Over the last two months, Karnataka has witnessed a rise in attacks against Dalits. From being denied entry into a temple in North Karnataka’s Kushtagi, to land getting usurped in Old-Mysuru region, the state has witnessed several atrocities against Dalits in the recent past.
In an attempt to fight caste-based atrocities, organisations such as Dalit Sangharshana Samiti, Dalit Help Society, Dalit Sangha and other local outfits have started to unite people, gather for meetings, hold protests, and also extend legal assistance to those affected across the state.
The Quint spoke to Dalit leaders to examine how activists are helping survivors of caste-based violence and mobilising people in the state.
A Look at Recent Caste-Based Atrocities in Karnataka
According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, Karnataka registered over 1,673 cases of crimes and atrocities against scheduled castes, which account for 16 percent of the overall crimes that have taken place in the state, in the year 2021.
At present, Karnataka which is prepping itself for elections is witnessing more cases of crimes and discrimination against Dalits.
Between the months of August and October 2022, The Quint identified 10 cases, where people from the scheduled castes were targeted, attacked, and socially boycotted.
A caste-Hindu landlord and a private education trust allegedly encroached upon a Dalit farmer's two acres of land and started fencing it in Anekal in August this year. When activists from Bengaluru, helped Ramesh NM, a small land owning Dalit farmer, the dominant caste group filed fake cases of theft against the farmer and the activists.
On 24 August, massive protests broke out in Hassan, after right-wing Hindutva vigilantes attacked a Dalit man, accusing him of cow slaughter. Hundreds of Dalits marched to the city centre and demanded immediate arrest of the Bajrang Dal members who were responsible for having attacked Manjunath Kumar, the former vice-president of Halasulige grama panchayat.
The family of a 15-year-old Dalit boy was threatened with social boycott and was fined Rs 60,000 by village panchayat members, as the boy entered the village temple and accidentally touched the holy pole next to the deity on 8 September 2022.
On 16 September, an inter-faith couple were attacked by right-wing Hindutva activists in Chikkamagaluru. Over six people belonging to the Bajrang Dal and its affiliate organisations pushed the couple from stairs and also assaulted the Muslim man who intended to marry the Dalit girl.
In Yadagiri, apart from social boycott that families face, there were reports of how Dalit families were being denied permission to carry out the last rites of the dead. On 18 September, Ramappa and his family faced social boycott after they were not allowed to bury the body of an elder in their family who died of natural causes. The family members carried the corpse on their shoulders and performed the rites on the other side of the river bank.
In a shocking incident, a 14-year-old Dalit boy was tied to a pole and was beaten using a cane by caste-Hindus in Chikkaballapura's Kempadenahalli on 1 October 2022. The villagers accused the boy of having stolen gold earrings of a girl he was playing with. A case was registered in Chintamani police station against the perpetrators and the Dalit family was given a compensation of Rs 25,000.
Caste Hindus in Kolar's Danavahalli attacked members of the Dalit community, after the latter requested that the Utsava Murthi be brought through the streets during Dasara celebrations. However, when the caste-Hindu villagers denied, the argument escalated resulting in dominant castes attacking the Dalits, on 5 October 2022.bMore than six people were injured.
Muniraju, a Dalit resident of Gottaluru who was visiting Gangamma temple in Doddaballapur was thrashed by caste Hindus for having performed a puja in the temple premises on 9 October 2022.
A coffee estate owner identified as Jagadeesh Gowda and his son Tilak Gowda were arrested for holding 14 Dalit women labourers captive and for having assaulted a 20-year-old pregnant woman. The incident took place on 11 October, in Chikkamangaluru. As of now, the 14 labourers have been rescued, but the doctors treating Arpita, a woman labourer, were not able to save her unborn child.
On 12 October, Dalits in Tumakuru's Gubbi were denied entry inside a Hindu temple by the caste-Hindu priest. The incident was caught on camera, where one can see the priest threatening Dalits for having entered the premises.
Dalits Mobilise As Crimes Against SCs Increase in Karnataka
In each of the crimes that took place in the last two months, Dalit organisations have played a huge part in assisting the victim-survivors with legal help.
Apart from trying to provide them with justice, the Dalit groups have also mobilised masses and organised protests demanding swift action from the government.
