August 09, 2015
Struggle against Caste Oppression: Two Recent Incidents in Karnataka

MA Baby

THE mind numbing atrocities perpetrated on dalits in different parts of India have been continuing unabated. The main reason for this is the stranglehold of wealthy `high castes’ of our society in rural and urban areas. The protection they get from the ruling classes and the administration is another important factor. The failure of the redressal mechanism is a very crucial reason in the emboldening of the upper caste mafia. The low conviction rate under the Prevention of Atrocities (POA) Act – 15.71 percent and pendency rate of 85.37 percent proves this point. On the other hand, the conviction rate under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is over 40 percent. POA is related to atrocities on SC/STs and IPC cases are of general nature. A study on POA by S Japhet of National Law School (NLS) has laid bare reasons behind the low conviction – delay in booking the guilty by the police and conniving with those criminals at the investigation stage itself, so that culprits escape conviction! This study notes that out of the 646 cases examined by the NLS team from POA courts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu, 578 were disposed off and 68 are pending. Just 27 of the decided cases resulted in conviction and 551 in acquittal! It has also been noticed by the study that the police all along appeared to facilitate acquittal rather than conviction. While only an average of six days were taken for filing an FIR, an average of 260 days were taken for filing chargesheets in cases of atrocities against dalits! On the contrary, the maximum time for filing chargesheet under CrPC is only 90 days. Setting up of exclusive courts to deal with the POA Act offences, besides designated courts like District Sessions Courts as special courts to facilitate dalit cases did not improve the situation in any significant manner, even in southern states. The above conclusions revealed in the study conducted in December 2006 holds good even after nine years. What we witnessed recently in two separate incidents in the state of Karnataka underlines the intolerable criminal negligence of the authorities in taking prompt actions against the upper caste murderers. In the first case, a 17-year old dalit youth, Anil Methri, was attacked and poisoned on July 1 as a result of which he lost his life on July 7, 2015 in Mirji village in Bagalkot district of North Karnataka. In the second, the dead body of a 45-year old dalit, Veeresh Gudusali, who was a sympathiser of CPI(M), was found nearby a railway track at the outskirts of Koppala in the early hours of July 10, 2015. He belongs to Marakumbi village of Gangavathi taluk in Koppala district. In both these murder cases, even if one’s imagination is stretched to find fault with the dalit victims, it is hardly possible to accuse them for any misbehaviour or wrong doing. Another common feature in both these incidents is that they belong to SC reserved assembly constituencies and the elected MLAs have not only refused to come to the defence of the victims but are busy in helping the murderers to circumvent the legal procedure. The third common feature is the connivance of the district and police administrations to protect the murderers through improper investigation and lackadaisical processing of the cases. The intervention of the CPI(M) and some other socio-political organisations has resulted in authorities taking relatively better approach in investigating and arresting some of the culprits. But this is not enough. The machinations of upper castes and reactionary forces with the connivance of the powers that be, can be thwarted only through perseverance, protracted struggle and constant vigil. Anil Methri’s murder is a story. His crime was that he delivered a letter written by an upper caste youth to an upper caste young woman. When a gang of upper caste youth demands something of a dalit boy, he cannot even think of refusing to do it. As the girl’s father came to know about the incident, instead of confronting the upper caste youth, who entrusted the dalit boy the task of delivering the letter, the hapless dalit boy was dragged away by a team of upper caste thugs. Anil’s father later found his son’s body in a field in a semi conscious condition. He was taken from hospital to hospital. As the upper caste criminal gang had forced Anil to consume poison after having tortured him, he lost his battle to death. The way in which the administration and the police authorities diluted the case to protect the upper caste criminals is a naked crime. When Anil’s relatives went to the Mudhol police station at 9.30 am to file a complaint, they were kept on waiting till 10.30 pm! The next day the deputy superintendent of police instructed the relatives that they should not mention the names of the upper caste criminals who were the actual culprits. Then the police personnel typed out a model complaint and asked them to write it down and sign it! No wonder, in most of the cases charged under POA Act the accused are not convicted. This place belongs to Mulbagal (SC) reserved constituency, but the elected SC MLA was always found in the company of the upper caste sections. The same was the attitude of the former MLA. That is why they say, “Maajigalu agli, haaligalu agali, yaaru dalitara bagge kalaji torsalla” (Neither former MLA nor incumbent MLA, nobody cares about dalits). In Marakumbi in Koppal district, the brutal cold blooded murder of Veeresh on the day of trial when he was to depose before the court in the case of atrocities perpetrated by the upper caste people was clearly aimed at preventing him from appearing in the court to give evidence. A year ago, dalits in this village were attacked by upper caste hoodlums. The upper caste criminals announced that no one should dare to appear before the trial court to give evidence of their crime. When Veeresh bravely came forward and stated that he would appear before the court on July 10 for the trial, the upper caste gang declared that it won’t happen. To the shock of the entire village, the body of Veeresh was found nearby the railway track on July 10, the day of his appointed deposition before the trial court. The case relates to the arson, massive attack and torture of the entire dalit village and the people living there a year ago. The upper caste thugs resorted to widespread attack and atrocities in the village due to their intolerance towards the steps taken by the CPI(M) and various other social organisations by opening a tea stall where dalits were having freedom to enter and have coffee and tea and the setting up of a barber shop where dalits too were offered service. Till then dalits were not allowed to drink tea in common shops or avail the services in barber shops. This was a big challenge to the upper caste arrogance and oppression and they decided to brutally punish the disobedience of dalits and their protectors! Veeresh, who had gathered strength and courage to appear before the court was punished by death and the murderers did not have any compunction whatsoever to move freely in the locality with police and administration looking the other way. Meanwhile, the police started spreading rumours that Veeresh had committed suicide! Demanding immediate arrest of the murderers of Veeresh and handing over of the case to CBI and adequate compensation to his family, a massive sit-in struggle was organised by the CPI(M) in association with some other social organisations in front of Gangavathi police station on July 16 braving heavy rain and other adverse circumstances. The district administration did not recognise the struggle initially. However, having realised the mood of the gathering from the fact that the leadership as well as all those who have come for the sit-in, including old people, women and children are not dispersing even after inclement weather, the district commissioner was compelled to reach the struggle spot. After having discussed with the leaders of the struggle, he agreed positively after a lot of arguments, to take up all the demands with the state government for time bound redressal. He announced the same publicly through the loud speaker. The struggle needs to be strengthened further in the coming days to ensure that the assurances given are not ignored. Marakumbi experience proves that through sustained struggles, some of our demands can be achieved. However, the ruling classes would always try to protect rural reactionary forces even when they engage in naked criminal activities. It is not strange that the local MLA, who is also a minister in the Siddaramaiah government, did not find time to visit the house of Veeresh. Same is the attitude of BJP Lok Sabha MP of the area. It is strange that the authorities, who are very indifferent towards charge-sheeting and arresting the criminal murderers, have registered cases against all of us under Section 144 and 145 of CrPC. (For detailed report please see People’s Democracy dated July 27-August 2, 2015) That the families of dalits who were attacked and killed by upper caste criminals in a reserved assembly and Lok Sabha seat are not even consoled and pacified by the `people’s representatives’ betrays their attitude, class and social orientation. The role played by the CPI(M) in organising people at large, along with dalits to expose the nexus between the upper caste criminals, administration and the ruling classes, is widely appreciated. The lesson that struggle alone will safeguard the interests of the oppressed and exploited has been underlined in the Koppal struggle.