For almost a month, Dalits in a remote village in Karnataka’s Bijapur district, have allegedly not been given access to water and electricity. The local grocery store owners and flour mill have refused to sell their products to them.
Dalit women have been barred from working in the fields. For almost a month, the everyday lives of the Dalit community have taken a major hit and they are struggling to make it through the day.
On September 3, the Dalits of Matyali village in Basavana Bagewadi taluk demanded that the new Circle constructed at the entrance of the village be named after Dr BR Ambedkar.
“The Savarnas did not take this well. They wanted to name it Basaveshwara Circle. They began fighting with a few Dalits near the new Circle and started calling them names. Angered by this, the Dalits sat down in the new Circle and began protesting against the Savarnas. That’s when the Savarnas began throwing stones at us and many Dalits were severely hurt,” alleged Yellappa Doddamane, a 46-year-old resident of Matyali village.
Yellappa says that over 100 Dalit families residing in Matyali faced social boycott after a series of events which followed this clash.
“My wife Sunanda was severely injured during the attack and we had to take her to the Bijapur district hospital. Several others from our community also sustained minor injuries. Sub Inspector Suresh Gaddi, from the Kolar Hobli police station, took a statement from us but no FIR was filed. He told us to drop the issue and make peace with the Savarnas,” Yellappa claimed.
Sub Inspector Gaddi, however, said that an FIR could be filed only after the statements of all the injured persons were taken, which took several days.
Angered by the alleged apathy doled out by the local police, the members of the Dalit community protested outside the Basavana Bagewadi tahsildar’s office. Tahsildar Vinay Kulkarni assured the Dalits that swift action would be taken.
A peace meeting was called on September 5 where officials of the taluk administration, members of the Savarna castes and those of the Dalit community discussed the issue. It was decided that the Circle will be called Basaveshwara Ambedkar Buddha Circle.
Members of both communities went home after arriving at a consensus. Little did the members of the Dalit community know that the very next day, a social boycott would be imposed on them.
Following the day when the consensus was reached, Sunanda Doddamane and Basamma, both Dalits and residents of the village, went to the local grocery store to buy vegetables for the day's meal. They were shocked when the store owner refused to sell them vegetables.
"He told us that after the meeting with the taluk officials, the Savarnas had met in the evening and had decided to boycott us. They do not let us get water from the taps connected to the pipeline. We are not allowed to work in the fields. We have no access to electricity. They have cut off the power lines which supply electricity to our homes. We have to pay Rs 20 per day to travel to Kolar Hobli to buy our groceries. There are no proper buses. We have to wait for private vehicles or buses. We don't have so much to spend. We have been skipping meals to survive. We have to buy water also, which is difficult as we have less money," Sunanda said.
On September 16, when the taluk administration failed to take action, the members of the Dalit community protested outside the Deputy Commissioner's office. Deputy Commissioner Shivakumar KB assured them that their troubles would end. An FIR was finally filed at the Kolar Hobli police station under relevant sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevent of Atrocities) Act and six persons were arrested.
This did not put an end to the social boycott. Doubly angered by the arrests, members of the Savarna castes have continued the social boycott, the Dalits of the village allege.
Speaking to TNM on Saturday, member of the Dalit Sangharshana Samiti, Jitendra Kamble, alleged that the authorities have not helped the members of the Dalit community at all.
"They just did not follow up and see if these atrocities were being committed against us despite the arrests. On September 25, we carried out a protest where all the Dalits of the village walked from Matyali to Water Resource Minister MB Patil's house in Bijapur. He assured us that action would be taken against those responsible. Tomorrow (Sunday), Minister Patil, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and a few other Congress leaders will visit Bijapur for a function. We will meet the Chief Minsiter there and submit a complaint," Jitendra Kamble said.