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'We Felt Insulted': Caste Atrocities a Reality in Telangana but Parties Silent

As Telangana readies to go to polls, the barriers of caste still stand tall in most parts of the state.

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The distance between the Ambedkar and Gandhi statues in Vattinagulapally village, located in Telangana's Rangareddy district, is hardly 500 metres – but for the Dalit families living here, it represents a world of difference.

On the evening of 6 September this year, a group of Dalit men and women were allegedly attacked by dominant caste residents of the village as they were trying to offer bonam (offering) to a newly installed bodrai (stone deity) near the said Gandhi statue, which falls under a neighbourhood dominated by Yadavs, Lodh Rajputs, and Reddys.

A bodrai is installed in villages across Telangana to ensure the prosperity of its people. The installation is collectively done by all the residents of the village in a three-day festival.

As Telangana readies to go to polls, the barriers of caste still stand tall in most parts of the state.

The Ambedkar statue in Vattinagulapally village.

(Photo: Meenakshy Sasikumar/The Quint)

"The upper-caste people of the village told us they wanted to celebrate the festival first – without our presence," Sai (surname withheld to protect identity), a Dalit resident of the village, told The Quint. "But we disagreed saying that a village should only have one bodrai for all – and that we must all celebrate it together, as is tradition."

"Our settlements are already separate from theirs. This is our side, that is their side. We don't mix. When they wanted to keep us away from the festival as well, we felt insulted," he added.

When Sai and others defied the diktat and took out a procession carrying bonam from the Ambedkar statue in their neighbourhood to where the bodrai was being installed, about 200 dominant caste residents stopped them, allegedly saying: "How dare you come here. How dare you celebrate the festival with us. Our women don't want to interact with your women."

As Telangana readies to go to polls, the barriers of caste still stand tall in most parts of the state.

The Gandhi statue located about 500 metres from the Ambedkar statue.

(Photo: Meenakshy Sasikumar/The Quint)

As Telangana readies to go to polls, the barriers of caste still stand tall in most parts of the state.

Bodrai, or stone deity, that was installed in the village on 6 September.

(Photo: Meenakshy Sasikumar/The Quint)

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A clash ensued, stones were pelted, and some residents received injuries. The Dalit families staged a protest in the village and later filed a complaint with the Gachibowli Police, who booked a case under the Scheduled Castes-Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

No arrests have been made in the case – and an investigation is still underway, the police said.

This – the Dalit residents in Vattinagulapally say – is not a one-off incident. "Even while celebrating Bathukamma (a festival of flowers) in our village, we start our celebrations only after they complete theirs. That's the norm. They, in fact, didn't want us to celebrate Bathukamma at all. They had said, 'If you celebrate Bathukamma and if something happens to our village, who will be responsible?' We had to fight for it," Sai added.
As Telangana readies to go to polls, the barriers of caste still stand tall in most parts of the state.

Crowds gathered at Vattinagulapally when Dalit families were allegedly prevented from offering bonam to the stone deity.

(Photo: Screengrab/Accessed by The Quint)

Caste Atrocities Over the Years

The barriers of caste still stand tall not just in Vattinagualappally – which is located a few kilometres from Hyderabad's IT hub Gachibowli – but also in most parts of Telangana. 

The state has seen some brutal cases of caste atrocities over just the last five years. Earlier in July, Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale had urged Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao-led Telangana government (which came into power for a second term in December 2018) to look into these cases. 

During a review of cases of atrocities against Dalits and tribals, the Centre found that:

  • In 2019, 2,220 such cases were registered in Telangana 

  • In 2020, there were 2,532 cases, including 38 murders

  • 2021 saw 2,284 cases, with 65 of them being murder cases

  • In 2022, 2,332 cases were registered, with 31 murders

  • 2023, until July, had seen 949 cases, including 27 murders

The state also witnessed some cases of caste killing or 'honour' killing during this period, including that of a Dalit man, Nagaraju, in Hyderabad's Saroornagar. Nagaraju got married to Ashrin Sultana, a Muslim woman, at the Arya Samaj temple in Hyderabad's Old City just last year, after which Sultana's family allegedly murdered Nagaraju in broad daylight.

As per the National Crime Records Bureau's (NCRB) 2021 report, Hyderabad stood at fifth place out of the 19 metro cities of the country when it came to atrocities against Dalits and tribals.

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There were countless cases of physical violence as well – most of which didn't make the headlines. In September this year, four people were arrested in Telangana's Mancherial district for allegedly torturing Chilumula Kiran, a 30-year-old daily wage labourer, and Kukkala Teja, a 19-year-old worker at a sheep farm, by hanging them upside down above burning firewood.

This is in addition to Dalits – who account for 17 percent of the population in Telangana – experiencing everyday casteism in the form of social boycotting in villages, as was the case in Vattinagulapally.

But how much of this is addressed in election manifestos of political parties, as Telangana goes to polls on 30 November?

As Telangana readies to go to polls, the barriers of caste still stand tall in most parts of the state.

The road that leads to the Ambedkar statue, which is where the Dalit families live.

(Photo: Meenakshy Sasikumar/The Quint)

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Why Don't Parties Talk About Caste Violence?

"Caste discrimination is hardly ever a political issue in this country – and that goes for Telangana as well, where there have been significant anti-caste and tribal movements. It is always seen as a personal issue between two groups. But ironically, elections are heavily based on caste here – candidates are chosen based on their caste," Prof Sujatha Surepally, Telangana statehood and anti-caste activist, told The Quint.

