Honamma's murder

report translated by Cynthia Stephen

On June 30th 2010, Karnataka woke up to hear the news of Honamma's horrific murder, killed with stone slabs by an upper caste mob of men. A year since, there seems to be no substantial progress in this case. We hope more awareness about it might expand and strengthen the struggle for justice for Honamma and also help us understand why assertive dalit women continue to be brutally attacked and murdered in modern India -Round Table India.

The study of the status of Dalit women in Karnataka has been difficult. There are very few success stories of Dalit women. Where they have been successful, they have also been difficult to pin down, as they are very busy with their day-to-day work. But there are many stories of women who were brave, assertive, and fearless in the public sphere, but they are also dead.

Honnamma (40), a Madiga dalit woman lived in Gopalpura village, Huliyur Hobli, Chikkanayakanahalli Taluk of Tumkur district of Karnataka. It is located about 3 kms from Hobli and about 25 km from the taluk centre. In falls under the Handikeri police station. The village is a small one, with just 4 Madiga households. The other residents include Madivalas – 20 houses, Eediga – 40 households (local dominant caste), Kuruba -10, Koracha – 10, Gangamathasthas – 10, Rayaru – 10, Upparas – 10, and Vaddas – 10. Other than the Madigas, most other households are OBC caste houses.

The story of Honnamma begins with her marriage at an early age. She has a son Manjunath (24), but was separated from her husband long ago. Since then she has been raising her son by herself, working and living with her partner, a man from her village, but belonging to a higher caste – Eediga, known as Dhaba Nagaraj (he ran a small dhaba in the village, with Honnamma’s help).

Honnamma was an assertive woman who did not easily get cowed down, and as long as ten years ago, her hut had been burnt down by some Eediga men of the village who had tried to intimidate her. Such quarrels/disagreements existed over the past 15 years between her and other caste men in the village.

After a few years she joined the BJP as a local worker, and quickly became more active and visible. Soon she was made the Vice President of the Taluk level BJP unit. She began to interact with officials of the local panchayat, the local politicians, even state-level political leaders and became known as a strong Dalit woman leader. Some anti-Dalit men in the village did not like this. Others from the Eediga community began to spread stories alleging that she was of loose morals, and alleged that she spent time in Hotels (lodges) with political leaders in Tumkur and Bangalore. These people just could not accept how an illiterate, dalit – that too a Madiga, and a mere woman rise in stature and move as an equal among political leaders. Men from Eediga, Kuruba, Uppara and Madivala castes resented her advancement.

In such a situation, in May-June 2010, she had an altercation about payments with the contractors (Vadda community men from another town, Channarayapatna) who were carrying out the work of laying roads and drains in the area. Finding this opportunity, some miscreants carried some cement and steel used in the work and left it in her house stealthily during the night. In the morning, they went and complained against her in the Handikeri police station. She was arrested and released on bail.

In 2009, there had been severe damage in the village due to rains. She had led a dharna protesting against the local JD (S) legislator, Mr. Suresh Babu, to force him to work for the release of compensation to the farmers for crop loss. The legislator had to come in person to the spot to persuade her to withdraw her dharna.

The local police were well aware of the simmering tension against her in the village over 10-15 years. Honnamma had often requested the police for protection, but they ignored her requests.

After getting bail in the concocted case, she returned to the village on 30th June, and went straight to the house of her friend Meenakshamma and sat on a bench at the entrance. All at once a mob of some 20-30 men attacked her, in public, just near the bus stop, beating her up ruthlessly. They tore off her clothes and abused her in very filthy language, and pushed and kicked her into the drain next to the road. Honnamma fell unconscious, and after a while she regained consciousness and moved her hand signaling for water to drink. At this, the mob, finding her alive, pulled her out of the drain on to the footpath, and crushed her to death by throwing construction stones lying at the side. The attack lasted half an hour. Honnamma’s friend who tried to come to her rescue was fended off by threatening her life as well.

This gang included Rangaswamy, Gram Panchayat President Raja, Appanna, Venkatesh, Muthyalappa, Umesh, Meese Venkataswamy, Eedigara Nanjunda, Satya . Including Honnamma’s relative Ranga-Subba and some Kurubas, there were a total of about 30 people.

Findings of the Fact-Finding Committee which enquired into the death of Honnamma, a Dalit woman.

On 3/7/2010, at 4 pm, the following persons went to Gopalpura Village, Chikkanayakanahalli Taluk, Huliur Hobli, Tumkur District: Sri Kunduru Thimmayya, District Coordinator, Dalit SAngharsha Samiti; Sri C.S. Parthasarathy, State Secterary, Karnataka state Madiga Human Rights forum, K. B Obalesh, State Coordinator, Janaarogya Andolana Karnataka,Sri Bharat Kumar, Secretary, Dalit Sangharsha Samiti, Madhugiri. The Fact-Finding committee enquired into the barbaric killing of Srimathi Honnama, to collect the facts, and to sift through the facts and falsehoods surrounding her death.

