Many who will welcome the new year under flimsy pandals around the Bhima Koregaon war memorial have spent every December 31 here, swatting mosquitoes and singing Ambedkarite songs to distract from the cold. But January 1, 2019, is different. It marks a year of deepening faultlines at the site of the 1818 war that saw a Colonial army, helped by a Mahar regiment, defeat the Peshwas. This new year, the day that marks the overthrow of upper-caste rule is time to mull over what remains a divided society.
“It’s going to be peaceful tomorrow,” says Santosh Davne, 35, from Nanded. A vendor of trinkets featuring Dr B R Ambedkar and the Buddha, the disabled Davne has been visiting the Jaystambh, the obelisk to honour soldiers who died on January 1, 1818, on the banks of the Bhima, for 12 years. “I set up a stall every year, but I have never seen such police presence or such quiet fear among people,” he says.
Residents of Bhima Koregaon, Vadu Budruk and Perne, the sites of tension and rioting on January 1, 2018, say no trouble is expected this year. On WhatsApp groups and Facebook posts, the aggression has been toned down over the past week amid proactive policing and extensive security plans. “But our villages were never so sharply divided,” says Rekha Gaikwad, 38, whose flour mill was damaged in the rioting a year ago.