//Acquittal of Kambalapalli accused a setback to Dalits

Acquittal of Kambalapalli accused a setback to Dalits

Bageshree S. The Hindu , 06 Dec 2006

DSS wants the Government to move High Court

# Seven Dalits were burnt alive in their house in Kambalpalli
# Murder of an upper caste waterman was immediate provocation

Bangalore: The acquittal of all the 46 accused in the carnage in Kambalapalli village of Kolar district, in which seven Dalits were burnt alive on March 11, 2000, has come as a huge setback to Dalits and progressive segments of the political spectrum fighting caste hegemony.

When Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy arrives at the Vidhana Soudha on December 6 to garland B.R. Ambedkar's statue to mark the 50th anniversary of the great Dalit leader's conversion to Buddhism, Dalit Sangharsha Samiti and other organisations will hand over a memorandum to him demanding that the Government go on an appeal in the High Court over the verdict.

The organisations are also planning to stage a series of protests.

Faith in judiciary

"Judgments such as this would make Dalits lose faith in the judiciary," Dalit Sangharsha Samiti (Ambedkarvaada) State convenor Mavalli Shankar told The Hindu.

He recalled a series of incidents in Karnataka and other States, including the Kadakol incident in Bijapur district where Dalits faced social boycott and the Kherlanji incident in Maharashtra of rape and murder of Dalits.

Mr. Shankar said that laws to protect Dalits had remained only on paper.

Seven Dalits were burnt alive in their house in Kambalpalli village near Chintamani in Kolar district by an "upper caste" mob on the evening of March 11, 2000.

The incident evoked national outrage in the following months and the issue was raised in Parliament.

Intolerance

Reports in the media and those by fact-finding teams concluded that the incident had its roots in a complex web of socio-political factors including entrenched feelings of upper caste intolerance towards lower castes in the backdrop of the growing Dalit mobilisation.

The murder of an upper caste waterman, responsible for pumping water to drums and buckets, by a Dalit group was the immediate provocation for the massacre in Kambalapalli.

Mr. Shankar alleged that the investigation of the incident was flawed. There was a "sudden" transfer of a fast track court judge "under pressure from upper castes".

The Special Public Prosecutor appointed to handle the case had been withdrawn, he added.

Although the Government kept its promise on building houses for the Dalits of the village, not all have got the promised agricultural land.

SC/ST population

Significantly, of the 27 districts of Karnataka, Kolar has the highest population of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes bordering about 30 per cent of the district's population. They are mostly agricultural labourers working under upper caste landlords.

A report on the atrocity by the Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Adhyayana Kendra, Bangalore, recalls the first recorded incident of caste atrocity in Kolar in 1975 . A Dalit boy was killed because he had passed the PUC with distinction, while an upper caste boy from the same village had failed. The accused in this case were acquitted for lack of evidence. There have been a series of clashes following this in Kolar.

Fact-finding report

A 30-page fact-finding report by People's Democratic Forum, a human rights group based in Bangalore, titled "Burnt lives, burning issues," says: "The spurt of attention that the Dalit carnage has received from the media and political leaders seems to focus exclusively on the immediate convulsions that caused the deaths without any serious attempt to locate them in a broad socio-political context."

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Reaction to acquittal guarded in Kambalapalli

Parvathi Menon, The Hindu , 06 Dec 2006

What can one man do, asks witness who turned hostile

Kambalapalli: "What can one man do? They have given all the witnesses money," said M. Venkatrayappa, whose wife Ramakka, sons Sriramappa and Anjaneya and daughter Papamma were among the eight Dalits who were burnt to death in Kambalapalli village in Kolar district in March 2000. He was the first prosecution witness among the 40 who turned hostile during the court hearings on the case, leading to the acquittal of all the 32 accused.

"I changed my version in court to save my children and because the wives of the accused begged me to help get their menfolk acquitted," S. Gangulappa, second prosecution witness, told The Hindu.

Kolar district has had a history of caste conflicts that led six years ago to the killing of eight Dalits of a family in a case of caste revenge in Kambalapalli, believed to have been in retaliation to the murder of Krishnappa Reddy, a village functionary belonging to the "upper castes."

The reaction to the acquittal was guarded in the village. On a hot afternoon two days after the judgment, the streets were quiet with its working population in the fields and the acquitted away at a function in a nearby village.

A young Dalit man, reluctant to talk or give his name, said he was happy about the news of the acquittal. "There are no differences among us," he said, under the watchful eyes of a group of village residents.

Meanwhile, Maddu Reddy and Venkata Reddy, the two prime accused, along with the others acquitted were being feted by their supporters in a nearby village. Although they were clearly in a jubilant mood, they chose not to appear upbeat.

"There is nothing to celebrate about," said Krishna Reddy. "My father died while I was in jail. I am a contractor… how should I live now?" he asked.

The village, according to them, has not celebrated any function since the event as at least two or three persons from each house was in jail under non-bailable arrest.

No sense of fear

In `mini'-Kambalapalli, a village nearly 40 km away where 66 Dalit families related to the victims were relocated following the killings, the mood is different. There is no immediate sense of fear. "They can't do anything to us here," said Venkatrayappa.

The Dalits were given houses by the then Congress Government soon after the incident. Their village has broad roads, street lights, a primary school and a community hall — a far cry from the cramped and deprived conditions under which they lived in Kambalapalli.

The families were also promised two acres of agricultural land each. As many as 44 families have been given one acre and 10 guntas of land. The rest are yet to get their share.

Behind the legal proceedings are a complex set of political factors at work with different parties backing different caste interests. "We know that the Reddys have the support of the present Government. The Dalit Sangharsh Samiti has also compromised and we feel let down," said B. Jagadeesh, a B.Ed student in `mini'-Kambalapalli.

"We are scared of being evicted again," he added.