The murder and rape of a Dalit 17-year-old pre-university student has put residents of Siddapura in Kodagu district of Karnataka on edge in the last two days. Kodagu district police arrested migrant labourers Ranjith (21) and Sandeep (30), who both hail from West Bengal, in connection with the case, and the duo led the police to the dead body of the girl who had been missing since February 4.
The girl went missing from Emmegundi coffee estate in Siddapura on February 4 while returning home after attending her classes. There was no trace of the missing girl for almost a week until her bag and footwear were found in a bush near the estate on Monday. This led to the police interrogating labourers in the coffee estate.
During the interrogation, the police found out that Ranjith had quarreled with the girl. This led to the police detaining and interrogating Ranjith on Wednesday. He confessed to kidnapping the girl with Sandeep and raping her after she rejected his advances. Later, the duo choked her and killed her to ensure that the she does not disclose the rape, police said.
Her body was hidden amidst boulders near a Ganapathy temple close to the estate and it was decomposed when it was recovered by the police.
Investigating officials conduct a search at a coffee plantatation in Siddapura
The latest incident also comes a week after a labourer from Assam was among the persons accused of murdering a coffee merchant in Virajpet in the district.
The violent nature of the two crimes prompted an uproar from residents of Siddapura on Thursday and has brewed tension between local residents and the population of migrant workers in the district. The protests were supported by Congress, BJP, JD(S) and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) workers.
There is anger and resentment among the protestors against migrant labourers, who are now being viewed with suspicion in Siddapura. The protestors demanded the district administration to quicken the process of verifying the details of migrant labourers working in the district.
Most migrant workers in Kodagu are paid the minimum government-mandated wages of Rs 275 per day, making them an attractive option for estate owners in the district. In the last ten years, estate owners have increasingly hired migrant labourers, mainly from Assam and West Bengal, to work in the coffee plantations. The workers in turn are happy with the meagre wages since they prefer the income to searching for work in their home state.
The district administration began collecting details of migrant workers in the district in 2017. The information was collected through plantation owners and included the names, permanent addresses and identification proofs, like Aadhaar and PAN card, of migrant workers. The process was hastened during the floods and landslides in Kodagu in August 2018 when a separate list of migrant workers was prepared by district authorities and plantation owners were urged to let go of migrant workers if their plantation was damaged.
"Even now, after this incident, we have appealed to plantation owners to provide details of workers in their plantations. It is not constant so we have to keep updating the list since migrant workers keep moving in search of work. It is the responsibility of owners to provide the details regularly," says Dr Suman Pennekar, Superintendent of Police (SP), Kodagu.
The police revealed action will be taken against plantation owners who do not divulge details of workers in their plantations.