Caste in India is a terrible thing. It can surface anywhere in a weirdest manner and forms. In the Chitradurga district of Karnataka, famed for the rule of Nayakas, the chieftain whose descendents have strangely found a place in the schedule for Tribes, prepared by the independent India to do them social justice, it still survives in its pristine glory. Nayakas, who in no way reflect their regal connection today however have a complex of being the rulers of the region for over two centuries after the fall of Vijayanagara empire and until Hyder Ali dislodged them in 1779.
Their ancestors were known for their bravery that had compelled the mighty Vijayanagara king to concede Chitradurga governorship to their Timmanna Nayaka and which had returned Hyder Ali’s attack twice before he finally managed to defeat them; they try out their bravery over the poor Madigas in every village. Result, a strange and bizarre casteism perpetrated by the Scheduled Tribes over the Scheduled Castes that are uncritically clubbed together as ‘dalits’.
The misdoings of Nayakas have been pervasive but occasionally they precipitated into a notable incident that found place in local newspaper but rarely leaked past the district boundaries. Through the network of rights and dalit activists the attenuated whispers of crime sometimes reached out. Taking a cumulative stock of them we organized a fact finding cum a survey of the condition of Madigas, the victims of the Nayaka overlordship. Along with me Adithya of PUCL, Karnataka, Abhishek of Swabhimani Dalit Shakti, Bangalore and Harish of Pedestrian Pictures, Bangalore comprised the team. Within our resources we just managed to visit four villages on two days, 27 and 28 October 2010 and scratch the veneer of quietude they wore and sense the terrible undercurrent of caste atrocities.
While all the villages superficially projected a macro picture of Madigas being traditionally oppressed by the Nayakas into submission, the micro reality revealed streak of awakening among the former. Although the poverty and numbers of Madigas rendered them generally tolerant to the tyranny of relatively rich and numerous Nayakas, there were enough signs that they were prepared to resist. The very incidents of atrocities were rather the proof enough that the Madigas were resisting. Submission does not beget atrocity; resistance definitely does. The attitude of the administration and the media was typically apathetic. They would first get into denial mode and then would jump onto generalizations that such happenings were not unique to the district and could be found all over the state. May be, but then it is more terrible!
Bhagyama of Laxmisagara
There was a shocking incident last year of 30-40 people attacking and parading a hapless dalit woman naked in a village Laxmisagara, some – km away from Chitradurga. Bhagyama and her husband Sukanand, who live now in distant Kolar district, where Bhagyama was given a job in a school by the government, had come on one of their dates to attend the court. Bhagyama, a well built young woman in her twenties narrated her harrowing tale wiping the tears welling into her eyes as she spoke. She was attacked because the Nayakas suspected her to be behind the elopement of their girl –Mamata with a Madiga boy- Kumar. Mamata and Kumar, in love with each other, had run away from home to Davangere on 17 January 2009 to marry. The Nayaka mob entered Bhagyama’s house, beat her up and her husband, tore her clothes away, paraded her naked to the panchayat office and locked her up there. Three other boys, Ashok, Manju and Kippesamy, who came to help her also got beaten Some one reported the matter to Baramsagara police station. When the police arrived, they picked up Bhagyaman in the same state, her husband along with the three youth to the police station. When they stopped at a dhaba for breakfast, a person recognised Bhagyama and gave her a cloth to wear but the police did not allow her. She just wrapped it round her bare body. At the police station they took her signatures on blank papers and threatened her that they would burn her if she spoke about it outside.
