Historical Significance

Pillar of strength

Print edition : February 02, 2018

THE Koregaon Ranstambh, or the victory pillar in Koregaon Bhima village in Maharashtra, commemorates those who fell in the battle of Koregaon on January 1, 1818.

Twelve officers and 834 infantrymen, of whom 500 were Mahars, won a battle against Peshwa Bajirao II’s 28,000-strong army. To commemorate the victory, the English built an obelisk at the site of the battle and celebrated the victory every year until their departure from India.

In 1927, Dr B.R. Ambedkar visited the site, and since then it has become a place of pilgrimage for Dalits every year. In 2005, the formation of the Bhima-Koregaon Ranstambh Seva Sangh formalised the site as a place where Dalit pride was asserted—where the Mahars fought not just for their East India Company masters but against the Peshwas.

Along with the lakhs of visitors who are drawn to the obelisk on January 1 every year is a contingent of retired officers of the Mahar regiment who pay homage. But the Indian Army no longer celebrates the battle of Koregaon because it is seen as a battle by the British against Indians.

Review of battle honours

This realisation came apparently 50 years after Independence when a Captain Chavan of the Dogra Regiment (a battalion of Dogras had also fought at Koregaon) refused to drink a toast raised to Koregaon Day because his forefathers had been part of the Peshwa army and had died in that battle.

The Army decided to review all such victories. A committee of senior officers and consultants was set up in the late 1980s to review all the battle honours which were celebrated by various regiments of the Indian Army and left as a legacy by the British.

On the basis of the committee’s recommendations, the Army Headquarters decided not to celebrate battle honours of battles fought by Indians against Indians. Among those dropped from the list was the battle of Koregaon.

For Dalits, of course, the stambh stands for much more. Unconcerned about the colonial angle they revere the site; for them it is a validation of everything they have fought for and a vision of their new political capabilities and aspirations.

Lyla Bavadam

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