Only ‘symbolic’ celebration at Bhima-Koregaon this year

In wake of the COVID-19 situation, Pune district administration and Ambedkarite outfits have appealed to the public to avoid mass congregations on January 1 at the obelisk at Bhima-Koregaon ahead of the 202nd celebrations of the Koregaon-Bhima battle of 1818.

Rahul Dambale, president of Republican Yuva Morcha (RYM), said all celebrations had been cancelled. “Instead, we will only hold a symbolic celebration at the vijaystambh [victory pillar] at Perne. We cannot permit the virus to spread. So, I appeal to all to stay at home and avoid congregating at Bhima-Koregaon village. We will be arranging paying of homage through online,” said Mr. Dambale, who is also chairman of the Bhima Koregaon Vijayasthambha Shaurya Din Coordinating Committee.

Pune district has around 9,000 active cases and has reported more than 8,000 fatalities since March.

“Every year the day is celebrated with great enthusiasm on January 1. For the last few years, the footfalls have increased, with as many as 20 lakh visitors in the last few years. Given that all festivities have been cancelled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, it is not proper to go ahead with the traditional celebrations at Bhima-Koregaon,” Mr. Dambale said.

Given the sensitivity of the occasion following the violent clashes of January 1, 2018, he urged fellow Ambedkarites to not fall prey to rumours that the administration had cancelled celebrations.

“Let no one be influenced by baseless rumours that the district administration is intentionally prohibiting the celebrations this year. Every social and religious programme has been cancelled this year because of the pandemic,” he said.

Last week, Pune Collector Rajesh Deshmukh had reviewed the arrangements for the annual event.

Superintendent of Police Abhinav Deshmukh too said that people should cooperate with the administration and added, “this year we have celebrated all festivals with simplicity. We should avoid large public gatherings for this one too.”

The Pune District and Police Administration had held two meetings on October 10 and December 9 with the organizing committee of the Bhima-Koregaon celebrations along with different party organisations.

“It has been unanimously decided to hold this year’s festival in a representative manner only in the presence of a very limited number of people. The district administration has stated that no permission is given for any meetings, public functions and stalls at the venue,” Mr. Dambale informed.

Each year, lakhs of people including activists of Dalit outfits, politicos, pilgrims, soldiers and members of Ambedkarite classes congregate near the 60-ft obelisk dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the 1818 Koregaon-Bhima battle at Perne.

The Bhima-Koregaon Ranstambh Seva Sangh (BKRSS), which organises the ceremony, was formed in 2005 to keep alive the memory of this episode [Dalit bravery in the Koregaon-Bhima battle] in Indian history.

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