August 02, 2015

KARNATAKA: Dalit Witness Found Dead

Nityananda Swami

IN the early hours of July 10, the dead body of Dodda Veeresh Gudisali was found by the side of a railway track at the outskirts of Koppala, Karnataka. He was a dalit from Marakumbi village of Gangavathi taluk. He was an important witness in the case pertaining to the incident of atrocity on dalits that occurred at Marakumbi, a year ago. He was about 45. He has left behind him his wife and two sons. A death note is said to have been recovered which suggests that he committed suicide. But those who saw the dead body are of the strong opinion that it was a murder and not a case of suicide, because the body was not run over by any train. Except for a head injury, the whole body was intact. If he had jumped before a running train, his body would have been crushed into pieces. The police have registered a case of unnatural death. His wife has filed a complaint with the police in which she has stated that her husband has been murdered by unknown persons. CPI(M) intervened immediately and held a demonstration in front of the police station at Gangavathi demanding thorough investigation of the crime.


Koppala is a small district on the banks of river Tungabhadra. It is divided into 4 taluks. Half of the district is irrigated. Most of the lands are owned by upper caste Lingayats. There are a large number of dalits who are landless agricultural workers. Our agricultural workers union is quite active among them. They have been resisting the class exploitation as well as caste oppression under the red flag. CPI(M) has its political influence among them.

Marakumbi is one of those villages where AIAWU village committee and CPI(M) primary units are active. Few years ago, five dalit youths of this village were tied to electric poles and were beaten by upper caste people, throughout the night. They were falsely accused of stealing paddy by the upper caste landlords. This paddy in fact belonged to the dalits, which the upper caste landlords had snatched and stored in the village community hall. These dalit youth demanded the paddy to be handed back to the rightful owners. The upper caste people took offence and assaulted the youth. The CPI(M) had immediately intervened, which led to the registration of an atrocity case. Some of the culprits were sent to jail. The five dalit youth got statutory compensation. Since then, upper caste people of Marakumbi have been nurturing a grudge against the dalits.



In Marakumbi, dalits were not allowed to enter the village hair cutting shop. Even school going dalit boys were not allowed to have their hair cut in that shop. There was only one shop and only the upper cast people could go there.

About an year ago, CPI(M) decided that party units should fight against various types of practices of untouchability that existed in the villages. The Marakumbi unit of the CPI(M) decided to send some dalits to the shop demanding hair cut. Two dalit youth volunteered. The barber refused to cut their hair saying that the village elders had instructed him not to allow dalits into his shop. Some upper caste youth also came to the spot and threatened the dalits and abused them with foul language. A formal complaint was lodged at the police station, But the police, as usual, did not take any action.

On the other hand, a dalit youth was assaulted at the public water tap. More than hundred dalit agricultural workers, both men and women marched to the police station at Gangavathi and demanded the arrest of the culprits. A counter complaint was also registered against our activists. Though the culprits were arrested, they were let out on bail, the same day.



The situation became tense in the village. A social boycott was imposed on dalits. Agricultural workers were denied work. The hair cutting shop was shut down, grocery shops were not open to the dalits, tailor was told not to stitch clothes belonging to dalits. Even the dalit school going children were not allowed to travel by auto-rickshaws that run from the village to Gangavathi. A mob went around the village threatening to set the houses of dalits on fire.

To draw the attention of the district administration, a padayatra was organised. More than 200 people participated in the three-day padayatra, covering about 100 kilometers and reached Koppal, the district centre. A mass dharana was held in front of district collector’s office in which more than 1000 people participated. After receiving the memorandum, the district collector promised to visit the village the next day. On his visit, he held a peace meet and warned that severe action would be taken against those who practice untouchability and caste oppression. But even after his warning, the situation in the village did not improve.



After a few days, a group of upper caste youth had a quarrel with a group of dalit youth in a cinema theater at Gangavathi. In retaliation, a mob of upper caste people of  Marakumbi attacked the dalit colony, pelting stones and assaulting women and children with sticks. They set two dalit houses on fire. Gangadharayya, a CPI(M) leader and his wife were dragged out of his house and beaten. The policemen who were present in the village, did not control the mob. More than 30 dalits, most of them women, were injured and were hospitalised.

