The alleged assault of seven Dalit men in a Karnataka village over the slaughter of cows over a week ago is not the first time that the Dalits of the village have been targeted.
About 30 Bajrang Dal activists with machetes, swords and clubs turned up at Muthappa’s house in Kundur village, Chikmaglur district, at about 10.30 pm on July 10. A few of them assaulted seven Dalit men for about three hours before the arrival of the sub-inspector, who took everyone to the Jaipura police station. (Three Dalits managed to escape during the assault.)
Sandeep, one of the Dalits who was assaulted that night, said that this was not the first time that the Dalits of the village have been beaten up by the Bajrang Dal.
District convenor of the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (DSS), Shivakumar says that there have been about eight instances of assault against the Dalits of the village since 2014. Kundur has about 200 families, 80% of which are Dalit and belong to the Adi Karnataka caste. All the Dalit families work on the estates of the upper caste people.
“For the past two years, there has been tension between the BJP and Congress. We are the scapegoats. Every couple of months, small issues crop up,” says Sandeep.
Shivakumar says that the trouble started after the last assembly election in 2013, when the Congress cut into the BJP’s votes. The BJP has held the Shringeri Assembly constituency – under which the village falls – since 2004, the BJP’s win margin rising with each election. But a decisive shift occurred in 2015, when the local panchayat went over to the Congress.
Sandeep says that the Vokkaligas tend to support the BJP while the Congress has more Dalit supporters.
Relations between the BJP and the village Dalits were good in the past, but a number of events eventually drove a wedge between the two, Shivakumar says. “The Bajrang Dal used to call Dalits from the village for support for even the smallest issue. In all this time they’ve done nothing good… We would be booked under false cases, including false allegations of rape, even though we had not actually done anything. They would do the roughing up and assault, and we would get booked. All the boys are now with DSS,” he says.
As the tussle between the BJP and Congress and within civil society gathers momentum, the Dalits of the village cannot get over a sense of being targeted not just by the Bajrang Dal, but also passively by the police.
“When we were being assaulted, constables were present for some time before the sub-inspector reached. What can we do when the police are hand in glove with the attackers? Can the police assure that we will not be assaulted again?” asked Sandeep.
The general experience of Kundur’s Dalit villagers is that the local police refuse to register complaints filed by them. Dalits are asked to return three or four times before a complaint is taken, but things move very quickly when people of other castes approach the police.
Shivakumar has a question for the attackers. “If they’ve illegally slaughtered the cow, let them be lawfully punished. Does the Bajrang Dal have permission to assault?”
What happened that night
Palraj, a disabled man of 53, was one of the seven people who were attacked. The other six were in their early 20s.
“I was called after they had already begun slaughtering the animal. It was pouring that night, nobody in the village knew that we were being beaten up. They assaulted us with whatever they could find. Three of us managed to escape during the assault.” He sustained a fracture on his arm.
Earlier that evening, he says, an estate owner named Nagappa Gowda had sold them the “old, dying cow” for Rs 1,000. “But at the police station, Nagappa claimed that it had been stolen,” Palraj said. He says that Vokkaligas who sell the cows usually ask them not to tell anyone about it.
In the early hours of July 11, five Dalit men were booked for “illegal cow slaughter”. The Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act 1964, allows the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and buffaloes aged above 12 years as long as their meat is healthy, and the slaughter of animals that have become permanently incapacitated for breeding, draught or giving milk due to injury, deformity or any other cause.
After they were produced in court the following day, Palraj says they met a lawyer who convinced them to lodge a complaint about the assault. On July 11, the police booked their alleged attackers for assault, and provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocity) Act. Circle Inspector Chandrashekar confirmed to The News Minute that the men accused of assaulting the Dalits were known Bajrang Dal and Sri Rama Sene members.
Shringeri MLA DN Jeevaraj was not reachable for comment. Chikmaglur MLA CT Ravi denied that any assault had taken place and claimed that Bajrang Dal activists were not present at the spot. Asked about the police confirming that the accused were Bajrang Dal members, he said that the Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike (KKSV) was raking up the issue, and that the people who had allegedly slaughtered the cow were “a gang supplying meat to illegal Bangladeshis disguised as Assamese and working in the coffee estates”.