Naked assault Crime: Dalit woman is stripped and paraded for two hours in Karnataka
Yeramma lies on her hospital bed writhing in pain. But the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of five men and three women on August 26 is nothing compared to the scars on her mind. Every now and then she groans and shuts her eyes as if to hold back memories of the way she was stripped, beaten, spat upon and paraded naked for two hours through the dusty streets of Vanenur village in Bellary district, north Karnataka.
"Look at her properly," yelled her drunken tormentors, who belonged to the rich Valmiki caste (a scheduled tribe). "You may never see this again." Each time Yeramma tried to cover herself, they would kick and cane her hands. Her husband Yenappa, who belongs to the "lowest of the low" Dasara case (scheduled caste), was forced to follow his wife in silence.
Yeramma's fault-one which she denies-was encouraging a Valmiki girl to elope with a Dasara boy. "They kicked me, stamped my face and my stomach," recalled Yeramma, who is in her early forties. "I begged the three women to spare me; told them I was a woman like them."
When Yeramma's daughter Honamma, mother of a one-month-old baby, tore off a part of her tattered sari and tried to cover her mother, one of the drunken men kicked her so hard that she fell into a pile of garbage.
Yeramma was then told to stand beside the flag post at the Gram Panchayat office for half an hour, and forced to plead guilty. "Now, you can give her the clothes," someone said, at which Yenappa took off his lungi and covered his wife.
Yenappa's brother Vanrappa had, meanwhile, slunk off to neighbouring Banapura to call the police. They arrested the eight main accused. But less than a day later, they were out on bail from the Bellary judicial magistrate. When Dalit and women's organisations protested, the police took them and 12 other Valmikis and produced them before the taluk magistrate, who remanded them to judicial custody till September 12.
Nobody can tell how Yeramma's name came to be associated with the eloping, a month ago, of Keshanna, 20 and Maremma, 15. The girl's parents-who are now in custody-traced Maremma out on August 24, and immediately began blaming Yeramma for the 'kidnap'.
"I was not even in the village when that happened," said Yeramma, who was at her daughter's house in Gullem village in Andhra Pradesh. For a week, men from the Valmiki community harassed Yeramma, asking her to appear before the gram panchayat and admit her "guilt". Yeramma insisted she was innocent. On August 26, when news reached that "they are coming for you", Yenappa suggested that they leave the village for some time, but Yeramma said: "Why should we go. I have done nothing wrong."
Attacks on Dalits in Bellary district have been touching new highs. In 2000-2001, there were over 120 cases of atrocities. More than 50 per cent of these were committed by the Valmikis, the landed gentry in these parts who wield substantial political and cash clout. As in Yeramma's case, the culprits were booked under the Prevention of Civil Rights Act, a bailable offence.
"In Karnataka, Valmikis were included in the scheduled tribe category only six years ago," said D. Yeriswamy, a Dalit leader. "Thus they cannot be booked under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocity Act. We are now demanding that they be dropped from the ST category."
Meanwhile, Yeramma's wait for justice has just begun. She has refused the compensation money, land and house offered to her by state Congress president Allum Veerabhadrappa, who represents this assembly segment. Hopefully, the Dalit women and human rights groups in the district, which have formed a joint forum to fight her case, will help achieve it for her.