Print edition : August 19, 2016

Dalit youths of Shantipura village who were assaulted by Hindutva groups for allegedly slaughtering a cow. Photo: Prakash Hassan

The recent attack on Dalits by hoodlums in a Karnataka village, for allegedly killing a cow, is the latest instance of the Hindu right wing’s increasing belligerence.

A DAY before the shocking video of Dalit men being brutally beaten by a group of people for allegedly skinning a dead cow in Una in Gujarat surfaced on July 11, five Dalits were attacked by a Hindutva group at Shantipura village near Jayapura (Chikkamagaluru), about 300 kilometres from Bengaluru, for allegedly stealing a cow and slaughtering it. Bajrang Dal activists, numbering about 25, armed with sticks and other weapons, attacked five Dalits of the village, Balaraj (56), Muthappa (26), Dhanush (24), Sandeep (20) and Ramesh (35).

Balaraj, a physically challenged person, said: “They beat me and others up for nearly an hour. They were all Bajrang Dal activists and they attacked us even after the arrival of two police constables.” The incident came to light only two weeks later, on July 23, when Komu Souharda Vedike, a forum for communal harmony, held a press conference.

The Dalits had allegedly slaughtered a cow when Hindutva activists barged into Muthappa’s place. They informed the police, who arrested three of the Dalits, while Ramesh and Sandeep escaped. They were slapped with charges under the Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, besides the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. They were released on bail the next day after they were produced before a judicial magistrate. The police seized a carcass weighing about 60 kg. “When the police took us to the station, we were not allowed to tell them what actually happened. If we had done something wrong, the police are free to act. But who are these goons to attack us?” asked Balaraj. All the Dalits are primarily engaged as agriculture workers and have no landholdings. They work in plantations, earning up to Rs.300 a day when there is work. In recent years, the younger generation has got into other jobs such as driving, painting and construction work, which earn them slightly better wages.

After they were released on bail, Sunandamma, Muthappa’s mother, filed a complaint against the attackers under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The complainant identified seven attackers—Annu, Sampath, Santhosha, Manjushree, Rajesh, Sundresha and Sandeep—all residents of Jayapura and nearby villages. They got anticipatory bail.

The accused have been identified with Hindutva groups, primarily the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Hindu Jagarana Vedike. They are known to regularly participate in the events of all these groups, though they are primarily activists of the Bajrang Dal, which was the first among the pro-Hindutva groups to start activities in the district. These groups have found ground in the district since the 1990s, particularly after their attempts to take over the Sufi shrine, Guru Dattatreya Baba Budan Swamy Dargah, in the Baba Budangiri range of hills near Chikkamagaluru.

The activities that began with the shrine as the focus gradually involved other issues like cow protection and opposing the entry of plantation workers from Assam into the estates in the district over the years. “When I was a young boy, cattle slaughter was not a ‘crime’. I used to slaughter the animals in broad daylight and sell beef in the streets close to a police station. Then nobody questioned me. Only after the Bajrang Dal gained strength did beef eating become an ‘offence’,” said Balaraj. Bajrang Dal activists have often stopped vehicles transporting cattle and informed the police. In some cases, the activists have allegedly assaulted people in the cattle trade.

Praveen Khandya, a native of Khandya near Balehonnur and vibhagiya pramukh of the VHP, is among those who have organised the Hindutva groups in Koppa and Sringeri taluks. Khandya has nearly 25 cases against him, including 16 in the Balehonnur police station for rioting, assault, kidnap, wrongful confinement and illegal assembly. He has been absconding since the Basavanahalli police in Chikkamagaluru town registered a case against him and four others in connection with the kidnapping of a financier for ransom on July 4. Interestingly, a police officer, who later allegedly committed suicide, is also an accused in this case. Those opposing the Hindutva groups allege that the leaders of these groups enjoy the tacit support of the police, which is what emboldens them to act as “enforcers”.