"Though it is a social and political issue, it never makes it to the election agenda or manifestos. Victims of such atrocities are always seen as people who can be pacified with some compensation. The systemic issue is never addressed – and parties can actually do so by offering education, legal support, and dignified jobs," Prof Surepally, who teaches at the Satavahana University in Karimnagar, added.

Speaking to The Quint on the condition of anonymity, a BRS leader in Vattinagulapally village, who belongs to an SC community, admitted that "caste atrocities are not a poll issue here."

"Even within parties, there is discrimination against us. After the [bodrai] incident, the dominant caste people do not even let us take out rallies with them. We campaign in our areas, they campaign in theirs," he added.

Political experts pointed out that addressing caste atrocities could prove detrimental to parties – as they cannot afford to upset the dominant castes by calling out the violence committed by them. Instead, what they do is look at caste purely from a 'welfarist' or 'populist' perspective.

For instance, the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi's (BRS') flagship Dalit Bandhu scheme, which was introduced in 2021 ahead of the Huzurabad bypoll in Telangana, provides Rs 10 lakh as financial assistance to eligible Dalit families in the state.

KCR's Dalit outreach in his second term also included the installation of a 125-foot-tall Ambedkar statue next to the new secretariat in Hyderabad, which is also named after the leader.

As Telangana readies to go to polls, the barriers of caste still stand tall in most parts of the state.

The 125-foot-tall Ambedkar statue in Hyderabad.

(Photo: The Quint)

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Meanwhile, buoyed by the support it received from the AHINDA (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes, and Dalits) vote bloc in the Karnataka Assembly elections, the Congress released a 12-point SC-ST Declaration ahead of the Telangana Assembly, which offers:

  • Increase in SC reservations from 15 percent to 18 percent

  • Rs 12 lakh to SC-ST families under the Ambedkar Abhaya Hastam scheme (much like Dalit Bandhu)

  • Implementation of SC sub-categorisation

  • Provision of house plots and Rs 6 lakh for construction of houses to landless SC/STs

The BJP, too, has been wooing Dalit votes by tying up with popular Madiga leader Manda Krishna Madiga. You can read more about that here.

A new political player in Telangana, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) headed by retired IPS officer RS Praveen Kumar, offers free smartphones and washing machines to women workers – in addition to promises of job creation, land ownership, education.

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Prof Surepally opined: "When we say caste atrocities need to be addressed, that doesn't mean we are countering welfarism. Through schemes like Dalit Bandhu, the community is only getting their fair share – what they deserve and what they have been denied for generations. Parties may see us as vote banks, but welfarism is also important."

So, will welfare schemes make or break the Dalit 'vote bank' in Telangana?

The 'Dalit Bandhu' Question

Dalits, backward castes, and minorities have a history of supporting the Congress in united Andhra Pradesh. This, however, changed after the formation of Telangana, with communities increasingly supporting KCR.

"KCR has the ability to bring various caste associations together, even in villages where these lines are very rigid. He regularly meets with SC, ST, and OBC groups. Maintaining this relationship and organising them are very difficult tasks," opined Pallikonda Manikanta, a Phule-Ambedkarite researcher and political observer.

But KCR's prestigious Dalit Bandhu scheme has not been without hurdles, with many Dalit groups staging protests claiming they haven't received any benefits over the last two years – and that the beneficiaries of the scheme are chosen by the ruling party in a "biased manner."

Earlier this month, a 26-year-old Dalit man died by suicide allegedly because he was upset over not receiving Dalit Bandhu benefits.

In Vattinagulapally, too, several residents had prevented their three-time BRS MLA (Rajendranagar) T Prakash Goud from entering the village on 15 November, asking him why they did not get benefits of Dalit Bandhu and double-bedroom houses.

The BRS leader from the village acknowledged that while there is some anti-incumbency over the Dalit Bandhu scheme in Vattinagulapally, village-level leaders are "trying their best" to bypass it.

"In some villages, local leaders create a group of five families. The Dalit Bandhu money of Rs 10 lakh might only go to one person, but we encourage that one person to share it with five people – so each person gets Rs 2 lakh. That way, everyone will have something."
BRS leader, on the condition of anonymity

"This is not something that is done officially, but the idea is to help more people," he told The Quint.

Will KCR's Charisma Help?

Manikanta opined that even as there is disappointment among Dalits over the flagship scheme, "there is this fear that the scheme would stop existing if another party comes to power."

"That is the narrative that BRS workers are taking to every home during campaigning," he added.

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KCR himself addressed the Dalit Bandhu issue at a rally in Siddipet recently, wherein he weaved an emotional story of how "the seeds of Dalit Bandhu were sown" in that district – and how no one would be left out of the scheme.

"KCR also has this charisma, which helps him get away with certain things. Before the formation of Telangana, he had said the first chief minister of the state would be a Dalit. After his first term, he justified going back on his promise by saying that people gave him a second term."
Pallikonda Manikanta

He manufactures this legitimacy through his welfare policies and social engineering mechanism, Manikanta added, saying: "KCR's appeal, articulation, and social engineering techniques keep issues like caste atrocities from being a poll issue. For example, if there is a case of violence, then there would be the promise of compensation. That's how the 'erasure concept' of social justice works."

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