“All we want to do is live our lives with dignity, like how BR Ambedkar envisioned in the Constitution. Is that too much to ask? I live in fear in my own village,” says Mahantesh Talageri, the grandson of Malliappa Talageri and nephew to Vittal Talageri, both of whom were brutally murdered on October 15 allegedly in a case of caste violence. The Talageris are from the Madiga community, which comes under the Scheduled Castes in India, also known as Dalits.
A little more than a month after the horrific double murder of the Dalit father and son, their family members face more threats of violent action. While the case is pending in the courts, the accused and the victims’ families in the village of Shirol in Mudhol taluk, Bagalkot district, are forced to live within spitting distance of each other. The accused meanwhile are out on anticipatory bail.
The Talageris made their fortunes cultivating sugarcane on their own land, and they now own several vehicles amongst themselves: tractors, bikes, and cars. One member of the Talageri family was even the elected gram panchayat member from the BJP. Unable to stomach their success, some dominant caste men in their village allegedly began harassing the family.
The first instance of alleged harassment was on a shared private road in May in this year. Yellappa Talageri told some youngsters that they should ride their motorcycles safely, and that they were risking the lives of the pedestrians.
Angered that they were being instructed by a lower caste man, a group of men allegedly came to their house that evening, beat up both men and women of the family and destroyed their things. The women were harassed, and their sarees pulled off. Yellappa sustained a deep cut on his head from a machete.
Following this, Yellappa filed two cases against the attackers under the ST/SC (Prevention of) Atrocities Act on May 8 this year. This made them even more enraged.
The dominant caste people, among whom are Reddys and Lingayats, were emboldened by police inaction despite an FIR having been registered. They all met up under the banner of the ‘Hindu Jagranna Vedike’, to allegedly plot their revenge.
On October 11, Arun Nagareddy put up a post on Facebook saying, “The final victory is ours,” along with a picture of the group posing with long swords. In a second picture, one can see more knives laid out in front of an idol of Durga, the goddess of destruction. The murders were committed on October 15.
Mahantesh recounts how his brother Mahesh had gone out of the village to refuel his bike, which is some distance from the village. Around 25 men, all from a dominant caste background, rode on their bikes and surrounded him with their guns and long swords. Somehow, he escaped through the forest to the next village, and returned to his house in the dead of the night.
Another instance occurred on October 14, when some people from his village, who are also members of the Hindu Jagaranna Vedike, began threatening Mahantesh by allegedly trying to run him over with a tractor, but the police refused to take a case for the entire day.
“I went to the police station to try to file a case of harassment again on the next day (October 15), and that’s when I found out about the murders of my grandfather and uncle,” says Mahantesh.
However, there have been more death threats on the family recently. One such threat issued says that three more male members of the family will be killed before the village festival on 6 December this year.
Meanwhile, the Talageris say that the Mudhol police are dragging their feet, and not doing much, even while there have been several requests for protection from the all levels of police.
Mahantesh says that out of the 4 cases they have filed under the SC/ST (Prevention of) Atrocities Act, as well as various sections of the IPC, only 6 out of the total 13 people named in the FIR have been arrested. No action has been taken against the others.
However, when contacted, the SP of Mudhol police station, Lokesh Jagala, says that two policemen have already been posted outside their homes in anticipation of the village festival.