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What happened?On January 1, members of the Dalit community on their way to Bhima-Koregaon, a village near Pune, were attacked, allegedly by Hindutva forces. In the violence, a young man was killed. Protests erupted, and by January 2, they spread throughout Maharashtra. Prakash Ambedkar, head of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh party and a grandson of Babasaheb Ambedkar, called a State-wide bandh on January 3.Why is Koregaon-Bhima important?The Koregaon Ranstambh (victory pillar) is a memorial for British East India Company soldiers killed in a battle on January 1, 1818, in which a small group of infantrymen — about 500 of them Mahars (a Scheduled Caste community) — held off a numerically superior force from the army of Peshwa Bajirao II. The Mahars fought alongside the British, some accounts say, because the Peshwa had scorned their offer to join his army.That battle has not found a place in public memories of that time. Dalit activists put this down to a Brahmanic hold on the telling of Indian history. After Dr. Ambedkar visited the site on January 1, 1927, it became a place of pilgrimage for Dalits, an assertion of pride. In recent years, attendance has been in the lakhs, with Dalits coming from all over India. This year, the bicentenary, saw an especially large influx.What triggered the violence?Sambhaji, Shivaji’s son and successor, was captured by the Mughals; according to legend, he was tortured and his mutilated corpse thrown into the Bhima river. Govind Mahar, a Dalit, gathered the dismembered parts of his body and performed the last rites; later, Mahars of the village erected a memorial to Sambhaji. Govind Mahar’s tomb stands near Sambhaji’s in Vadhu-Budruk village, near Bhima-Koregaon.On December 29, a board came up in Vadhu-Budruk hailing Govind Mahar, which, locals say, irked the Marathas in the village, who believe that their ancestors performed Sambhaji’s last rites. Mahar’s tomb was vandalised. On January 1, a mob of 1,500 gathered and, armed with stones, bottles and sticks, attacked buses on their way to Bhima-Koregaon; they threw stones and torched more than 10 vehicles. The violence continued for over four hours. The police remained spectators, and the administration seemed unprepared for the unrest, though it knew of the assembly of a large number of youths at Vadhu-Budruk.Who instigated the violence?News reports say Manohar (a.k.a. Sambhaji) Bhide of Shiv Pratisthan and Milind Ekbote of Hindu Ekta Aghadi instigated the violence. Mr. Bhide, whose stronghold is Sangli district, has close ties with the RSS. He claims to travel across the State, lecturing the youth on Shivaji and his work. He has had cases filed against him for inciting protests against the film Jodha-Akbar, and is believed to have been involved in the Sangli-Miraj riots. Mr. Ekbote is a former BJP municipal corporator in Pune. After the party denied him nomination, he formed his own outfit, Hindu Ekta Aghadi. He, too, has been charged in the past with fanning communal tensions. Cases have been filed against both under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.What happened during the bandh?On January 2, Dalit organisations took to the streets in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, Nagpur, Pune and many other districts, blocking roads and trains and allegedly forcing closure of commercial establishments.On January 3, in Mumbai, local trains and Mumbai Metro suspended a number of services; vehicular traffic, too, came to a halt, and many schools, colleges and offices remained shut. Similar protests brought life to a stop in every district. Violence erupted in Mumbai, Aurangabad, and Kolhapur, among other places. The bandh was arguably the biggest since 1997, when Dalit organisations protested against police firing at Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar, Ghatkopar. This bandh served as a potent reminder of Dalit strength and brought Mr. Ambedkar back into the reckoning as a political force and voice of Dalit aspirations.
Amid concern over the hefty fines for traffic violations, Union Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari on Monday said even he has been fined for speeding on the Bandra-Worli sealink in Mumbai. Talking to reporters about the major decisions of the Modi-led government in its first 100 days, Mr. Gadkari said abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir was the “most important achievement” of the government. Criminalisation of instant triple talaq and the amended motor vehicles law were some of the big achievements of the Centre, he said.“Even I have paid a fine for speeding on the Bandra-Worli sealink,” Mr. Gadkari said adding that Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his cabinet collegaue Gen V.K. Singh also got speeding challans. The Motor Vehicles Amendment Act, approved by President Ram Nath Kovind last month, aims at stricter punishment for violation of traffic regulations and to bring discipline on roads.“Passing the MV Act amendment is a big achievement for our government. The high fines will lead to transparency, and (will) not result in corruption,” Mr. Gadkari said.Claiming that overspending on fines has helped people to adhere to traffic rules, Mr. Gadkari said: “For the new over speeding rules all are equal be it lawyers, doctors or politicians. We have increased the fines to save lives of lakhs of motorists.” The minister said road engineering is a reason, along with auto engineering, for the high incidents of accidents in India.Amendment of MV Act will improve road safety and reduce the number of road accidents and lives lost on roads, Mr. Gadkari said.