Sometimes called the Line of Actual Control between Hindustani and Carnatic music, Dharwad, Karnataka’s musical hub appears to have gone berserk in the past two days. The intensity of the protests however, stem from a serious and long-standing scarcity of water.
In the latest news of violence emerging from Dharwad district, women in two villages have alleged that the police barged into homes in Yamanoor and Alagwadi villages, and allegedly assaulted women, the elderly and anyone else they could lay their hands on.
Media reports say the incident occurred during the day on Friday. TV9 Kannada quoted several women as saying that they were assaulted by the police. Many men of these villages have now fled their homes fearing police action.
Following the verdict of the Mahadayi Water Dispute Tribunal, there was strong protest against the order, which was perceived as an injustice to the people of four districts – Dharwad, Belagavi, Bagalkote and Gadag. The Kalasa-Banduri drinking water project is to supply drinking water to parts of these districts, where water shortage is severe.
On Wednesday, president of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha Kodihalli Chandrashekar had given a call for a statewide shutdown on Thursday. While the whole state continued to function uninterrupted, Dharwad, Gadag and Belagavi districts witnessed strong protests, which soon escalated into vandalism and even violence directed at the police. Miscreants set fire to government offices, vandalised them, and even pelted stones at the police, who were taken by surprise. It was then, sources say, that police began to retaliate and lathicharge.
Superintendent of Police Dharmendra Kumar denied that the police had assaulted women and children in Yamanoor and Alagwadi villages as the media were reporting. “That’s propaganda.”
He claimed that Alnawar sub-inpector Basavaraj was assaulted in Yamanoor when he went there for bandobast. “His vehicle was damaged, he too sustained injuries. Somehow he managed to escape and informed the control room. The police who were nearest received the call and went (for back-up) and resorted to lathicharge.” He claimed that one woman fell in the scuffle after villagers blocked the road when police went to the spot.
Asked about the injuries sustained by some of the women which appeared like those from a lathicharge, Kumar said, “A medical examination can ascertain that. Those who were involved in the assault on the sub-inspector have been arrested.”
He also claimed that the police had only used the lathicharge on two occasions. “We used lathicharge once on July 28 to prevent further damage after vandals ransacked and set fire to government offices, and once in Yamanoor when the sub-inpector was assaulted. The media are showing old footage. We have not lathicharged anyone today.”
However, he too admits that the intensity of the protests, especially the vandalism has taken the police by surprise. “Given that the agitation during the past year has been largely peaceful, except for minor stone pelting here and there… But this was totally… emotionally charged. It was instigated. There was nothing on the day of the verdict, except minor stone pelting. But then they went berserk.”
He said that 165 people had been arrested since July 28 and that they would take action against the vandals and arsonists after going through video footage.
Intensity of protests
Vijay Kulkarni, the leader of the Kalasa-Banduri Horata Samiti said that the dharna demanding the implementation of the drinking water project had been going on for one year and about one week. By the time the Tribunal was to pass an interim order, hopes were high as protesters had felt that their fight would finally have some result, and that they would have drinking water. With expectations high, the disappointment too, when the order was passed, was equally strong.
The drinking water situation in some parts of Dharwad, which has seen violence in the past two days, is dire. In the summer – in a drought year – residents of Annigeri Town Panchayat limits received water once in 15 days sometimes. Even now, the water supply is just once a week.