Justice Kolse-Patil, one of the organisers of the Elgaar Parishad, says the event will be held on January 30 despite the authorities refusing permission

Published : January 02, 2021 16:10 IST

Justice B.G. Kolse-Patil, retired Bombay High Court judge. Photo: Emmanual Yogini

After the Pune Police refused permission for the Elgaar Parishad this year, retired judge B.G. Kolse-Patil, who is one of the main organisers, said they would go ahead and hold the event. Until 2017, the Elgaar Parishad was an annual gathering of primarily Dalit rights activists in Pune. The event was not held for two years since then because of a relentless witch-hunt and subsequent arrest of activists who are reportedly connected to the event.

Speaking to Frontline, Justice Kolse-Patil said: “The situation with the jailed activists is grave. We have to keep up the fight, otherwise many more will be targeted in the name of the Elgaar. Our aim is to prove the Elgaar is not part of an extreme left wing agenda as they say.”

The Elgaar (translated to clarion call) is usually held towards the end of December as several Ambedkarites gather in the Pune region at the time on their way to pay homage at the Bhima Koregaon site, near Ahmednagar. Justice Kolse-Patil said they had decided to resurrect the conclave and applied for permission to hold a small gathering and a cultural event. Unfortunately, the authorities did not give permission. Nevertheless, the organisers have decided to hold it on on January 30, the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, adding to the symbolic value of the gathering.

Justice Kolse-Patil said: “While we agree that COVID is still a danger and will take adequate precautions, there is no reason to deny us permission. The police are selective in who gets permission. A political event by the present coalition was allowed in Nagpur. How is that allowed and not us? We will gather on the streets if we have to even if it means getting arrested.”

At a press conference, the organisers explained that the aim of organising the Elgaar Parishad every year was to bring the focus of politics back on the basic needs of common citizens, such as health and education. The gathering discussed issues such as casteism, communalism and religious divisions.

Authorities hold the 2017 Elgaar Parishad, conducted at the Shaniwarwada Fort in Pune, responsible for sparking the communal violence that took place at the Bhima-Koregaon. Thousands of pilgrims had gathered at a monument in Bhima-Koregaon on January 1, 2018, for the biennial centenary celebrations of the Bhima Koregaon War (1818) in which a small force of Dalit fighters helped the British defeat the mighty Peshwas, who ruled the region at the time. While eyewitness accounts said that the Elgaar Parishad had nothing to do with the violence, the authorities attributed the violence to the conclave.

The 2017 Elgaar Parishad has been alleged to be a front for banned Naxal groups. In a pan-India sweep, the police arrested 14 rights activists, lawyers, academics and writers for their supposed connection to the Elgaar. Arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the accused have been languishing in jail for years. It is widely believed that the Elgaar was just an excuse to go after dissenters of the present regime at the Centre.