In September 2019, the Bombay high court directed Pune Police to complete an investigation into the alleged involvement of Sambhaji Bhide in the Bhima-Koregaon riots and submit its report in a month. The octogenarian, along with others, had been booked for inciting violence in January 2018 and although a case was registered, the charge sheet spelling out his role hasn’t been filed yet

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Sambhaji Bhide addressing his followers at the Jangli Maharaj temple in Pune in July 2018

It’s tough to pin down Sambhaji Bhide despite his claims to the contrary. “My address is simple. Bhide Guruji, Sangli,” he’d announced, in his blustering, overconfident style, at a gathering of his followers on a rain-drenched July afternoon last year in Pune. …


The notion of the Ides being a dangerous date was purely a theatrical invention and didn’t signify anything special in itself. But I do have my reasons to be wary after what I witnessed at the Mahatma’s ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati more than 15 years ago.

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“If blood be shed let it be our own…” The Gandhians and secularists gathered at Sabarmati Ashram were stunned by the turn of events in 2002

Hriday Kunj, Mahatma Gandhi’s refuge on the banks of the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad, wore a deserted look as mob violence continued unabated across Gujarat in the initial days of 2002. …


The story of how a tiny port town on India’s western coast became the focal point of an intense phase of naval struggle between the Dutch and the Portuguese in Goa during the crucial 17th century trade wars in the Indian Ocean

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The historical significance of the ruins of the Dutch factory in Vengurla beckoned me. How and when did the Dutch land in this relatively unknown corner of the Konkan coast in Maharashtra? What were they up to here?

The coastal town of Vengurla in south Konkan is an ideal holiday destination with its pristine beaches, a fabulous choice of fish and sea food, and the rare quietude away from the hustle bustle of city life. Having arrived from Pune after a long drive the previous evening, anybody would’ve wanted to stay late in bed. …


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Bapu Biru Vategaonkar (Image courtesy: khaasre.com)

The recent #MeToo wave in India has uncovered a can of worms exposing not only the shameful abuse of power in the media, academia and entertainment business, but has challenged the morals of a patriarchal society that we live in. It’s a moment of truth and reckoning, especially for men. What should be our response as members of the male species? It seems at once complicated, difficult and so unpleasant that we would rather not discuss or deal with it at all.

As I pondered the dilemma, the past caught up with me, taking me back to the lush green sugarcane fields on the banks of Krishna in the rural idyllic of southern Maharashtra, where one man refused to be a mute spectator to the exploitation of women, long before the #MeToo movement swept the world, or India.


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Close on a century later, the descendants of what is arguably the oldest development-displaced community in India are still hoping for justice

Rich tributes were paid to Senapati Bapat during the Samvidhan Samman Yatra of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), which passed through western Maharashtra recently. A socialist, Pandurang Mahadev Bapat, had led the country’s first anti-dam movement at Mulshi Peta, near Pune, way back in the 1920s, against the construction of a dam by the industrial house of the Tatas with the British government’s support.

I had visited the peasants, displacement’s earliest victims, in the Mulshi valley a decade ago. Here’s their story…

Historically, Mulshi in Pune district in the western Indian state of Maharashtra was part of the Bara Mavals (12 Mavals), which simply meant ‘the west’. The area has been called this since the 16th century; the name is derived from the Marathi verb mavalane — ‘the setting of the sun, or end of the day’. Today, for Pune or Mumbai city-dwellers and its burgeoning migrant population, the Maval belt, about 25 miles wide and 70 miles long north to south, and barely an hour’s drive from Pune or Lonavala, means much more than the land of the setting sun. …


Notes from Satara district

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When I was a kid I could do no better than picture the world as a tranquil place that existed on the banks of river Krishna at a picturesque temple town called Wai in south Maharashtra. To the west rose the heaped summits of Sahyadris, their salubrious table tops crowned by the colonial-era hill stations of Mahableshwar-Panchgani, and on the east lay the vast Deccan plains, which was the farthest distant place of my childhood mental universe.

