In July 1997, at least 10 Dalits were killed when the Mumbai police fired into a crowd protesting the desecration of BR Ambedkar’s statue in Ramabai Ambedkar Colony in the eastern Ghatkopar neighbourhood. Ritesh Bansode was 11 years old then but he remembers the police attacking his neighbours and relatives.
On New Year’s Day this year, he saw members of his community being attacked in Pune’s Bhima Koregaon village. They had gone there, along with lakhs of other Dalits, to commemorate a battle that was fought there 200 years ago. But at the site, the visitors were attacked by a group of people waving saffron flags. As the violence spread, one person died and several buses, cars and shops were vandalised.
On Wednesday, as Bansode joined thousands of others across Maharashtra to protest against the violence, he explained the cause of his frustration. “So many years have passed but nothing has changed for us,” he said. “If we don’t protest today, these upper-caste people will wipe us out.”
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