The brutal assault on the institute by the little known Sambhaji Brigade, affiliated to the Maratha Seva Sangh, on January 5, 2004, not only damaged the physical assets and national treasures of the institute but also permanently scarred it. A blot on the city that prides itself as a liberal centre for learning.
The provocation was a book by US-based author James W Laine and his book, Shivaji The Hindu King In Islamic India, and the references about Shivajis parentage. BORI was targeted because the author visited the place to carry out research and interacted with scholars who, unfortunately, found a mention in the foreword. It was the Shiv Sena that set the agenda for the assault. Sena members gheraoed Dr Shreekant Bahulkar and blackened his face. It was only after a well-known Shivaji scholar, Gajanan Mehendale, tore the pages of his biography on Shivaji and threatened to scatter it around Pune that the Sena apologised.
But the agenda had been set. The baton was passed on to the Maratha Seva Sanghs Sambhaji Brigade. Police say it was a well-planned attack and many of those who participated were not members of the organisation but were brought in to complete the task. The mob could not distinguish between the computers, photocopying machines and a 15th century-10 inch Ganapati idol or the 1000 AD Mahabharata manuscript. Bookshelves and rare handwritten manuscripts were treated with equal contempt.
The only solace for Dr Saroja Bhate, honorary secretary of BORI, has been the overwhelming response from Punes citizens. Students to 80-year-olds have been the rallying around the institute, helping it clear the debris, and making donations to reconstruct the centre. A builder sent his labourers, the law college has offered legal assistance, software companies are helping retrieve data, the US and the UK-based researches are promising to raise funds in their country to put BORI back on its feet.
Meanwhile, the attackers agenda is far from over. Bhandarkar Institute got this scurrilous book written by Laine. Even if BORI is burnt ten thousand times the insult inflicted upon Jijabai would not be mitigated, the Brigade spokesman Shreemant Kokate told the media.
Pushed to a corner, BORI members are being forced to be apologetic. They publicly apologised for whatever Laine wrote and condemned his writings.
The government seems reluctant to take on the issue headlong. Purushottam Khedekar, founder of the Sangh, happens to be a state government employee but the authorities are looking the other way. His wife, Rekha Khedekar is a BJP MLA from Chikli, Buldhana. Instead, the government is focusing its attention on the author. Home minister RR Patil said his government was considering legal action against Laine. The police has arrested 72 members of the group on dacoity charges.
The silence in political circles has become deafening. The Marathas cannot be antagonised in an election year, say some. Some others colour it as a Maratha rebellion against Brahmin dom-ination in academia. Academicians, too, have chosen to keep low. One of the members at BORI said it was unfortunate that one could not even understand what their stand was as it was not articulated. As a result, one could not even reason with them or deal with it at an intellectual level. They took the easy way out, the member said.
The focus now is on rebuilding the favourite haunt of indologists. Reasoning and talking will have to wait for another day.