The fact that the committee uncovered:

  • Honnamma, although illiterate, was a strong Dalit political woman leader who had come up on her own hard work without any support or backing.
  • The local village dominant castes such as Eedigas, Kurubas, Madivalas,Vaddas resented her as, being a mere Madiga women, she has come up to such prominence.
  • The Eedigas were especially angry with her as her second husband, Dhaba Nagaraj, was from their community.
  • Honnamma used to question the practice of caste in the village, the irregularities (corruption) in the gram panchayat. Thus she had become an irritant to many in the village. Further, they thought her to be sexually available and began to get attracted to her. But she did not allow anyone to take such liberties with her.
  • Five to six years ago, the same group had made a murderous attack on her and burn down her hut.
  • In the flood situation last year, Gopalpura village had undergone heavy rain damage. She had protested the inaction of the authorities, and forced the local MLA had come to discuss the matter. At thetime, there had been an altercation on political party lines and caste lines – (How can we accept a mere SC woman not giving respect to the legislator?)
  • Her second husband Dhaba Nagaraj used her caste identity as a screen under which he carried out his business and his illegal activities. Whenever he faced any problems, he used to send her to the police station to complain that the village people were harassing her as she was a Dalit woman.
  • The local police station of Handikeri and the DySP are also responsible for her murder. She had complained many times to them about the fear of threats to  her life, and the sexual harassment she faced but they took no action. Also, just 2 hours before the murder, her killers had been found sharing coffee and cigarettes with the police officials of Handikeri, and planning the killing.
  • They had clear knowledge of her impending murder and could have averted or prevented it if they wanted.
  • This is clearly also a political issue, involving the JD(S) and the BJP; the fact that the Madiga woman was coming up as a notable leader politically and socially was an important reason.

Recommendations of the Fact finding committee:

  • The killers of Honnamma must be booked under the various sections of the PoA Act 1989 including the charges of murder, outraging the modesty, sexual assault, humiliation and physical assault in a public place, damage to her house and personal goods, and all other applicable punishments must be ensured.
  • Honnamma murder case must be conducted in a fast-track court and none of the suspects must be given bail.
  • The eyewitnesses in the case Meenakshamma and her family members must be given police protection.
  • The DySP and the local police officials must be suspended at once.
  • Honnamma’s son Manjunath (who is studying BBM) must be given a compensation of 10 lakhs and a government job.
  • The Madiga families of Gopalpura must be given 5 acres of land and agriculture compensation and related assistance each.

Press coverage:

Kannada Prabha (Tumkur edition): Cheelur Venkatesh criticizes lack of justice to Dalits Monday 5th July 2010

Kannada Prabha : Silent protest against killing of Honnamma in Chikkanayakanahalli by Taluk coordinator of DSS, Narayan, inviting the participation of progressive and humanitarian individuals in the protest. Monday 12th July 2010

BJP condemns Honnamma murder; Let the guilty be punished : Suresh Kumar.

Prajavani 5th July Stern action under the PD Act – Gopalpura visit by District Incharge Minister Suresh Kumar. (Pic of him consoling Manjunath son of Honnamma) The crime against Honnamma is something intolerable, and we will see that the perpetrators are given the sternest punishment possible under the PD act, said the minister, addressing a press conference during his visit to the village on Sunday. It is not enough to suspend two Sub-inspectors, they are unworthy of being in the police and must be sacked, he said. He assured Manjunath of a job in the Social welfare Department. Suresh kumar also said a team headed by the DSP HArsha and DyP Shivarudraswamy was constituted to investigate the killing.

4th July , Prajavani: No. of arrests rises to 18: with the arrest of Hanumanthayya, Raju, Venkatesh, Srinivas, Swamy, Venkataswamy, Venkatesh, and Umesh, the number of those arrested in the case of Honnamma has gone up to 18. The case has been registered under a total of 23 persons. The police is on the lookout for the other 5. Including the prime accused Ranganath, 10 are in custody.

The Turuvekere taluk DSS has condemned the barbaric killing of Honamma…

Cheelur ventakesh of the DSS Tumkur has condemned the killing of Honnamma, and alleged that the state has failed in its duty to protect the lives of Dalits. Security has been compromised in Tumkur district, he alleged, saying 15 instances of atrocities against Dalits had been recorded during the term of the present DSP and DySP, and no justice has been done to Dalits in even one case.

Prajavani, 6th July: headline: Honnamma murder “Devilish” : Suresh Kumar (Report of the press conference after his visit to the village on Sunday, giving details of the investigating team, etc.)

Kannada Prabha, 6th July : Kolar: Police mum on Honnamma killing : Santosh Kumar, Dist, Joint Secy of the Karnataka state Dalit Simha Sena, and Organising Secy. Muni Anjaneya allege that the district administration and the police department are trying to cover up the brutal murder of Honnamma.

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Cynthia Stephen is an independent researcher.