Is BAMCEF spreading a culture of hate using fake news?

From young hipster Dhammdeep Thorat with his neon sunglasses and blue scarf at Vadu Budruk to 32-year-old Bheemrao Baveeskar who had come from Nanded to pay homage at Jaystambh—there was a sense of unity and strength rife in the air at Koregaon-Bhima. But there were darker currents underlying the positive vibes of Dalit assertion from a historically oppressed community.

Through self-appointed community rights Youtube channels, books and newsletters, outfits like BAMCEF have given the movement a violent tone. Pitting the community against others, they spew hatred in the minds of youngsters based on fake stories and distorted historical facts.

Many youngsters came to Koregaon-Bhima for the first time this year.

Thorat, a first-year college student in Aurangabad, says he’s come to Koregaon-Bhima for the first time. “I’ve come because last year, our Dalit brothers were attacked by Manuwadis and we are here to show our strength.” Thorat is accompanied by 20-year-old Buddhbhushan Gaikwad at the village of Vadu Budruk. When asked the significance of Vadu Budruk, Gaikwad says, “Brahmins always used to commit atrocities against lower-caste people. It was the Brahmin Peshwas, notoriously Nanasaheb Peshwa, who killed Sambhaji and then threw his mutilated body into the Bhima River. One of Sambhaji’s brave soldiers—Govind Gopal Maharaj from the Mahar caste—did his last rites, even as the Peshwas threatened to kill the person who did so.” Gaikwad adds that Vadu Budruk is famous because it has the samadhis (tombs) of Govind Gopal Maharaj and Sambhaji Raje.   

What’s interesting is that Gaikwad’s lengthy response is not factual. It will find no mention in any history book. Historical records show that Sambhaji Maharaj died on March 11, 1689, after being captured and tortured by Aurangzeb. Nanasaheb Peshwa—whom Gaikwad says was Sambhaji’s killer—was born in 1720.

When questioned by this reporter about the source of his information,  Gaikwad says, “We received this information through Youtube channels like Samyak and MNTV, Samrat newspaper, and from the book Bhima Koregaon Chi Shaurya Gatha. But most of the information related to the history of Koregaon-Bhima and Vadu Budruk have been received by us through the social media of our community.”

Thorat says his entire family watches these community YouTube channels. “These Brahmins were the ones who oppressed us and killed Sambhaji.”

This misinformation is common among several other first-time visitors that Newslaundry spoke to. Sachin Bansode, 20, is in Koregaon-Bhima for the first time, to visit Jaystambh (the Koregaon-Bhima Memorial) and the samadhis of Sambhaji and Govind Gopal. He says, “I’ve come here as people from my community were attacked last year. We’ve come to Jaystambh to pay homage to the 500 Mahars who defeated 25,000 Peshwa Brahmins, and also to visit the samadhis.”

Bansode emphasises that Bajirao Peshwa killed Sambhaji Maharaj and threw his mutilated body into the river. This reporter tells him it was Aurangzeb. He replies, “No sir, it was not Aurangzeb who killed Sambhaji. It was Bajirao Peshwa.” His sources are identical—YouTube channels like MNTV and Samyak.

Last year, on December 29, tension erupted at Vadu Budruk when photos circulated on social media of a banner at the periphery of the two samadhis. The banner had described the death of Sambhaji Maharaj at the hands of Aurangzeb. The banner also stated that despite the threats of Aurangzeb, Gaikwad conducted the funeral of Sambhaji whereas Maratha community didn’t come forward to conduct the funeral.

BAMCEF under the scanner

MNTV or MN News is a Youtube channel and website run by Mulnivasi Publication Trust, an organisation run by BAMCEF. BAMCEF—or the All India Backward and Minorities Communities Employees Federation—has been under the scanner of the Maharashtra Police for instigating riots at Koregaon-Bhima last year using distorted facts through its YouTube channel.

BAMCEF is the organisation which came out with the theory that the Peshwas colluded with Aurangzeb to kill Sambhaji Maharaj. It’s put out various YouTube videos detailing this. One example is the video “Sambhaji Maharaj ki Hatya Brahmanon Ne Ki (Brahmins have killed Sambhaji Maharaj)” where BAMCEF’s national president Waman Meshram and Bharat Mukti Morcha are seen promoting this theory which was written by someone called Vilas Kharat. A little digging reveals that Kharat is a BAMCEF member and claims to be the director of a Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Research Centre in New Delhi.

On October 13, 2017, BAMCEF released a book written by Kharat titled Ek January 1818 Swatantrayache Bund (January 1 1818, Revolt of Independence). In the book, Kharat threatened large-scale riots against Brahmins in Maharashtra if a roll of honour inscribed by the Indian Army in memory of the martyrs of the 1965 and 1971 wars was not removed from Jaystambh at Perne.

