- The Battle of Koregaon was fought on 1 January 1818 between the British East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy, at Koregaon Bhima.
- The 28,000-strong Marathas, led by Peshwa Baji Rao II intended to attack Pune. On their way, they were met by an 800-strong Company force that was on its way to reinforce the British troops in Pune.
- The Peshwa dispatched around 2,000 soldiers to attack the Company force stationed in Koregaon.
- Led by Captain Francis Staunton, the Company troops defended their position for nearly 12 hours.
- The Marathas ultimately withdrew, fearing the arrival of a larger British force led by General Joseph Smith.
- The Company troops of Indian origin included predominantly Mahar Dalit soldiers belonging to the Bombay Native Infantry, and therefore Dalit activists regard the battle as a heroic episode in Dalit history.
Significance to Mahars
- The Koregaon pillar inscription features the names of the 49 Company soldiers killed in the battle. 22 of these names end with the suffix -nac (or -nak), which was used exclusively by the people of Mahar caste. The obelisk was featured on the Mahar Regiment’s crest until Indian Independence. While it was built by the British as a symbol of their own power, today it serves as a memorial of the Mahars.
- The Mahars were considered untouchable in the contemporary caste-based society. The Peshwas, who were high-caste Brahmins, were notorious for their mistreatment and persecution of the untouchables. Because of this, the Dalits (former untouchables) now see the Koregaon obelisk as a symbol of their victory over the high-caste oppression. The Dalit Buddhist leader B. R. Ambedkar visited the site on 1 January 1927. To commemorate his visit to the site, now thousands of his followers visit the site every New Year’s Day. A number of Mahar gatherings have also been held at the place
- Although it is currently portrayed as victory of lower caste over upper caste Peshwas, the Mahars had fought for the Peshwa rulers.
Why in news?
- Recent rallies in Maharashtra by Dalit leaders.