The Nayakas, with the help of Baramsagara police station learnt of the whereabouts of Kumar and Mamata and went to Davangere. They had married and were at the Gandhinagar police station. While the Baramsgara Police were bringing them back at 9.30 pm, on the way the Nayakas attacked Kumar but he managed to escape. Mamata was brought home and taken to the police station the next day. It was only when Mamata testified that Bhagyama did not have any role in their affair, that the police had released her. She was admitted into the government hospital for eight days for severe bleeding at her private parts. Police did not take any action and rather registered a counter case on her along with other Madiga boys. S Anjanayya, Ex MLA was prepared to settle the matter but later denied that such an incident ever took place. He said that the Madiga youth had committed a mistake and hence the Nayakas had beaten some Madiga boys. Only after the matter was flashed in DNA of 27 January 2010 the things began to shake. The Swabhimani Dalit Shakthii (SDS) organised a rally in Chitradurga town wherein Bhagyama publicly narrated her plight before over 1000 people. The DC and SP who were in denial mode until then took cognisance of the crime and arrested one Nayaka youth, Vasant. Around then Udaya TV channel beamed an interview with Shivlingam, president of the SDS, who spoke out all the details of this case. The CM ordered an enquiry into the incident and Bhagyama was given Rs. 25000 and a job in Morarji Desai Residential School, Dodda Ballapura in March 2009. She gets Rs. 2000 a month and stay in a rented house. But much of this money goes away in her bus fare when she has to commute to Chitradurga for her case and the counter case filed by Nayakas.
When we visited her village to see the places and meet with witnesses, the fear was still palpable in the eyes of Madigas even after nearly 10 months were elapsed. We wanted to meet some of the Nayakas but they feared that even we might be insulted or attacked.
Famished Fighters of Hosrangapura
Hosrangapura is relatively a tiny village of 22 Madiga and 85 Nayaka households but has created a big history of caste oppression on account of their battle for land. Initially, the Madigas cultivated 11 acres of Devasthanam land controlled by Nayakas. But later, the Nayakas took away it and drove Madigas to occupy and cultivate 16 acres land at the other end of the village. For some years this arrangement went smooth but the Nayakas began asking the land as gomala (grazing) land. Nayakas attacked Madigas in 1991 when some 4-5 Madigas were injured and a case was filed against Nayakas in the police station. Nayakas got scared and let the Madigas cultivate the land. However, in 2001 the Nayakas filed a case before the civil judge to get the land back as gomala land. The Jr Divisional judge ruled against them in 2006 on the strength of the affidavit of the Tehsildar that the land was under cultivation of the Madigas for over 25 years. Nayakas appealed to Sr Divisional judge, who also ruled in 2009 that the land was not gomala land and opined that the Tehsildar could consider allotting it to the Madigas. Not satisfied with these verdicts, the Nayakas appealed to the High Court but their appeal was dismissed.
After the judicial process established that the land was no gomala land, when the Madigas went to cultivate it in 2010, the Nayakas attacked them allegedly with the support from Chandrappa, the local MLA, injuring many of them.. SDS took up their case and organised a rally in Chitradurga on 15 September 2010 and exposed the matter to the district administration. Nothing however happened because the Bagarhukum committee that allots the land called it a gomala land in defiance of all the court judgements and declined to allot it to the Madigas. It was found that the committee was wrongly constituted. After the agitation of the Madigas under SDS, the government properly constituted it with Basavarajan, MLA, Chitradurga as its chairman. While the administration voiced sympathy for Madigas and even MLA also is said to be in their favour, the fact remains that the Madigas did not get their land back. They had a massive procession in Chitradurga on 29 October which marked a indefinite dharana, starting with the protest of children. The people who get Rs 30 for a whole day’s of hard labour have battled against the powerful Nayakas for the last 10 years for the land they cultivated for more than 25 years and still justice evades them!
Budhihali to Budddhanagar in Desperation
Buddhihalli, some 35 km from a Chellakere town deceptively looked normal, with entire of its Madiga community, save for five blacksheeps, having left it to settle in the makeshift colony which they named Buddhanagar, on the outskirts of Chellakere town to escape oppression of the Nayakas and Golas. Madigas historically worked as bonded labour and faced all kinds of oppression at the hands of powerful Nayaka community. They narrated harrowing stories of how Nayakas could do whatever they wanted, including sex with the Madiga women with impunity. The village had a lot of government land which was auctioned by the panchayat committee every year for cultivation but it always went to Nayakas. Over the years, the Madigas developed aspiration to escape the bondage of the Nayakas. On 22 December 2009 they cleared the bushes on the government land and took them as firewood but were stopped by the Nayakas. On 25 December, Nayakas called a panchayat meeting but the Madiga members refused to participate. They were forcibly taken to the meeting. At that night, around 10.30 pm, Nayakas attacked the Madigas, not sparing even their women and children. From next day, they decided to observe undeclared social boycott. Nayakas wooed five Madiga families on their side and began harassing through them. Many skirmishes took place. The harassment reached such a pitch that Madigas were left with no option than leaving the village. Their exodus stopped at the outskirts of Chellakere.