The incident drew the attention of the whole state. Protests were held in almost all districts. Various dalit and progressive organisations condemned these atrocities. A dawn to dusk bandh was organised by the CPI(M) in Gangavathi town, which was supported by various dalit and Left organisations. About 2000 people participated in the protest rally held on that day.

Due to popular pressure, about 60 accused were arrested and sent to jail, but were released on bail only after a month. But the main accused have not been arrested till now. Meanwhile, the upper caste leaders of Marakumbi raised funds to take revenge on the dalits.



In the court trial of this case, statements by witnesses were being recorded. Dodda Veeresh was one of the witnesses. On the July 10 he was to appear before the court, but to everyone's shock, he was found dead under mysterious circumstances on the railway track near Koppala.

From the beginning, the police were trying to project it as a suicide. But neither the people nor the media could be convinced by the police version. CPI(M) rejected the story of the death note, as the deceased person was not literate enough to write such a long letter and demanded investigation by CBI under judicial supervision. Protest demonstrations were organised in the surrounding districts also by the CPI(M).



Having learnt about the incident, MA Baby, Polit Bureau Member along with Radhakrishna MLA and Convener of Dalit Shoshan Mukti Munch visited Marakumbi on July 16. They were accompanied by GV Sreeramreddy, CPI(M) state secretary, secretariat members Nithyananda swami and U Basavaraj, and members of state committee Chandrappa Hoskera, RS Basavaraj, Sheiksha Khadri, G Nagaraj. Gopalkrishna, Convener of state dalit rights committee was also present. The CPI(M) leaders met the family members of Veeresh and other dalit families of Marakumbi and vowed to continue to fight against caste oppression and assured that the CPI(M) would always be with them in their struggle.



When the CPI(M) leaders reached Gangavathi town, hundreds of dalits and people belonging to other sections from different villages had gathered there to welcome them and hear them. They marched in a procession and squatted on the ground in front of the police station. The leaders addressed the people who were protesting against the police inaction. They demanded the district commissioner to come out and receive their memorandum. The people sat determinedly braving even the heavy rain and did not disperse. Leaders of the CPI(M) MA Baby, Radhakrishnan and GV Sreeramreddy too sat in the incessant rain along with the people. Finally, after more than four hours, the commissioner bowed to pressure and received the memorandum. He was demanded to address the issue with due seriousness, conduct a thorough investigation, pay compensation and meet the other demands of the dalit families of Marakumbi, and ensure witness protection.

Later on, after the protesters dispersed, everyone was shocked to find out that the police had registered a case against the CPI(M) leaders including MA Baby, Radhakarishnan and hundreds of others under sections 143, 147, 186, 341, 504 with 149 IPC.

CPI(M) condemned this action of the police, stating that this is an attack on the peoples' rights to protest and exposes the true character of the police and the government. It stated that this act will only embolden the perpetrators of the crime.

It was very clear that the police would not register a case against CPI(M) leaders without a specific direction from Shivaraj Tangadagi, in-charge minister for the district. This Congress minister who is a 'touchable dalit', has been supporting the upper caste people of  Marakumbi in all previous instances of atrocities. Hence it was decided to expose him by organising a padayatra to his residence at Karatagi, about 30 kilometers from Gangavathi. About 500 people from different parts of the district heeded to the call of CPI(M) and joined the padayatra. Party district secretary  G Nagaraj and secretary of Gangavathi taluk, Nirupadi, led the padayatra. The Party has decided to continue the struggle taking up other instances of caste oppression in the district.



In the same taluk of Gangavathi a pre-university student, Yallalinga was brutally murdered and his body was similarly thrown on the railway track in January 2015. The crime was committed by a contractor and supporter of the very same minister. The young boy was killed because, he had spoken to the electronic media regarding the misappropriation of funds in his village panchayat by the contractor and officials. The contractor was finally arrested after statewide protests.

In Kustagi taluk, the dalits of Kalalbandi are facing social boycott. A fair price shop which was in the dalit colony has been shifted to a far away place at the insistence of the upper caste people. In Yalburga taluk a dalit woman was gangraped and so far none of the accused have been arrested. In the village of Bochanahalli in Koppala taluk, dalits have been attacked for demanding entry into village tea shops.

Koppala district has the highest number of instances of  caste oppression, due to the laxity of the district administration, which is encouraged by the Congress government. CPI(M) has decided to take up all such issues and build a broad movement of resistance in the district.