesday as well to protest the state government's "failure" to stop the violence. However, Ambedkar, the grandson of BR Ambedkar, has appealed for peace during the bandh period.

 

According to a report in The Hindu, "In Hingoli, two jeeps were burnt; a 'Shivshahi' AC bus of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) was damaged in Osmanabad district; and a state transport bus was pelted with stones in Parbhani district. A massive 'rasta roko' was staged along the Jalna-Sindkhed road." Stone-pelting was reported from Ahmednagar district as well and some 20 MSRTC buses were damaged.

At the root of the violence was a small celebration observed by the Dalit community. Dalit leaders commemorate the British victory in the Bhima Koregaon battle, in which forces of the East India Company defeated Peshwa Bajirao II's army, as it is believed that soldiers from the Mahar community €" then considered untouchable €" were part of the East India Company's forces. However, some right-wing groups in Pune had expressed opposition to the celebration of the 'British' victory.

The violence erupted after a local group and some members of the crowd on its way to the memorial came face to face.

The battle of Bhima Koregaon was fought on 1 January, 1818. Some Dalit leaders and thinkers view its outcome as a victory of oppressed classes over the upper-caste establishment of those times.

With inputs from Shatakshi Gawade a Pune-based journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, which is a pan-India network of grassroots reporters. View More