A local activist Shiv Murthy of Human Rights for Dalit Liberation, Karnataka (HRFDLK) took up their case and exposed the matter to the outside world. DNA of 27 January covered the plight of Madigas, focusing mainly on the sexual abuse of Madiga women. It shocked people and many organizations, such as AIDWA, PUCL rushed for fact finding. All these however failed to wake up the administration which still remains unmoved over the plight of Madigas. On the contrary, it echoes Nayakas’ accusation that Shiv Murthy, who has since left his home and been staying with the Budhihalli Madigas in a hut, as trouble monger.
Tension at Renukapuram
Unlike most villages, Madigas in Renukapuram compared well with the dominant Nayakas in numbers but still they could not resist their oppression because the other communities (Lingayats, Newars, Shettys, etc.) ganged up against them rendering them a miniscule minority. In 1995, the Madigas first raised their voice against the ‘two tumbler system’ being followed in the restaurants. They would be served eatables in old newspapers whereas others were given it in plates. The fight broke out and four Madigas were injured. While they were going to police station in a bus to file a complaint, they were again stopped and 14 people were beaten. The complaint was filed but the Madigas had to flee the village for a fortnight as they were threatened that they would be killed. The village declared social boycott of Madigas. The case ran for 15 years. A compromise was struck and the case was withdrawn. The normalcy prevailed for a couple of months but again the Nayakas started harassing the Madigas. During the last village festival, a Madiga boy was beaten in front of the police sub-inspector for trying to participate in pulling the chariot. A police complaint was filed but the tension in village is built up to such an extent that the customary preparations for the Renuka festival to be observed in November were still not in sight.
In 2007, this village had seen a gruesome murder of a Madiga bonded labourer, Nagendra, who had fallen in love with the daughter of a Lingayat landlord. Nothing ever happened and the case was hushed up as suicide.
The four villages that we visited reflected their specific problems but they all underscored the deep rooted practice of untouchability against the Madigas by the Nayakas, the dominant community in the Chitradurga district. Even the other castes like Lingayats and Golas followed the Nayakas in oppressing the Madigas. This sample study, without any claim to its scientific design, adequately supports the surmise that the entire Chitradurga district (if not beyond) is afflicted with the acute problem of untouchability, declared unlawful through the Constitution. The apathetic attitude of the administration is abominable towards this blatant crime. The civil society, media and even the dalit leaders failed to take up the issues of the victims. The latter divided in various factions appear scoring over each other than working to ameliorate the plight of the Madigas.
Interestingly the perpetrators of the crime here are the people who are scheduled tribes. While, it is stereotypically noted that the Atrocity Act fails to apply to them, it is forgotten that these crimes are cognizable in a normal IPC. Nayakas go scot-free not because of the inapplicability of the Atrocity Act but because of the general bias of the State against the Madigas, the Dalits. This bias marks out the essential character of the contemporary castes that spells a break between the caste Hindus and non-caste Dalits. Tribals, it must be remembered are not untouchables; they are actually not a part of the Hindu social order. The extension of special provisions for the untouchables (SCs) to them was on account of their secular seclusion for a long time and therefore possible bias of the society against them. While there was an objective criterion of untouchability for inclusion of people in the SC-schedule, there was no such objective criterion for inclusion of people in the schedule for tribes. As a result, many powerful communities got included in that schedule, depriving the other genuine tribes from the Constitutional provisions. The examples are replete with the cases of some single tribe in any state usurping all the benefits of the STs. Nayakas are the definite case in Karnataka. It may be noted that many communities agitate for their inclusion into the schedule for tribes (e.g., – in Rajasthan) but none demands being included as the scheduled caste.
It exposes the folly of definitional adventurism of Dalits that casually combines the untouchables and tribes or the bahujan strategy of the politicians and their cohorts that conceives the merger of castes against the imagined enemy of Manuwada, ignoring the material contradictions among these castes. Madigas of Chitradurga were bewildered at the prospects of their emancipation because as anywhere else they are structurally handicapped in the battle against the dominant castes.
Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer, political analysts and civil rights activist with CPDR,
courtesy: counter currents , nov 11/10