A certain Struggle by Rural Dalits in Karnataka

. A poor man dies.
No wood to burn him.
Only the fire in his belly
can burn his dead body.
- old Kannada folk song. (of Dalits?)

Due to their isolation, the poorest of dalits have become hardened against upper class and upper caste pressures. They have none to stand by them. Those of us who have gone higher in social hierarchy due to reservation can not reach them with a helping hand. Yet they manage to solve their local problems by sheer grit.

"..I take rotis to my husband," says Rangamma. " the landlord gives him nothing to eat during work."

"I think, the problem started when we stopped digging graves for the upper caste dead as a forced work."

Digging graves for the upper caste without being paid was a feudal practice forced on dalit villagers. As the dalits began to challenge this practice in the 1980s and 90s, conflicts broke out in several villages.

"Earlier, there was a group within Holeyas called Pedevars (grave diggers). They took this practice as part of their caste duties. But the younger generation got educated and refused to perform this service and also got their parents to retire from it. This annoyed the dominant Lingayat groups"

In Kudumud village of Aland taluk the Ambedkar Sangham, inspired by the Dalit Sangharsha Samiti, fought their burial ground battle. When a 3 yr old girl died, the burial was not allowed by the Lingayat. He asked for cash.

"there are govt funds for SC burial grounds. bring that money to me and bury your dead here.

The girl's body still lay there while the dalits stormed the police station. The girls body was buried under police protection. The burial battle was won 8 years back.

"When we got educated, we simply refusedto give in to these feudal practices..." The youngsters said.

"..some of the enlightened upper caste people were also on our side. since wi had been using the burial place for a long time". This enlightenment was itself a result of earlier battles.

The two glass systems in tea shops being stopped is another saga. The shop owner said that only 20 dalits come to his shop out of 100 in a day. The upper castes threatened to boycott his shop. the DSS inspired agitators smashed the glasses and Ravindra spent 3 days in jail. When the negotiations ended, the upper castes withdrew their custom of separate glasses, Ravindra came out of Jail and dalits dropped the case against him. Nowadays Ravindra hangs around with his friends in the dalit colony. This camaraderie stops at the Hanuman Mandir where only the upper castes can enter.

" He (Hanuman) does not trouble us, So we leave him alone," jokes Kalavati. ( Bajrang Bhakts among us, please excuse.)

There is no temple entry for dalits here.

In Mahagaon, the tehsildar promised money to buy land for a burial ground. Later he turned around and said that there was no money. But the women stuck it out. The authorities when cornered coughed up some money with which the dalits tried to buy a plot from a Lingayat (priestly class). But he came under pressure from his peers. Meanwhile an upper caste school teacher had secretly taken a letter of consent from him thinking that there may be some such trouble.

Now the CPM activists persuaded the Swamy that he would be in deep trouble if he went back on his letter. When the CPM activists raised hell in the village, the Swamy went ahead with the sale.

That evening the village witnessed an unusual event. A deepy embarassed Lingayat Swamy, the reluctant hero, being publicly felicitated by exhuberant dalit women!

The dalit households mostly headed by women (the men were away in mumbai or such other big towns for employment) got a clearly demarcated burial ground.

Now the women want a community hall to '...meet and discuss things,' says Ms Bandamma.

(**based on an article in Hindu Magazine, Delhi, 3 Sept 00.)

Postscript:

Such is the kind of dalit revolution going on in the deepest of villages, far from any urban settlement.

It is this kind of revolutionary fervour that those who are into electoral politics can not tolerate.

The dalits joining CPIML in Bihar is due to : rise in cost of living. dalits ask for rise in wages. upper castes retaliate in kind....driving them into the lap of CPIML and gun toting dalit gangs.

Better we the middle/upper class dalitsshow some interest in the smouldering unrest among our brethren in the backward and rural areas. Or else, the revolution may pass us by.


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