On January 1, 1818, a battalion of around 900 soldiers under the British East India Company marched from Shirur to Pune in Maharashtra to face an army consisting of 20,000 soldiers led by Baji Rao II. The battle that lasted for a very short while resulted in the death of more than 200 soldiers on the side of the British and about 500 soldiers on the side of the Peshwas. According to Scottish statesman and historian Mountstuart Elphinstone, who visited the battlefield two days later, houses had been burnt and the streets were covered with dead bodies of men and horses. While the Battle of Koregaon did not see either of the parties emerging clearly victorious, it still came to be regarded as a moment of triumph for the British, who had finally won the Anglo-Maratha war and went on to construct a ‘victory pillar’ at Koregaon.
The victory was seen as a win against caste-based discrimination and oppression. Peshwas were notorious for their oppression and persecution of Mahar Dalits. The victory in the battle over Peshwas gave Dalits a moral victory a victory against caste-based discrimination and oppression and sense of identity.
However, the divide and rule policy of the British created multiple fissures in Indian society which is even visible today in the way of excessive caste and religious discrimination which needs to be checked keeping in mind the tenets of the Constitution.
Why Bhima Koregaon is seen as a Dalit symbol?
- The battle has come to be seen as a symbol of Dalit pride because a large number of soldiers in the Company forces were the Mahar Dalits. Since the Peshwas, who were Brahmins, were seen as oppressors of Dalits, the victory of the Mahar soldiers over the Peshwa force is seen as the Dalit assertion.
- On 1 January 1927, B.R. Ambedkar visited the memorial obelisk erected on the spot which bears the names of the dead including nearly two dozen Mahar soldiers. The men who fought in the battle of Koregaon were the Mahars, and the Mahars are Untouchables.