A case of arson has been filed against 25 people from the Dalit community in Alur in Karnataka’s Hassan district, for allegedly setting on fire the home of the accused in the murder case of a 45-year-old Dalit man Ramu.
Ramu was murdered on November 15 allegedly for trying to break up a fight between two people from Alur. At the time, the Alur Police had registered a case of murder against Mahesh and three others from his family. On the night of the murder, Mahesh’s house was set on fire and the police have now booked 25 people from the Dalit community for arson.
However, Allappa, Ramu’s nephew, who was with him on the night of the murder, alleges that the members of the Dalit community had nothing to do with the fire at Mahesh’s residence. Allappa works as a nurse at a private hospital in Bengaluru, but was at the spot on November 15.
Allappa claims that Mahesh and his family members, who are from Hanjialli, had had an altercation with Gangadhara, who is from Dharmapur village on November 15. He says that Gangadhara’s brothers and a few others from Dharmapur were present when the altercation occurred. Allappa, however, alleges that Gangadhara's family members set Mahesh's house on fire.
The events that led to Ramu’s death
On the morning of November 15, Gangadhara had allegedly been driving his car rashly through the Hanjihalli village. He allegedly hit Mahesh’s wife and dog with his car. “Mahesh blocked the road, and when Gangadhara was on the way back, he was questioned by Mahesh. Gangadhara, at that time, had apologised to Mahesh. However, that evening, he decided to go back to Mahesh’s house and fight,” Sagar, Ramu’s 19-year-old son told TNM.
Ramu, a resident of a Dalit hamlet, Basaveshwara Nagar, happened to be passing by Mahesh’s house, on the way to his fields, along with Allappa. Allappa says that Ramu was on good terms with Gangadhara, because he often sub-contracted masonry work to Ramu in other villages.
So Ramu decided to stop and try to break up the fight. However, while trying to do so, he was killed. Before he was killed, Mahesh allegedly asked him, “What is your caste? Who are you to give me instructions?”
A fact-finding team of activists and lawyers was formed to probe the incident. Siddaraju, a member of National Dalit Human Rights Commission, says that Mahesh allegedly used a machete to kill Ramu.
“Mahesh was already enraged and the altercation had taken an ugly turn. Mahesh was holding a machete, swung it and hit Ramu on the neck. He was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance along with Gangadhara, who also received minor injuries,” Siddaraju added.
Allappa, who was with Ramu, says he got scared when the fight escalated and ran towards Basaveshwara village, where Ramu lived. He then alerted the members of his community. In the meantime, an ambulance was called to the spot where Ramu was attacked.
“I got terribly afraid when I saw that the fight was getting serious, and began running towards Basaveshwara village to alert people and call for backup. When I reached there, my friend, who works with the 108 ambulance service, sent me pictures of Ramu’s body. I then informed the community of his death and went to the Alur hospital,” Allappa said.
On the night of November 15, the Alur Police registered a case under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and sections 302 (murder), 304 (attempt to murder), 149 (unlawful assembly) and 341 (wrongful restraint) of the IPC.
That night, Mahesh’s house was also set on fire and the police have taken suo motu cognisance and booked 25 members of the Dalit community from Basaveshwar Nagar for arson, causing mischief, and unlawful assembly.
The fire and the fallout
When the fire was reported at Mahesh’s house on the night of November 15, members of the Dalit community reached the spot as the news spread. The police, who were also there along with firefighters, began to take videos of the burning building. The police have accused people from the Dalit village of setting the house on fire. They further alleged that a few members of the Dalit community began throwing stones at the police and prevented them from doing their duty.
“After Gangadhara went to the hospital, he underwent treatment for his minor injuries, and escaped. He is now absconding, and we believe that Gangadhara asked one of his family members, to set Mahesh’s house on fire,” Sagar alleges.
Ranganna, one of the village elders at Basaveshwara Nagar, says, "The fire may have been started by Madhu, one of Gangadhara’s brothers, who was present at the time of the altercation (on November 15)."
Activists have been trying to get the police to drop the case against the members of the Dalit community in Basaveshwara Nagar. “People from Basaveshawara village are all from the SC community. The FIR doesn’t name any individual, but we want the police to drop the counter-case, and focus on the case of the murder of an individual from the SC community,” Gangadhar, an advocate and part of the National Dalit Human Rights Commission, says.