Resistance brews in Kolar village where Dalit youth was driven to suicide

The violence that Uday faced comes in the backdrop of demands by Dalits of Pethandlahalli to hold their own celebrations for Ganesha Chathurthi.
Uday Kiran, Dalit man who was tied to a pole and assaulted for overtaking a bike belonging to upper caste men
Uday Kiran, Dalit man who was tied to a pole and assaulted for overtaking a bike belonging to upper caste men
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In Kolar’s Pethandlahalli village, caste-based segregation and untouchability have gone unchallenged since its constitutional abolition in 1950. Madiga Dalits in this village are not allowed to visit the same temple or drink tea at the same shop as the upper caste Vokkaligas and Reddys even today. But this long-standing segregation was challenged by hundreds of activists from Dalit and communist organisations on Monday, December 12, in the aftermath of the suicide of a Dalit man on November 30. Braving heavy rain, the activists rallied in their two-wheelers from Pethandlahalli village to the Kolar District Commissioner’s office condemning the violence and humiliation that 25-year-old Uday Kiran was subjected to — he was tied to a pole and assaulted for overtaking a bike belonging to Pethandlahalli’s Vokkaliga men.

Located about 112 kilometres away from Bengaluru, Pethandlahalli where the incident took place is a village predominantly populated by Vokkaligas and Reddys. When TNM visited Pethandlahalli, to learn about the caste dynamics of the community and to put the ongoing crimes perpetrated against Dalits in perspective, many Dalit residents were reluctant to be seen speaking to us about the violence they faced. It was only after we left the village that some of the residents agreed to speak to us over phone, on the condition of anonymity. Others seemed to have resigned themselves to the hegemony, and denied experiencing any caste-based discrimination.

Dalit colony in Pethandlahalli

The Dalit settlement is situated at the far end of the village, whereas the Anjaneya temple, where Uday was tied and assaulted, is situated near the village's entrance. The demographic makeup of the village shows how spatially isolated Dalits are. Only 30 to 35 of the 1,000 houses in Pethandlahalli belong to Dalits.

Anjaneya temple where Uday Kiran was tied and assaulted

The Dalits of Pethandlahalli are dependent on the Vokkaligas for their livelihood as most of them are daily wage workers. “Most Dalits want to work in the neighbouring villages, but the upper caste residents threaten us against doing so,” one person said, adding that Dalits are not even allowed to leave Pethandlahalli. “We haven’t entered the temple since our grandfather and great-grandfather’s time,” another resident said, “and we don’t want to enter even in the future.”

“Even beggars from lowered castes are not allowed to beg in that village,” Mechanic Srinivas, a member of Dalit Sangharsha Samithi (DSS) Samyojaka wing, told TNM, “They treat us worse than animals.”

But resistance to the discrimination and assertion of rights has been building among some residents of the village for some time now. The violence that Uday faced comes in the backdrop of an appeal by Dalits of Pethandlahalli to hold their own celebrations for Ganesha Chathurthi. They demanded a separate Ganesha statue, but the Vokkaligas and Reddys have opposed this appeal. A Dalit resident said, “This year when they came to collect donations for the festival, we made our appeal again.”

As a form of protest, the Dalit residents did not donate towards the festival, which prompted the first-ever discussion between Vokkaligas and Dalits on the issue, which ended with a fight. “They don’t allow us to enter the stand where the Ganesha statue is kept and treat us badly, which is why we want a separate Ganesha statue for celebration,” a resident said.

During the Ganesha procession, the Vokkaligas find various ways to not let the procession pass through the Dalit colony. “They start fights when the procession comes near our colony or give excuses like the road is narrow,” a resident said. Another resident explained how they had written to panchayat members seeking permission to expand the roads in the Dalit colony, to no effect.

The type of discrimination Dalits experience today has evolved, according to DSS member Srinivas, who noted that in the past, Dalits were not even permitted inside the village. The majority of atrocities against Dalits reported in recent months in the state have come from Kolar and Tumkur districts. A young boy’s family was fined Rs 60,000 for merely having touched a pole carrying the village deity in Kolar's Ullerahalli.

When TNM questioned the Deputy Commissioner of Kolar district, Venkat Raja about this, he brushed off the question and asked us to provide evidence.

Kolar district has witnessed a number of heinous caste-based crimes — the Kambalapally incident being the most atrocious where seven Dalits were burnt alive in March 2000. Despite ongoing attempts by organisations like the Dalit Sangharsha Samithi (DSS) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the violence continues to date. But now, it’s Dalit groups who are economically empowered and comparatively well-educated have been the target of such abuse. "These upper caste people don't mind us as long as we act in accordance with their expectations, but the moment a Dalit starts defending his rights, they resort to intimidation and violence to oppress him," Srinivas said.

This, in a district which is known as ‘Horaata Bhoomi’ (land of freedom struggles) for sparking the Dalit movement in Karnataka. The emergence of the Dalit Sangarsha Samithi (DSS) in the Kolar district in the 1970s, helped the movement grow socially and tried to combat untouchability and caste standards. Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) Assembly constituency in Kolar district also has the distinction of sending the first-ever Communist legislator to the Karnataka (then Mysuru) Assembly.

Srinivas said that the solution to caste-based segregation and untouchability is ‘Manava Parivartane’. People should change their mentality and talk against the atrocities instead of staying quiet. “If the villagers had spoken against the Vokkaliga men who were assaulting Uday, instead of turning their back, he would have been alive today.”

Vasudev Reddy, State secretary of the Student Federation of India said that the government should implement stricter punishments for caste-based atrocities, and ensure equitable distribution of the village’s common assets. “The government should come up with ways to educate more Dalits instead of taking away our rights. Only if Dalits are educated and economically independent will these atrocities stop,” he said.

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