Last week, I went to watch Somnath Waghamare's film, 'The Battle of Bhima Koregaon: An Unending Journey' at Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore. This was the second screening of the film, after the first being screened at FTII, Pune. The 50 minute documentary is only one part of the viewing experience. The post-film discussion with Somnath completes the overall viewing experience, and I came away feeling like I just had my batteries charged. I first met Somnath a few months ago, and have been following his work and drawing valuable inspiration ever since. He is a courageous young man who is committed to the cause of the Ambedkarite movement.
This film is not about dead Dalits. This is not a documentary film about the horrible atrocities that Dalits face, as part of their daily lives. This is not a film about a forward caste superhero coming to save the Dalits from their plight. Battle of Bhima Koregaon: an unending journey is an assertion about assertion. Somnath Waghamare's film is a documentary capturing the annual commemoration of Bhima Koregaon, that happens on Dec 31-Jan 1st every year. The annual event sees lakhs of visitors, many of whom are often repeat visitors. Why do so many people go to this place? What is the attraction that is drawing these huge multitudes of people from all over India, and even from foreign countries, to an out-of-the-way village near Pune?
Somnath Waghamare, who holds a Master's degree in Media Studies from Pune University, grew up with the story of Bhima Koregaon as part of his personal history. But this heroic history is not visible anywhere in public discourse: no newspaper, magazine, TV serial, movie.... Nothing in the 'mainstream' even mentions this place. In fact, all of these media valourize and glorify the Peshwa rule, as if it was a glorious time of untold harmony and riches. Somnath and many of us know that this is all a big lie. The Peshwa rule in the 19th century is one of the most heinous and criminal periods in world history. The Peshwas were guilty of enslaving their own subjects, the ones they considered as lower-caste and out-caste, in the most brutal and humiliating ways. The media also shows Anna Hazare's village, Ralegan Siddhi, as a model village, but inexplicably skips Bhima Koregaon's story. The site is literally a stone's throw away!