Fact-finding report on Atrocities against Dalits in Karnataka

[A team of various human rights groups, dalit groups and women’s organizations visited Chitradurga to investigate reports of atrocities on dalits in three villages. The team included members of PUCL-K, AIPWA, PDF, HRFDL-K, and Janapara Vedike. HRFDL-K activists at Chitradurga facilitated the team’s visit. The team was in Chitradurga on the 8 Feb 2010 and visited the villages of Budihalli, Renukapura and Lakshmisagara. Below are excerpts from the report prepared by Dr V Lakshminarayana of PUCL-K and Dr E Rati Rao of AIPWA, both of whom were part of the team.]

Discrimination against Dalits in Budihalli

Budihalli is a tiny village in Chellakere taluk of Chitradurga district of Karnataka. Of the total 120 houses, 30 belong to the Golla (BT) community, 60 to the Nayaka (ST) community and 30 to the dalit community. The Nayaka and Golla communities own substantial tracts of land (30 to 170 acres per house hold), while Dalits own very little land. Around ten households among the Dalits own up to 4 acres of land and the remaining 20 households are landless. Dalits work on the fields of landed gentry. Dalit women get Rs 25-35 per day as wages while men are paid Rs 50 on an average. In spite of its ST status, the Nayaka community has evolved as a dominant one in Karnataka.

Caste discrimination against dalits is strong here. Dalit women are supposed to cover their heads and keep heads bent. The local hotel has a set of tumblers exclusively kept aside for this community. Dalits do not have their own place of worship. Bonded labor was alive till year 2000. Ever since Dalit women joined the SHGs (sanghas), harassment against them has intensified with taunts like, ‘How dare you people join the Sanghas? Madiga men and women should be kept in place! We will torch you and your house!’

The Madigas (Dalits) were given four houses under the Ashraya scheme, while the benefit of the Ambedkar scheme went to the Nayakas. Two water tanks have been built in the dalit locality, but due to resistance from the landed gentry water was not supplied, forcing them to depend for water on the tank in the ST community area. Many women have thatched roof houses, with no facility for bath and toilet. Women dare to go to these tanks and bathe in the open only after dark.

Apart from social and economical hardships women have been accused of stealing. In one instance of theft, Dalit boys were accused, tied to the trees and beaten. When women protested they were asked, “How come your sambar is tasty with red chilli powder and sambar powder? This must have been stolen goods!”

Each hut is crowded with not less than five to seven inmates. Usually they put their mat outside in the open and sleep. Some times when their husbands are away and in the dark nights men from other community just come and join the women on their mats. This kind of sexual exploitation is very common, and any resistance is met with threatens that houses will be torched. It is important to note that the very next day after the team left the village, two Dalit houses were torched (presumably a punishment for having talked to the team).

In a recent incident on 22 December 2009, Dalits were beaten up when they harvested the jalimara (fire wood of wild shrubs) on Bagarhukum land. Subsequently, Dalits were booked for rioting. Since this incident, a social boycott against Dalits is in place (though all communities have denied it in the presence of administration). If anybody employs Madigas they are fined Rs 500. Since December Madigas are not called to work in the fields. Women, in tears as they spoke to the team, desperately wanted to work and earn wages to feed their starving families. They had demonstrated at Chitradurga in support of their demands for two days. Women desperately wanted a pucca house for dwelling , (so that it could not easily be torched), water for daily chores, bath rooms and toilets in order to become independent of the ST and BT communities and escape daily humiliations.

The Dalits pointed out that waste wood shrubs growing on about 150 acres Bagarhukum (gomala) land had been used by the landed gentry since long. Madigas have been demanding land and the administration had permitted them to occupy the same, but this is resented and resisted by feudal forces. Recently, about 4 acres of land has been earmarked for the Dalits, but the Administration is harassing them by asking for tax-paid receipts etc.

The committee observed that the social structure of Budihalli is reminiscent of Khairlanji, where the so-called `ST’ Nayakas the `BT’ Gollas assert feudal dominance over Madigas.

Naked parade of Dalit woman in Lakshmisagara

Lakshmisagar is a village with 300 houses situated in Chitradurga taluk. The socially and politically strong Nayaka community resented it when a Nayaka girl Mamata eloped with a Dalit boy Kumara. A Dalit woman Bhagyamma was beaten up by Mamata’s family which accused her of having abetted the love affair.

Bhagyamma told the team that her family was having morning tea around 8 am when 8-10 drunken youth entered the house, dragged her out, beating her all along and stripped her naked. She was so shocked that she defecated and wetted herself. Her husband Sakhanandappa was also not spared. She was dragged naked through the village to Panchayat office in the presence of the whole village and she was beaten with a rod, resulting in head injuries. While she was tormented, one Revanna Siddappa belonging to Nayaka community tried to protect her; he even tried twice or thrice to give her a sari - but every time the sari was torn off. This torture went on for about two hours. The police came and shifted her to hospital at Bhramarasagara, where she was treated. She was discharged after five days when her old mother took her to her village.

Mamata’s father Chidannandappa and her brother Prakasha led the attack on Bhagyamma. Her tormentors included Vasantha (s/o Shivanna), Kumara (Muddeloganna), Prakasha (s/o Bhangira Obanna), Hanumantha (s/o Hullyappa), Prakasha (s/o Chidannandappa), Suresha (s/o Eshwarappa), Obanna (s/o Kuruvanoor Obanna), and Manjunatha (s/o Shivanna).

The police instead of arresting the culprits caught the lovers and enquired about their elopement. Mamata boldly said that Bhagayamma has nothing to do with her love towards Kumara and that they had married of their own free will. Instead of booking cases against the tormentors police have booked a case (IPC 107) against Bhagayamma. On the day the team visited the village, we came to know that Vasantha has been arrested, kept in custody for a day and released on bail.

The team visited Sumitramma, mandal panchayat member belonging to the Dalit community and enquired about the incident. She was sympathetic towards Mamata’s father Chidannandappa and denied that Bhagyamma had been paraded naked, though she agreed that Bhagyamma should not have been beaten. She said that she has not witnessed an inter-caste marriage in the last 20 years that she had spent in the village since her marriage. She said that she herself would have slapped Bhagaymma and would have warned her to desist from indulging in such affairs! Asked if she had visited Bhagyamma, she said no. We told her that being a member of mandal panchayat she had to be more responsible and her role should have been that of defending the rights of women and fundamental rights rather than endorsing caste dictates.

Intolerance towards Dalits at Renukapura

Renukapura is a small village near Budihalli. During a chariot-pulling a festival, Dalit boys were dancing to the tune of the drums when one of them touched the chariot which was carrying the goddess. The Dalit boys were chased and beaten. Till today no cases have been booked against the perpetrators of the crime.

Observations and recommendations of the team

The Dalits are being attacked by the dominant communities when they demand land and challenge social discrimination. The Government and local administration are culpable for their abject failure to protect the Dalits and punish the perpetrators; rather their inaction has emboldened the dominant communities to heighten the attacks. The Government has made no effort to guarantee employment and land for the Dalit community.

The team demanded that the Administration should start gruel centers at Budihalli, to prevent starvation of the Daliths. Jobs under NREGA scheme should be provided immediately. The Dalits should be given 2-5 acres of land per family. Perpetrators of the naked parade of the Dalit woman at Lakshmisagara should be arrested immediately. Witnesses in this crime should be protected under atrocities act and rioting case against Dalits at Lakshmisagara should be immediately withdrawn. The perpetrators of violence in the Renukapura incident should be immediately arrested.

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