In Kolar's Ullerahalli, where a the 14-year-old Dalit boy was fined for having entered a temple, Dalit Sangharshana Samiti organised a massive rally called 'Ullerahalli Chalo,' where thousands of people marched to the temple in Maasthi and hoisted the Ambedkar-Buddhist flag on top of the temple.
In an interaction with The Quint, R Mohan Raj, Dalit leader said, “Last month we carried out the Ullerahalli Chalo protest in Kolar. Our intention was not to insult any religion, but to assert our identity. Along with thousands of our brothers (Dalit community members), the family which faced social boycott entered the temple as a protest against discrimination.”
Similarly, a march was also organised in Hassan and Chikkamangaluru, where Dalit activists led by Srinivas K of Dalit Sene backed the inter-faith couple who wished to get married in a sub-registrar office in September.
Speaking to The Quint, Activist MG Pruthvi said:
"There are multiple organisations working for the right of Dalits in our state. However, the volunteers on ground are all connected to each other. We keep track of situations where SCs and STs are being discriminated and bring it up in our weekly meetings. Apart from assisting them with legal help, we also discuss ways to raise these issues politically."
Members of Dalit Sangharasha Samithi, Dalit Hakkugala Sangha and Dalita Sene hold separate weekly meetings which are attended by all the volunteers under the chairmanship of their respective district convener.
Activist Venugopal MC of Dalit Sangharasha Samiti told The Quint, that over 50-60 volunteers attend the weekly meeting and plan the agenda for the following days. In cases where the situation demands immediate attention, the Dalit organisations reach out to one another and plan the next course of action.
Earlier in September, Dalit leader R Mohan Raj of Dalit Sangharshana Samiti, activist Venugopal and other Dalit volunteers in Bengaluru also helped Ramesh NM, a small land owning Dalit farmer from Anekal who was subjected to land grabbing from caste Hindus in his village.
The same activists who helped farmers in land-grabbing case in Anekal, also held protests in front of DC's office in Chikkaballapura after a Dalit boy was tied to a pole and beaten for allegedly having stolen gold earrings.
"All cases of discrimination against Dalits are important to us. However, our primary focus have been cases of land encroachment, social boycott and violence against women," added R Mohan Raj.
The leader of Dalit Sangharshana Samiti also told The Quint that the first priority of the organisation is to provide assistance to the family of victims and then gather enough information to mobilise people to rally for the cause.
The Dalit organisations also intend to bring together at least 800-1000 people in most of their rallies.
A day after the Dalit pregnant labourer suffered a miscarriage due to an assault by caste-Hindu coffee plantation owner, volunteers from Dalita Sene, Dalit Sangharshana Samiti, Dalit Sangha and Ambedkar Youth took to streets and demanded the arrest of accused.
The protesters also alleged that police failed to respond quickly as the Jagadeesh Gowda had links with the ruling BJP.
Meanwhile, Dalit organisations like the Dalit Sangharshana Samiti, Dalit Help Society, Dalit Sene, Dalit Sangha and Buddhist Society of India have also called for people from the scheduled castes to embrace Buddhism across the state.
Despite the Karnataka government recently passing the Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill 2021, popularly known as the Anti-Conversion Bill, the Golden Cave Buddha Vihar Trust will be organising Buddha Dharma Deeksha, a mega event for Dalits to embrace Buddhism as interpreted by BR Ambedkar.
Leading a group of Dalits, Venaktesh Hosamani, president of Golden Cave Buddha Vihar Trust threw images of Hindu gods into a river, as a symbolic resistance to Hinduism and to indicate that they would embrace Buddhism.
Speaking to The Quint, he said, "Babasaheb Ambedkar revived Buddhism in India and has showed us the way ahead. There is no room for us Dalits in the Hindu fold as they continue to practice caste-based social order. We refuse to accept this."
Meanwhile, in Ullerahalli, Ramesh, the father of the boy who was beaten up for having entered a temple said that the main reason for Dalits Hindus to embrace Buddhism is social exclusion.
Earlier, the family had removed images of Hindu gods from their homes and replaced it with photographs of Ambedkar saying, "Babasaheb's 22 vows clearly paved us a way to come out of Hinduism – a religion that favours one community and treats the other as a pariah."
As of now, more than 1000 Dalits are all said to shun Hinduism on 14 October 2022 in Yadagiri and take their Dharma Deeksha as per Ambedkar's Buddhist school of thought.