Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

The Battle of Bhima-Koregaon (1818)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Battle of Bhima-Koregaon

Mains level: British annexation of India

The history of the Bhima-Koregaon battle should be taught in schools, said the Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment.

Try this PYQ:

What was the immediate cause for Ahmad Shah Abdali to invade and fight the Third Battle of Panipat:

(a) He wanted to avenge the expulsion by Marathas of his viceroy Timur Shah from Lahore

(b) The frustrated governor of Jullundhar Adina Beg khan invited him to invade Punjab

(c) He wanted to punish Mughal administration for non-payment of the revenues of the Chahar Mahal

(Gujrat Aurangabad, Sialkot and Pasrur)

(d) He wanted to annex all the fertile plains of Punjab upto borders of Delhi to his kingdom

Battle of Bhima-Koregaon

  • The 1818 battle of Bhima-Koregaon, one of the last battles of the Third Anglo-Maratha War culminated in the Peshwa’s defeat.
  • It was fought on 1 January 1818 between the British East India Company (BEIC) and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy, at Koregaon at the banks of River Bhima.
  • A 28,000-strong force led by Peshwa Baji Rao II while on their way to attack the company-held Pune were unexpectedly met by an 800-strong Company force of which 500 belonged to the Dalit community.
  • The battle was part of the Third Anglo Maratha war, a series of battles that culminated in the defeat of the Peshwa rule and subsequent rule of the BEIC in nearly all of Western, Central, and Southern India.

Mahars under Shivaji

  • Back in the seventeenth century, the community was particularly valued by the ruler Shivaji, under whom Maratha caste identities were far more fluid.
  • The value of the Mahars for military recruitment under Shivaji was noted by the social reformer Jyotirao Phule.
  • The Mahars were not only beneficiaries of the attempt at caste unity under Shivaji but were in fact valued for their martial skills, bravery, and loyalty.

Mahars after Shivaji

  • The position occupied by the Mahars under Shivaji, however, was short-lived and under later Peshwa rulers, their status deteriorated.
  • The Peshwas were infamous for their Brahmin orthodoxy and their persecution of the untouchables.
  • The Mahars were forbidden to move about in public spaces and punished atrociously for disrespecting caste regulations.
  • Stories of Peshwa atrocities against the Mahars suggest that they were made to tie brooms behind their backs to wipe out their footprints and pots on their necks to collect their spit.

Why is the battle significant?

  • The battle resulted in losses to the Maratha Empire, then under Peshwa rule, and control over most of western, central, and southern India by the British East India Company.
  • The battle has been seen as a symbol of Dalit pride because a large number of soldiers in the Company forces were the Mahar Dalits, the same oppressed community to which Babasaheb Ambedkar belonged.
  • After centuries of inhumane treatment, this battle was the first time that Mahars had been included in a battle in which they won.

Dr. Ambedkar’s association

  • It was Babasaheb Ambedkar’s visit to the site on January 1, 1927, that revitalized the memory of the battle for the Dalit community.
  • He led to its commemoration in the form of a victory pillar, besides creating the discourse of Dalit valor against Peshwa ‘oppression’ of Dalits.

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