Recent events in a Karnataka village show that despite wide prevalence of atrocities against Dalits, caste-related violence continues to be a wilful blind spot for both the media and the state’s political establishment.
On December 25, while people were caught up with Christmas festivities, around 20 Dalit families were terrorised by a mob of dominant caste people in their village in Karnataka’s Raichur district.
Around 50 people belonging to the backward Kuruba caste attacked a group of houses in Ambedkarnagar in Turvihal village, Nagaraj Turvihal, a resident of the colony told The News Minute. The Dalit colony has around 50 houses of Madigas, who are considered right at the bottom of the caste hierarchy in the region.
The Hindu reported that the mob attacked the Dalit houses after a skirmish that had occurred earlier. Some of the attackers even assaulted Huligemma, who was pregnant. Nagaraj said that some of the men trampled upon her when she tried to defend her husband Shivaputrappa.
“She was bleeding and we took her to Sindhanur (taluk) hospital, they referred her to Ballari hospital. Now, we have brought her back to Sindhanur,” Nagaraj said.
“If an elite woman had been attacked like this, all these (politicians) would be queuing up to give a byte to the media. But when Dalits are attacked, no one bothers,” says Y Mariswamy, a Bengaluru-based member of the Executive Committee of the Dalit Samraksha Samiti – Karnataka.
One of Karnataka’s worst
Raichur district has the third highest number of atrocities against scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the state after Bangalore City and Belagavi district.
According to the annual report for 2014 on the implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocity) Act 1989, as many 113 cases were registered under the Act in Raichur district – this is one case every three days.
The report also classifies Raichur as one of 15 “atrocity-prone” districts in the state, and also makes particular mention of Idaparar, Gudihalla, lagapur, Karatagi, Manvi, Gangavathi, Turvinala (Turvihal), Khanapuri (However, some of the places are in the adjacent Koppal district).
Nagaraj said that Ambedkarnagar colony itself had not seen any caste conflict in the recent past, but violence by upper castes elsewhere in Sindhanur taluk was quite common. “This happened suddenly,” he said, and recalled that around four months ago a similar wave of violence had been carried out over an altercation between Dalits and Kurubas during the Maramma jathre.
Following the violence, peace committee meetings had been held and the Superintendent of Police Chetan Rathore and Deputy Commissioner Sasikanth Senthil S had visited the colony.
“The SP and DC have visited us, but the violence (in Turvihal) occurred 100 metres away from the police station. I think if the police are more proactive, nothing will happen,” Nagaraj says.
Bengaluru-based member of the Dalit Samraksha Samiti – Karnataka Y Mariswamy told The News Minute that local politics often created an atmosphere of impunity. Stating that he hailed from Raichur, Mariswamy said that often, dominant caste people who carried out violence enjoyed support among members of the zilla panchayat or gram panchayat.
“This emboldens them. If the police take strict action, then there will be a fear of the law at least,” Mariswamy said.
Vigilance committee meetings
Under the Atrocity Act, quarterly meetings are to be chaired by the Deputy Commissioner to address the grievances of people belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Despite being an atrocity-prone district, Raichur was one of 13 districts in which just one meeting had been held.
Calling it “particularly insensitive… apart from gross violation of the law”, the report recommended “strict action” against eight DCs who were heading atrocity-prone districts.
Raichur Deputy Commissioner Sasikanth Senthil S told The News Minute that he had chaired one meeting after he took charge in September 2014, and that all four meetings had been held in 2015. The last meeting had been held either on 26 or 27, but non-official members could not make it as the Code of Conduct was in force for the Legislative Council polls, he said.
“Both the SP and I are aware that Raichur is an atrocity-prone district, and that there is grave distress because of a feudal mindset. There is a level of atrocities that does not even make it to the meeting. Nobody practices untouchability today (in the traditional form) but it has transformed, and subtle atrocities occur, such as not allowing (someone to participate). We do our best to send a message that no non-sense will be tolerated,” Senthil said.
While the residents of the colony feel that the police and district administration have responded to their grievances, there is anger over the apathy of politicians, especially elected representatives.
On Thursday, the Dalit Samraksha Samiti – Karnataka staged a protest in Bengaluru but unlike other protests, Mariswamy says they did not even make an attempt to invite a political leader to accept their memorandum.
“From experience, we know they will never come,” he said. They submitted theirs to the Karnataka DGP Om Prakash.
Turvihal village falls in Sindhanur constituency which is a general seat. “The MLA represents everyone isn’t it? Is he on the side of the perpetrators or the victims? Being a mute spectator is tantamount to being on the side of the perpetrators,” Mariswamy said. Sindhanur MLA Hampana Gouda Badarli of the Congress could not be reached for comment despite several attempts.
Raichur’s situation is a peculiar one. “Of the seven assembly constituencies in Raichur district, five are reserved seats (four ST and one SC), and two are general seats. Fifty-one seats in the Assembly have been reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. But none of them will speak out against caste atrocities even though they were sent to the Assembly to represent us. They will lose their vote otherwise,” Mariswamy said. “Looking at the state of the political system, we wonder whether the dual vote system proposed by Ambedkar would have better for us.”