PUNE: As lakhs of Dalits had assembled in the city on Monday to attend an event to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in Pune, there were violent clashes between Dalit and Maratha groups, resulting in the death of at least one person and injuries to several.
However, the main event at the Jay-stambh (victory memorial) at Bhima Koregaon was largely peaceful and clashes were reported from neighbouring villages.
More than five lakh people, mainly from the Dalit community, had assembled in Pune this year for the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle, in which British forces had defeated an army of Peshwas on January 1, 1818.
Dalit leaders commemorate the British victory, 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 celebration of the 'British' victory.
Incidents of stone-pelting and vandalism occurred at Bhima Koregaon in Shiroor tehsil when people were heading for the war memorial in the village, police said.
A man died in the violence, a top police official told PTI late in the evening. However, his identity and how exactly he died was not known yet, the officer said.
The violence erupted after a local group and some members of the crowd on its way to the memorial had an argument over some issue.
"Stone-pelting started after the argument. During the violence, some vehicles and a house in the vicinity were damaged," a police officer deployed for security at Bhima Koregaon said without elaborating.
He said the police stopped traffic on the Pune-Ahmednagar highway for sometime following the incident.
The situation in the village is under control now, he said.
"More police personnel, including companies of the State Reserve Police Force, have been deployed," the officer said.
He said mobile phone networks were also blocked for some time to stop circulation of inflammatory messages.
The battle of Bhima Koregaon was fought on January 1, 1818. Some Dalit leaders and thinkers view its outcome as a victory of oppressed classes over the upper-caste establishment of those times.
Earlier in the day, dalit leader and independent MLA from Gujarat Jignesh Mevani visited the war memorial in the village. Mevani had also attended `Elgaar Parishad' held in Pune to commemorate the battle yesterday.
Meanwhile, Union Minister of State for Social Justice Ramdas Athawale demanded police protection for dalits in the wake of today's violence.
"Dalit groups visiting Bhima Koregaon were stopped at Sanaswadi near Koregaon. Stones were hurled at them. No police force was available for their protection," Athawale said in a statement.
He appealed to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to deploy additional police force in the village and provide protection to the members of local dalit community.
Meanwhile, NCP President Sharad Pawar said that it was known to the authorities that 200th year to Koregaon Bhima war is being completed in 2018, yet no prior arrangements were made by them.
"There was a need to give attention to this event by the government, which unfortunately, they have not been able to do so," Pawar said adding that there might be a conspiracy behind the violent clash.