Independent Inquiry Slams Pune Police for 'Inaction' During Bhima Koregaon Violence

The inquiry has concluded that the violence could have been controlled had the police and state administration reacted promptly to the “premeditated” violence, and has demanded an inquiry against “erring officers”.

Mumbai: A non-official inquiry conducted by a retired high court judge and two district judges has come down heavily on the police and particularly the then superintendent of Pune police (rural) Mohd. Suvez Haq for its “inaction and inability to control the mob” that had unleashed violence on the huge gathering of Bahujans at Bhima Koregaon outside Pune on January 1.

As part of an independent inquiry initiated by anti-caste activists and social groups, Justice (retired) B. Chandra Kumar of the Hyderabad high court, along with two district judges of Maharashtra, J.H. Dongre and Manik Mhakre, had travelled to Bhima Koregaon and the nearby villages, and recorded exhaustive testimonies of the victims, bystanders and the police on duty.

The inquiry has concluded that the violence could have been controlled had the police and state administration reacted promptly to the “premeditated” violence.

The inquiry report that has been accessed by The Wire has already been submitted to the state set two- member judicial inquiry commission headed by the former chief justice of Calcutta high court J.N. Patel and Sumit Mullick, former chief secretary of the Maharashtra government.

The inquiry committee has observed that, “On January 1, a huge mob of nearly 2,000 people carrying lathis and saffron flags from Vadhu Budruk area were allowed to head towards the Vijay Stambh (the memorial built to commemorate the defeat of the Brahmin Peshwa soldiers by a Mahar Battalion of British East India Company comprising Dalits in 1818).”

The observation, which is based on the testimonies of the victims and other eye witnesses has also concluded that: “Superintendent of Police Mohd. Suvez Haq and other police officers were also present and observed the procession… No steps were taken by the police to stop this procession. Not even a suggestion was given to them not to proceed towards the places where the vehicles were parked or to the main road through which people were proceeding towards Vijay Stambh.”

Haq, soon after the riots, was transferred to the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad as the deputy inspector general and on August 8 was inducted into the CBI as a superintendent of police. Several attempts were made to reach Haq but his phone has been out of reach. The story will be updated once he responds to the report’s findings.

Justice (retired) B. Chandra Kumar. Credit: YouTube

Speaking to The Wire, Justice Chandra Kumar said that the incident could have been nipped in the bud had the police responded to the situation promptly. “The police were deployed at the spot. The SP was present there too. However, from the testimonies of the villagers and victims who were brutalised in the attack we have concluded that the police had intentionally not taken any action against the rioters. They allowed the riot to grow out of control,” Justice Chandra Kumar said.

The committee has also considered the events prior to Elgar Parishad meet at Shaniwarwada on December 31 as the reason behind the violence. The Pune police has so far arrested ten persons including lawyers, activists and academics for their alleged role in “naxal activities” and for instigating the mob and also funding the violence. However, the fact-finding committee has observed that the events that unfolded in and around Bhima Koregaon villages since December 27 and especially on December 29 at Vadhu Budruk village were behind the attack.

Contrary to some reports in the media, the committee has blamed the activities in Sanaswadi and Vadhu Budruk villages to be behind the violence. Vadhu Budruk village in Shirur Tehsil, which is less than four kilometres away from Bhima Koregaon is another significant place in the history, where the samadhi of King Sambhaji – son of King Shivaji – was built. Sanaswadi is around 7.5 km from Bhima Koregaon.

Justice Chandra Kumar, in the report, has observed that specific orders were issued at the village level three-four days prior to the January 1 celebration. Both at Vadhu Budruk and Sanaswadi, Hindutva leader Milind Ekbote has been actively working and has been allegedly instigating the Marathas against the Dalits. “Sanaswadi Gram Panchayat has passed a resolution on December 30, 2017, directing the people to observe ‘Total Bandh’ and to observe January 1, 2018, as a ‘Black Day’, the committee has observed.

Ekbote, who was arrested in March by the Pune police, was promptly released on bail. He and another Hindutva leader Manohar alias Sambhaji Bhide were named in the initial FIR for allegedly instigating the mob against the Dalits. No action has been initiated against Bhide so far and the police is yet to file a chargesheet in the case. The FIR was registered after Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh’s leader Prakash Ambedkar named the two as the masterminds behind the violence.

