A battle of wits is underway on social media between police and “hate-mongers” ahead of the January 1, 2019 event to mark the 201st anniversary of the Koregaon Bhima battle in Maharashtra’s Pune district. The area around the village had witnessed violent caste clashes on January 1 this year during celebrations to mark the bicentenary of 1818 battle, leaving one person dead and several injured.
In order to counter the “campaign of hate” on social media, the police have roped in some influential residents of nearby villages and made them post “positive” videos appealing to people to visit Perne village without fear. “Jaystambh” or a victory pillar installed by the British to mark the defeat of the forces of Peshwas in the 1818 battle is located near Perne village. Superintendent of Police (Pune Rural) Sandip Patil Wednesday said they have come across a number of hateful or provocative messages on social media platforms ahead of the January 1 event.
“To counter such rumour mongering and inciting content, we, as part of community policing, are uploading brief videos of local people, including sarpanchs and some influential villagers, in which they are appealing the visitors to come on January 1 without any fear. They are ensuring that all the necessary arrangements are being done,” said Patil.
In one such clip, Perne village sarpanch Rupesh Thombare can be seen appealing to visitors that they would be greeted with roses and water bottles on January 1. In another video, Shikrapur village sarpanch Jayashree Bhujbal says her village is ensuring that no shops, hotels or other commercial establishments remain shut on January 1, unlike last year. Patil said police are looking forward to create “harmonious atmosphere” ahead of the January 1 event. Lakhs of Dalits visit the Vijaystambh every year on January 1 to mark the victory of British forces, comprising a large number of Mahar soldiers, over the Peshwas or Brahmin rulers in the 1818 battle.
“In the run-up to the January 1 event,sarpanchs, deputysarpanchs, office-bearers of gram panchayats of Koregaon Bhima, Lonikand, Sanaswadi, Perne, Shikrapur are appealing through the videos that all arrangements, including food, water, transportation and parking, will be done by villagers”, the SP said. Patil said the social media cell of the Pune rural police is tracking the provocative messages.
“Our social media cell is identifying the social media accounts and their origins. The officials are also notifying the respective police stations and headquarters to track down such anti-social elements”, he said. Police have so far taken preventive action against 20 to 25 such elements for circulating the objectionable and inciting messages, he added.
Meanwhile, one of the police officers attached to the cyber cell said they have come across over 20,000 messages so far, which can be termed as “inciting”. “Besides keeping an eye on the social media platforms, correspondence has been dispatched to naxal-infested districts, anti-naxal cells, Intelligence Bureau, ATS squads to keep the Pune rural police informed about any possible secrete meetings of Naxal cadres regarding the January 1 event”, he said.
Police are also issuing notices under section 144 of the CrPc to prevent assembly of people in the area. Police are probing the alleged naxal links to the violence that had taken place on January 1 this year during the bicentenary event, a day after Elgar Parishad event was held at Shaniwarvada in Pune. Police recently filed a chargesheet in a local court against some rights activists in connection with that violence. Smarter by last year’s experience when they were allegedly outnumbered by protesters, police are taking no chances this time.
The officer said deployment of police personnel in and around the victory pillar would be “ten times more” this time compared to the previous occasion. “Senior police officers from various districts and officials of various agencies would be keeping an eye on the event”, he said.