The Maratha countryside, blessed with such natural abundance and a revolutionary spirit reinforced by a fundamental value in a peasant society, is where I grew up listening to stories of our warlike ancestors; their most recent feat was the liberation of Satara district from the British during 1942 through an armed revolt named the ‘Prati Sarkar’ or parallel government movement — something only people over 50 recall now. …


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A view of the Janjira Fort/ Photo by Binu Alex

It was the summer of 1490 AD when Malik Ahmad, founder of the Deccani Nizamshahi dynasty, stood on the rocky shores of Danda-Rajpuri looking forlornly at a fortified island half a mile in the Arabian Sea. The Sultan’s campaign was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. “Who can take a fort whose moat is the sea?” he said in resignation, turning to his General Salabat Khan and the Abyssinian ex-slave Yakut Khan. The General stood silent, but the Abyssinian dashed down the rocks and jumped into the sea in a flash. …


Lt Col Pratap Save was one of the few soldiers from Gujarat who had served the Indian army for 33 years. He had seen action during the historic war for Bangladesh’s liberation from Pakistan in 1971. There had been lucrative job offers from multinationals after his retirement in 1995, but he had chosen to cultivate a five-acre plot at his native Dehri, a quiet village in Valsad district of Gujarat.

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Lt Col Save led the fisher folk and farmers in Umbergaon and some 50 nearby villages to resist a proposed port the Gujarat government had awarded to US-based multinational Natelco-Unocal

The drive on the narrow coastal road, separated from the narrow beach by a windbreak of conifers, felt pleasant at the end of a long highway journey from Ahmedabad. I was nearing my destination, Umbergaon, a small coastal town on the southernmost tip of this western Indian state. The languorous pace of fishing activity on the shores felt a welcome break from the hustle-bustle of big city life. …


Ravan is born handicapped. Without arms and legs, the seventh son of Opingdev, the ruler of Opingpur, is neglected by all. He lives with his six brothers and their wives, who barely survive by cutting wild grass and selling it. One day the eldest brother tells him to leave as they cannot feed him anymore. The child reaches the hill abode of Bhagwan or Mahadev and pleads for a pair of hands and legs. When Mahadev keeps him waiting, the frustrated Ravan wants to commit suicide and enters the forbidden dark room, which incidentally is filled with amrut or nectar. He gulps down nine mouthfuls of the magical potion and is bestowed with nine heads and eighteen hands. As a consolation for his new-found monstrosity he gets the throne of the golden Lanka and asks for Parvati, whom he sees fetching water into Mahadev’s house. On way to Lanka, Krishna in the disguise of a Bhil stops Ravan and tells him he has been deceived by Mahadev and offered a maid servant instead of Parvati. Ravan returns to Mahadev and exchanges Parvati against a duplicate of Parvati created out of a female toad -Mandodari, also called Mandaldhari. As per Krishna’s advice, he also asks for the seat of salvation — Maranmukti ni Gadi / Mukti ni Gadi — but then realises this would mean death at the hands of Ram. He wants to revise his demand but is denied that chance. …


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A Kunkna bhagat reciting a katha in the Dangs. Photo courtesy: Aruna Joshi, Vadodara

‘The earth, in the beginning, was ripe enough to receive the seeds that Parvati the goddess sowed. The forests grew thick and birds and animals lived in harmony. There was a river and a beautiful garden where a man and a woman lounged in all their pristine innocence until they ate the fruit of sin. Mahadeva decided to put an end to the evil rampant in the world and willed deluge. Two each of the innocent would, however, survive on a huge gourd that would stay afloat…..’

This is a translated version of the katha of Kanasari, the goddess of foodgrain, who is believed to manifest herself as a sprout. I heard it the first time in 1998 on a moonlit night in the Dangs forest. We were sitting around a mound of grain — the first harvest of the season — at a campfire in the middle of a teak forest. And the great adventure of mankind from the beginning of the earth to the present was unfolding before our eyes. …

About

Anosh Malekar

Independent Journalist based in Pune, India. Formerly with The WEEK, Indian Express, Times of India. Contributes the occasional piece to The Caravan magazine.

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