Newslaundry accessed the Hindi version of Kharat’s book. Kharat wrote that Brahmins like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Golwalkar, Shripad Amrit Dange, Savita Kabir and Dr Malvankar conspired and killed Dr BR Ambedkar. He wrote that the Brahmins of the Congress, BJP and Communist parties did not disclose the reports of the Saxena Inquiry Commission in the last 60 years which investigated the death of Dr Ambedkar. It is significant to note that Savita Kabir was the second wife of Dr Ambedkar.

One of the pages from Kharat’s book.

Kharat writes: “The Britishers constructed the victory memorial in the memory of the Nagvanshiya soldiers who were martyred in the battle of Koregaon- Bhima on January 1, 1818. But recently, the central government put a plaque near the bottom of the victory memorial, inscribing the names of the martyrs who died in the wars against Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. Around 29 names of Indian Army soldiers have been inscribed on the plaque. This is a conspiracy to wipe off the history of the battle of Koregaon-Bhima. This is a very serious issue and should be dealt with immediately by removing the plaque of the martyrs of the Indian Army. It should be removed immediately or else the public will remove it and it should not be considered a crime. This memorial is not going down well with the BJP. The government itself got engaged in such illegal activities and because of this, large-scale riots against Brahmins can happen in Maharashtra.”

Another excerpt from the book.

Kharat also wrote that if the plaque wasn’t removed by January 1, 2018—the 200th anniversary of the battle—then “Mohan Bhagwat and Devendra Fadnavis will have to bear the brunt of public outrage”.

BAMCEF national president Waman Meshram wrote the preface of the book. He wrote that the state and central governments were trying to mitigate the importance of the Koregaon-Bhima memorial “by inscribing the names of upper caste soldiers … This is an insult to the victory memorial.” He also reiterated in the preface that Brahmins had “betrayed Shivaji Maharaj after which they betrayed Sambhaji Maharaj and killed him.”

Newslaundry asked Waman Meshram about this threat of riots against Brahmins. He says, “If he [Kharat] has written like this, then I don’t agree with his thoughts. Riots against anybody is not correct and I do not support [it]. But yes, I do say there should be a separate memorial for those soldiers. I respect the soldiers of the wars of 1965 and 1971 who sacrificed their lives for the nation, but the government is disrespecting them by putting their names at an old memorial which was erected in the memory of a different battle.If the government doesn’t have money [to build a separate memorial] then we will donate it from our side.”

Newslaundry also asked him about spreading fake stories and distorted facts. Meshram says, “I don’t promote fascism and never told anyone to hold or beat Brahmins. Some people may have said that Bajirao Peshwa has killed  Sambhaji but they have said this out of emotion. However, it’s true that Peshwa has colluded with Aurangzeb to kill Sambhaji and this a true fact of history. I do not promote violence against Brahmins or any other community but it doesn’t mean that we should stop educating people by revealing the true facts of history.”

When questioned about which Peshwa killed Sambhaji, he says, “I don’t know which Peshwa was there at the time of Sambhaji as I am not a historian.”

‘Distorted facts create caste conflict’

Hari Narke is a noted historian who has written extensively on Mahatma Phule, Savitribai Phule, and Dr BR Ambedkar’s speeches. About BAMCEF, he says, “One should go through the facts before promoting any such literature. Sambhaji Maharaj died in 1689 and Bajirao Peshwa was not even born at that time. BAMCEF is in the habit of writing fake and fictional stories on the basis of mere imagination.”

An affidavit regarding Kharat’s books and Meshram’s hate speeches has been submitted to the Koregaon-Bhima Judicial Commission which was formed to probe the Koregaon-Bhima riots. The affidavit appeals for an inquiry into BAMCEF and Bharat Mukti Morcha on their roles in the riots.

Newslaundry accessed the affidavit. It mentions Kharat’s book Ek January 1818: Swatantryache Bund and says its distorted facts are meant to create caste conflict. It lists the pages which state that Dr Ambedkar was killed by Nehru and that Brahmins killed Shivaji and Sambhaji. The affidavit also mentions a speech given by Meshram on March 30, 2018, on YouTube channel Mulnivasi Ki Baat. In the speech, Meshram says, “Judges from the Brahmin community have put a blot on the Indian judiciary, do we have to burn them down in case they don’t give us justice?” (Read the affidavit here: New Doc 2018-07-16 (1))

Sagar Shinde, an Aurangabad native who lives in Pune, is the man who filed the affidavit. He says, “The book written by Vilas Kharat was released in October 2017 and the riots occurred on January 1. The book was about Jaistambh and he wrote that riots will take place. That’s why I filed the affidavit—to conduct an inquiry into the book in connection with the violence that erupted at Koregaon-Bhima as well as the role of BAMSEF in the riots.”

Sandip Patil, Superintendent of Police, Pune (Rural), says, “We have kept a close watch on BAMSEF during this year celebration at Koregaon- Bhima Memorial and will continue to keep a close eye on them. We do agree that they are involved in generating hatred against Brahmins … However, we are searching for  concrete evidence against them and will take stern action against them.”