A wish to visit a temple, eat with others turns toxic when expressed by Dalits

Ugly India How a Karnataka village turned into a battle zone over temple entry for Dalits
news Saturday, September 12, 2015 - 17:29

Simple things such as visiting a temple and eating together can turn a village into a battle zone when it turns out that Dalits wish to enter a temple and want to dine with people of other castes. Incidents like these still occur 78 years after the Temple Entry Proclamation.

On Saturday morning, the Hassan district police detained around 50 people who were on their way to Sigaranahalli village (Holenarsipur taluk) to organize a temple-entry and inter-caste dining event in a Dalit colony. Among those arrested is R P Venkateshmurthy, Editor of a local newspaper Janatamadhyama, writer Ja Ho Narayanaswamay, members of the Dalit Sangharsha Samiti, Raitha Sangha, and Communist Party of India (Marxist).

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That morning, local people say police barricaded all three roads into the village, and no outsider was permitted to enter. Residents of the village had to show their voter ID cards to be allowed entry.

Sigaranahalli is barely two kilometres from former prime minister and Janata Dal (Secular) chief Deve Gowda’s native village, Haradanahalli. Gowda is a Vokkaliga, which is a land-owning caste, and Hassan district, is his stronghold.

Under the banner of Janapara Vedike, progressive groups and individuals had organized a “saha-pankti bhojana” (inter-caste dining) programme in Sigaranahalli as a protest against the fine levied by upper caste people on Dalit women.

A series of events led up to the current situation. On August 31 four Dalit women entered the Sri Basaveshwara Temple when a Stree Shakti group organized a pooja. The group has both Vokkaliga and Dalit women. A week later, the media reported that upper caste people in the village had ordered the Dalit members of the group to pay a fine, which they refused to do.

One of the women, Thayamma, later lodged a complaint with police. Now, upper caste people have threatened dire consequences if she does not withdraw the complaint. She too was detained by the police on Saturday.

Speaking to The News Minute over the phone from Hassan town, she said that late on Friday night, she and others from their colony were summoned to a road near their keri (Kannada word for lane, often used to describe a Dalit colony in the village) by a Janata Dal (Secular) leader who is a Vokkaliga.

“He told us not to involve outsiders and protest (on Saturday), that the matter could be resolved in a village meeting. He said ‘You and your kids have to live here’, and told us to withdraw the complaint or else things would not be good for us,” Thayamma told The News Minute.

Asked if she would withdraw the complaint, Thayamma said firmly: “I will not withdraw the complaint. Let them do what they want.”

This is not the first time she is being intimidated over her complaint. Exactly a week after Thayamma and others entered the temple, a peace meeting was organized by the police and district administration, but the Vokkaligas did not come.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) member Dharmesh, who was present at the meeting, said that the feeling was that Holenarsipur MLA and Deve Gowda’s son H D Revanna should be present.

The next day around 8 pm, a meeting was called in a school, and even though journalists had arrived at the spot, they were not allowed to hear any of the proceedings. “The whole village, 500 people, sat on the ground while Revanna sat on a chair. The Dalits were given a chance to talk,” Dharmesh says.

Dalits had three demands: entry into a government community hall which had allegedly been converted into a Vokkaliga community hall, withdrawal of the fine, and members of their community to be given jobs as helpers or cooks in the mid-day meal scheme.

“The demand for access to the community hall was rejected outright by the Vokkaligas, even though Revanna asked them to allow it. Finally, he told the Dalits that a new one would be built for them. But when Thayamma insisted that Dalits be allowed to use that very hall, which was constructed with government funds, the Vokkaligas began to abuse her by her caste in foul language. The ASP and other government officials were there. But there is no record of that meeting. Things were very tense that night,” Dharmesh says.

Later that night, the police finally lodged an FIR. That was when he and others decided to organize a protest and scheduled it for Saturday.

Hassan Superintendent of Police Raman Gupta claimed that the protest had been called off after the police spoke to the organizers, who agreed that the people of the village would sort out the matter internally.

“No third party from any caste is being allowed to enter the village. When we spoke to them, majority of the people from both communities did not want outsiders and have expressed willingness to sort out the matter in the village itself,” Gupta said.

Initially though, he had denied that people had been barred from entering Sigaranahalli, but when asked about the detentions of protestors, Gupta said these were “symbolic arrests”.

Denying reaching any agreement with the police, State Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) GV Srirama Reddy, one of the organizers, said that both the Tahsildar of Holenarsipur taluk and the jurisdictional circle inspector had given them written permission for the protest two days ago.

“The police are acting like this at Revanna’s behest. If the police had any objection, they would not have given us permission earlier. Until 10 pm last night, everything was ok. After that, they started calling us and told us to withdraw the protest,” Reddy told The News Minute.

Asked about pressure from Deve Gowda or his family, Gupta said: “There is absolutely no pressure. Communal and caste harmony are of utmost priority and in the interest of a long-term solution, (things must be sorted out in the village). The police and district administration have done everything to ensure this. It was the police who allowed the temple entry (initially).”

Despite several attempts H D Revanna could not be reached.