“Three to four days prior to 1st January 2018, several messages were sent out on WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media on behalf of Manohar alias Samhaji Bhide and Samastha Hindu Agadhi (run by Ekbote) instigating the people to observe ‘Bandh’ on 1st January 2018, in the Village Perne Phata, Bhima Koregaon, Shikrapur, Vagholi, Sanaswadi, Lonikand and nearby 10-15 villages,” the report observed. The report claims all hotels around the vicinity were specifically instructed by the two to strictly observe a bandh so that the people coming to pay respect to Vijay Stambh would not get drinking water, breakfast, lunch, etc. “A threat was also given that those who do not observe ‘Bandh’ or provide water, etc. to the people coming for paying respect to Vijay Stambh would have to face dire consequences,” the inquiry report further observed.

Justice Chandra Kumar said the incident in Sanaswadi in particular was of a peculiar nature. “The gram panchayat had passed a resolution to socially boycott thousands of Dalits travelling to Bhima Koregoan. This boycott is a clear case of caste violence. It was brought to the police’s notice. Yet, the police decided to not respond to it,” he said. The committee has also observed that there was a total failure of intelligence in securing information and in taking preventive action.

Besides the three judges, the team also comprised of lawyers and social activists from Pune.  Justice Chandra Kumar said the exercise was intentionally carried out with judges and lawyers to ensure proper legal processes were followed and that the documentation was conducted without any distortion of facts.

The All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF), an organisation set up by the late Kanshi Ram provided the logistic support to the inquiry committee. BAMCEF along with Samata Sainik Dal founded by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has been working actively in organising the processions and visits to Bhima Koregaon for several decades.

This is the first part of the report, the second part focusses on the protests that were organised across the state that led to indiscriminate police action against over 27000 Bahujan youths including teenage boys across Maharashtra. “That report will be finalised in a week’s time and will be submitted to the two- member judicial commission,” confirmed senior lawyer Rahul Makhre, who was also a part of the fact-finding team.

Every year over three-four lakh Dalit Bahujan and anti-caste activists travel to Bhima Koregaon on January 1 and observe ‘Vijay Diwas’ to commemorate the defeat of the Brahmin Peshwa soldiers by a Mahar Battalion of British East India Company comprising Dalits in 1818. This year, since it was the 200th year, the number of visitors had doubled and over six lakh people from across Maharashtra and neighbouring states had travelled to Bhima Koregaon. However, most had to turn back after the violence broke out.

Failure to intervene

Another revelation, the report makes, is of a phone call made by one Ramdas Lokhande to the minister of state for social justice Dilip Kamble. Lokhande, who also deposed before the committee, has apparently informed the minister over a phone call made at 9 am on January 1 that “the people (Dalits visiting Bhima Koregaon) were being obstructed outside the village and the situation was tense.”

Justice Chandra Kumar points out that this SOS call was made in desperation and with the hope of receiving help. “This was the beginning for the riot. In a few minutes, the gathered mob had attacked those heading to Bhima Koregaon, vehicles were burnt, stones were pelted and public and private property were damaged,” he said.

At 11 am, the minister reached the spot and instructed the police to act immediately. However, stones were pelted on his car too. Kamble had then reportedly made a call to Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis between 1.30 and 2.00 pm and had sought for additional police force at Bhima Koregaon. “Even though, the Honourable Minister Dilip Kamble personally talked to the Maharashtra chief minister of at around 11 pm, the police did not deploy any additional force. Even after getting information that shops and houses were attacked and burned and even the victims were making phone calls to the police to save their shops and houses, the police have not taken any steps to save their shops and houses,” the report concluded.

In an hour, the report says, the mob had reached closer to the banks of Bhima river. By 10 am, stones – that were stored in advance at the river bank – were pelted at the visitors. According to some testimonies, rumours of pieces of meat and beer bottles being thrown at one Bhairoba temple at Sanaswadi temple were rife for nearly three-four days. “Even when these rumours were brought to the police’s notice, the police had failed to intervene,” said Justice Chandra Kumar. 

Justice Chandra Kumar has called this act “a systematically planned caste violence”. “In our several rounds of meetings with the villagers, and the police and ongoing through the video recordings of the wide- spread violence, we could not find any convincing reason as to why the police could not stop the mob at its origin (near Vadhu Budruk village) itself. The police had already received complaints on December 29 about the alleged planning of riots that were underway in the neighbouring village, these complaints were also overlooked,” Chandra Kumar said.