Turning Point

KS Dakshina Murthy
Hindustan Times

A mere three hours out of cybercity Bangalore and one is in Kambalahalli, the back of beyond. The glitzy, First World wannabe metropolis gives way to a gives way to a starkly poor village, where communities fight over water, everyone is moored by their caste tags, talk of development evokes a cynical grunt, and Dalits are routinely bullied.

Indeed, as long as the Dalits kowtowed to the dominant Reddy Vokkaligas, “peace” reigned. Stray assertions were fiercely put down, and the occasional deaths never made it to the news.

Kambalapalli, as all of Kolar district, is incorrigibly casteist. Feudal equations prevail. Invisible lines are drawn. Only the Dalits can sense them, and they dare not cross them. Those who do, die. Locals estimate that in the last two years, 75 Dalits have been killed in skirmishes with Reddys in the district.

But last Saturday, Dalits created history when they killed Krishna Reddy, a waterman. For the first time, a Reddy had been slain by Dalits.

The previous day, Krishna had beaten Anjanappa, a Dalit, with a stick. Anjanappa did the unthinkable. Next evening, he thrust a knife into Krishna, killing him on the spot.

Anjanappa escaped but retaliation was swift. A furious Reddy mob surrounded two houses, where three other Dalits, friends of Anjanappa who did not take part in the killing, lived. They set the houses afire. All five inmates of the first house died, and two of the five in the second.

Among the seven Dalits killed was schoolteacher Anjanappa (different from the Anjanappa who stabbed Krishna Reddy.) This did not happen perchance. Local Dalits assert the Reddy Vokkaligas resent educated Dalits, and use any opportunity to humiliate or neutralise them.

Though the district administration and state government made all the right noises after the incident, a visit to the Battalahalli hospital makes it clear that there is not much care for the three who survived the fire. One with terrible burns moans in agony. A Dalit youth angrily points out the shallowness of the government’s offer, saying, “Could they not have provided a nurse to look after him? This was the least they could have done.”

Trouble had been brewing for the last two years over an attempt to start a unit of the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (DSS). The move to open DSS units was clearly seen as a threat by the Reddys, who responded with Vokkaliga Sanghas across the district. Thus, given their traditionally uneasy relationship, tension between the two communities had quickly reached flashpoint.

The Reddys had virulently opposed the formation of a unit in Battalahalli, five km from Kambalahalli, and a local DSS convenor, Shivanna, had become their target.

Two years ago, the Reddys mistook Shivanna to be in a police jeep approaching Battalahalli. They attacked the jeep, killing three policemen. One Reddy youngster was killed in the return fire. This incident, after many twists and turns, culminated in last week’s massacre.

Venkataramana, an associate of Shivanna, was another target. His crops were damaged and his 30 sheep stolen. Venkataramana did the most natural thing — he went to the police. But he had crossed an invisible line. The Reddys killed him for such temerity. Waterman Krishna Reddy was among the suspects.

Politicians exploited the hostility. When Krishna Reddy had beaten Anjanappa, a local politician who had unsuccessfully contested the recent gram panchayat elections, was said to have instigated the Dalits to file a police complaint. When the Dalits went to do so, the opposing group applied political pressure of its own, and the complaint was not registered. Angered by this, Anjanappa killed Krishna Reddy.

Observes Shivshankar Magadi, Dalit activist and brother of rebel poet Siddalingaiah: “The MP here is a Dalit, the state home minister is a Dalit, three senior police officials are Dalits, but protection to Dalits is zero.”

This situation prevails despite more Dalits getting educated. Many are frustrated at the absence of job opportunities. A first-generation educated Dalit, Lakshmana Raju, who works for a local newspaper, says he wonders why he got educated: “It would have been better if we had been illiterate. Some Reddy landlord would have employed and looked after us. Now that we are educated, they don’t want to touch us and we don’t have any other avenue for employment.”

Kamabalapalli is hardly a kilometre from the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh, a hotbed of Naxalite activity. The People’s War Group has approached Dalits on the Karnataka side with a view to spreading their organisation. The DSS has so far resisted their overtures.

But with the anger generated by the latest incident, the feeling here is that the situation is now conducive for the entry of Naxalites. The DSS is hopelessly divided. In Kolar district, two factions (one led by Shivanna and the other by Muniswamy) vie for control along with the Bahujan Samaj Party.

This is a turning point, asserts H Ramakrishna, a local publisher. For the first time, a Dalit dared kill a Reddy, and also for the first time, the Reddys retaliated so brutally. With political consciousness increasing and more Dalits becoming educated, the Reddys will be forced on the defensive. But not before much blood-letting.

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