Dalits protest in Karnataka over caste discrimination in constructing house

The protests began when members of a dominant caste in Karnataka’s Chowdenahalli allegedly harassed a Dalit family, as the former did not want them to stay in the same area.
Dalits protest in Karnataka over caste discrimination in constructing house
Dalits protest in Karnataka over caste discrimination in constructing house
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Since the last four days, the members of the Dalit community in Karnataka’s Chowdenahalli in Chintamani taluk, have been sitting in protest against the caste discrimination meted out to them. It all began when members of a dominant caste in the village allegedly began harassing members of a Dalit family. The reason - the savarnas did not want the members of the Dalit community to stay in the same area.

A week before December 10, Shanthamma’s daughter-in-law Vani and her son Gopalakrishna were awarded a plot of land by the gram panchayat to construct a home under the Ambedkar Awaz Yojana, a government scheme to provide housing for the poor. Vani, Gopalakrishna, his brother Gopala and Shanthamma were finally happy as they would not have to live in a cramped 8x12 ft shed any longer.

“The foundation was laid and the third layer of bricks were being laid on December 11. We did not expect any problem as the land was given to us by the government. According to the papers, survey number 52 was allotted to my daughter-in-law Vani,” Shanthamma recalls.

On the afternoon of December 11, 60-year-old Shanthamma was standing at the site, where the house was under construction. At around 2 pm, three men belonging to a dominant caste - Chikka Byre Reddy, Ramesh and Babu - allegedly arrived at the site and demanded the construction be stopped immediately.

Chikka Byra Reddy allegedly claimed that the land belonged to the savarna community and that the members of the Dalit community had no right to construct houses there.

Shanthamma argued, telling the trio that the land rightfully belonged to them, as it was allotted to them by the government.

“They did not listen. They called us names which I cannot even repeat. They said that we were from the lower caste and are not allowed to share space with them. Then Chikka Byre Gowda pushed me to the ground and started kicked me on my chest with his leg and he kept kicking me. The two others beat up my son Gopala,” Shanthamma says.

The trio allegedly issued a warning and said that they would never allow Shanthamma and her family to construct a house on the plot.

Later in the night, Shanthamma developed a swelling in her chest area. She was rushed to the Chintamani Taluk Government Hospital, where she received treatment for a broken rib. She was discharged on Friday afternoon.

“On December 12, Chikka Byre Reddy and his men brought an earthmover and began digging holes in the path leading up to our plot of land. We believe they did this to ensure that we could not transport materials to the site,” Shanthamma said.

When questioned, Chikka Byre Gowda allegedly told Shanthamma and her son Gopalakrishna that the land belonged to him.

“We immediately contacted the tahsildar, Ashok Teli. We sent him pictures on WhatsApp and told him about the injustice. Ashok Teli told us that he would sort out the matter. But the next day, the harassment continued. So my son and other members of the community sat down in protest near the construction site on December 11 and have decided not to budge until the district administration takes note of this,” Shanthamma said.

Shanthamma’s sons, daughter-in-law and members of the Daily-wage Workers’ Union have been protesting since December 11. She, however, joined the protest on Friday after being discharged from the hospital.

“Ashok Teli came to the protest on Friday and told us to call off the protest. He promised to take action and ensured that we will not be harmed. But these are just empty words. Since the last five years, the members of the Dalit community have been asking for land for a cemetery. We have to travel kilometers to just bury the dead. The members of the upper caste do not allow us to use the village cemetery. This year in September, we placed our demands before Ashok Teli and he did nothing. We want assurance from the Deputy Commissioner of Chikkaballapura district,” says Nagesh, a member of the Daily-wage Workers’ Union.

Shanthamma and Nagesh say that their attempts to reach the officials at the Deputy Commissioner’s office have been in vain. “No one picks up the call. We have sent the DC pictures of what happened and he has not bothered to visit. The local MLA Krishna Reddy’s PA never lets us meet him. No one cares because we are Dalits,” Shanthamma says.

TNM tried to contact Tahsildar Ashok Teli and the Deputy Commissioner’s office but did not receive any response.

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