If we look into the history, the 1818 Battle of Koregaon is very important for Dalits. On 1 January 1818, 800 troops of the East India Company’s Bombay Presidency Army, with a large number of Mahars predominant among them, defeated a statistically greater force of the Peshwa Baji Rao II. A victory pillar (Vijay Sthamb) was erected in Koregaon by the British, memorializing the dead soldiers.
In 1928, B. R. Ambedkar led the first tribute ceremony here. Since then, on 1 January every year, Ambedkarites gather at Bhima Koregaon to celebrate their victory against the upper caste Peshwa regime of the Maratha Empire, whom they see as their tyrants. The Peshwas (de facto kings of the Maratha Empire who hailed to the ‘Chitpavan Brahmin’ caste) had their seat of authority in the Shaniwarwada Fort.
The Mahar Dalits regard this win as significant since it was a Mahar Dalit triumph over Brahmin Peshwas. The Elgar Parishad being held at the Shaniwarwada Fort is thus viewed as a symbol of Dalit assertiveness. According to the tale, Aurangzeb killed and mutilated Sambhaji Maharaj in 1689. Govind Mahar, from Vadhu Budruk (a village near Bhima Koregaon) collected the body parts and organised the last rites.
The memorial for Sambhaji Maharaj is said to have been constructed by the Dalit Mahars of that village. Soon after, Govind Mahar’s tomb was constructed in the village after his death. But Marathas refused to accept the role played by Govind Gaikwad and other Mahars in the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj as Marathas of that village do have surname as Shivle (means Stitched), and were increasingly vocal about in the days prior to the January violence at Bhima Koregaon in 2018. They had specific objection to a sign at the site that acknowledged the contributions of the Mahars.
The name ‘Elgar’ literally means ‘loud invitation or declaration.’ On the bicentenary (200th) commemoration of the Battle of Koregaon Bhima, an event was organised on December 31, 2017. The ‘Elgar Parishad,’ convened by an alliance of 260 non-profit groups, was held in Shaniwarwada Fort in Pune and drew over 35,000 people. The program consisted of a number of cultural performances, speeches and slogans.
On 1 January 2018, violence broke out at Bhima Koregaon, where lakhs of Dalits had converged to commemorate the battle. One person was killed, and three others injured. In the months following the event, a number of people present at the event were arrested under laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). This included Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale and Shoma Sen.
Pune Police alleged that the event was sponsored by Maoists. It was alleged by the Pune Police that the event was organised by members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). They said that it instigated violence at Bhima Koregaon. However, Justices BG Kolse-Patil and PB Sawant refuted their claims. The Justices said that it was the two of them who were the main organisers and sole funders of the event, and that they had held a similar event against communalism and Hindutva in October 2015 at the same venue.
Adivasi activist Soni Sori, Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, Dalit activist Radhika Vemula (mother of Rohit Vemula), retired Bombay High Court Justice BG Kholse-Patil, Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar, Bhim Army President Vinay Ratan Singh and student leader Umar Khalid were among the event’s organisers and speakers.
In the months following the incident, people including Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson and Stan Swamy were prosecuted under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Jignesh Mevani, a Gujarat MLA, has been charged with inciting religious animosity. 8 June 2018, Pune Police arrested Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut with alleged Maoist links for inciting riots.
28 August 2018: the Pune police carried out searches of nine rights activists, and arrested five of them. Those arrested include activists Varavara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, and activists Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves. The Supreme Court ordered them to be place under “house arrest. 26 October 2018: Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves. Another accused Sudha Bharadwaj was taken into custody.On the night of 17 November 2018: The Pune police arrested activist Varvara Rao.
On 9 October 2020, the NIA arrested 83-year-old Father Stan Swamy in connection with the case. The NIA alleged that the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee (PPSC) co-convened by Swamy and Sudha Bharadwaj was a front for Maoists, in 2021 Stan Swamy passed away and other have no relief.