The victims of the Shantipura incident allege that they were assaulted in the presence of police constables, but the police deny that. “The goons also asked the police that we be forced to carry the carcass of the animal in a procession in the village, but fortunately, that did not happen,” said Balaraj. He recalled a similar incident near Heruru in Koppa taluk in 2006 when three cow slaughterers were forced to march with the carcass in the village.

Opponents of Hindutva groups allege that the activists, using caste and social ties, have developed contacts with local police officers, which enables them to act with impunity. As recently as July 12, a gang led by a known Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporter stopped a vehicle allegedly carrying cattle near Koppa and informed the police. The police registered a case against Ramesh and Muttu, both belonging to Bhadravati in Shivamogga district. In this case too, before the police could reach the spot, the accused were assaulted by the group. It is said the victims were pressured to not file a case.

Besides the police, these groups have the support of the people’s representatives of the BJP, particularly former Ministers C.T. Ravi and D.N. Jeevaraj, whose constituencies fall in the district. Incidentally, both cut their political teeth as activists of the Bajrang Dal, the VHP and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh before joining the party. Both are three-time MLAs and they have a hold over the youths involved in these groups.

Jeevaraj, who was recently appointed president of the party’s Chikkamagaluru district unit, held a press conference in Chikkamagaluru on July 26 to defend the Bajrang Dal activists accused in the Shantipura case. He claimed that those who had been accused of assaulting the Dalits were innocent. “Nobody was assaulted in the incident. Congress party leaders are making use of Dalits for their political reasons. Only three Bajrang Dal leaders had gone to help the police find the place where the animal was slaughtered, but the case has been registered against seven,” he alleged. Accusing Congress leaders of running a cattle trade racket in the district, Jeevaraj said cows were being stolen and slaughtered to feed “Bangladeshi infiltrators” working in many estates in the district. Hindutva groups often term Assamese people working in coffee estates as “illegal migrants” or “terrorists” from Bangladesh.

Attacks on Assamese

Two residents of Assam were allegedly beaten up by a gang of Bajrang Dal workers near Alduru near Chikkamagaluru on July 25. A group of about 60 workers had just arrived from Assam and were heading to their estates when Bajrang Dal workers stopped them and asked them to go back. Following an argument with them, two Assam youths were assaulted and one of them fell unconscious. The police admitted him to a government hospital in Chikkamagaluru. The Alduru police have registered a case for “rioting” and “attempt to murder” against 10 people. Six of the accused were arrested on July 26.

Beef is part of the diet of Muslims and Dalits in the district. Until recently, there were many beef stalls in the district. However, they were all closed during the BJP’s rule, and the beef-eaters had no place to get their food. “We cannot afford costly mutton or pork. Beef is the only affordable non-vegetarian food for us,” said Baby, a resident of Shantipura.

Workers from Assam who have settled in coffee estates also look for beef at least once a week. Ramu Kouli, district secretary of the Dalit Kriya Samiti, said: “Food is the personal choice of an individual. I cannot force my habit on others and controlling one’s food habits through laws is not acceptable. Interestingly, the majority of those opposing beef are non-vegetarians who eat mutton or pork regularly.” The absence of a system to fulfil the need of a section of the people is said to be one of the reasons for repeated incidents involving “beef”. One of the reasons for opposing the entry of Assam workers into the estates is that they eat beef.

According to the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964, cow slaughter is an offence. Cattle slaughter is allowed only with a licence. The law allows the slaughter of animals over the age of 12 years and those that have become permanently incapacitated for breeding. Violations under this act attract a fine up to Rs.1,000 or imprisonment up to six months or both. While the law has been in the statutes for many years, until recently they were not enforced for the simple reason that there are just too many people, especially the poor, who are dependent on beef as a cheap source of protein. Santosh Babu, Superintendent of Police, Chikkamagaluru, told Frontline that cattle slaughtering cases had been reported for several years because “a large section of the people eat beef”. It is the increasingly aggressive nature of Hindutva that portrays this as an “illegality” that deserves to be punished with brutal violence, often with the police looking the other way.

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