Nearly seventy years after the British left India, Independence still hasn’t reached the Dalit keri of a village in northern Karnataka. That’s why 23-year old Vittal Methri has come to Bengaluru to meet the MLA who represents him in the state government, and ask him why his younger brother did not have the freedom to refuse to deliver a letter to an upper caste girl.
Anil Methri (17) died on July 7, a week after he was allegedly assaulted and poisoned by upper caste men in Mirji village in Bagalkot district. His brother Vittal came to Bengaluru on Wednesday, to meet G Manjunath, who was elected from the Mulbagal seat reserved for Scheduled Castes. On his way back to his village that night, Vittal said the MLA assured him that he would raise the issue in the ongoing session of the state Assembly.
On July 1, at around 8.30 pm when Anil and his parents were still at the chappara (a make-shift hut on a field that workers use to rest in) in the fields, four men came and took Anil away, because he had delivered a letter to an upper caste girl.
According to Vittal, a man named Praveen was in a relationship with a girl of the same caste. Praveen had come along with two of his friends had asked Anil to deliver a letter to her earlier that day. “All three boys belonged to the Reddy caste, Anil could not have refused them,” Vittal says.
In the evening, the girl’s father found out and he and three others turned up at the field and took Anil to one of the men’s houses, where they assaulted him. Worried about Anil, their parents followed them there, where they too were assaulted.
Vittal says. “Praveen’s friend Venkanna also joined the girl’s father, neighbours and beat Anil because he thought Anil would spill the beans about what really happened. The assaulted my mother too. Anil somehow managed to escape so that they would let our parents go.”
When all this happened, Vittal was in their house in the Dalit keri, which is around 2.5 km away from the field. “They came home and told me what happened. They said Anil ran away towards the fields and we searched all night, but we could not find him. Finally, we went home at around 2 pm,” Vittal said.
The next morning however, their father Parsappa (Parasuram) found him in the fields in a near unconscious state and brought him home. The family hired a “tom-tom” (a large auto) to take him to the district hospital in Mahalingpur, 10 km away from their home.
However, doctors there said they would have to take him another hospital. “They said he had been poisoned. It was then that Anil told us that they had forced him to consume poison in the fields and left him there that night,” Vittal says.
A page from the post-mortem report, indicating the contents of Anil’s stomach. Doctors have not yet pinpointed the cause of death as the chemical analysis report is awaited.
The second hospital too, repeated what the government hospital said, forcing Anil’s family to shift him to a third hospital, a private one, 90 km away in neighbouring Vijayapura district. “All this happened on July 2,” Vittal says.
When Vittal’s parents went to the Mudhol police station to register a complaint on July 3, the police refused. “They went at around 9.30 in the morning, but they were made to sit until 10.30 that night.”
The next day, Vittal says that a Deputy Superintendent of Police Madhureddy turned up at the station when they went there again and told Vittal not to mention the names of Praveen, Venkanna and Manju, the men who allegedly gave the letter to Anil. A case was registered under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Indicating the copy of the complaint appended to the FIR, Vittal says: “This is not my complaint. They (police) typed it out on the computer, and made me write it down.” After the FIR was filed, the police arrested six people.
A copy of the complaint attached to the FIR, which Vittal says he was made to copy from a page typed out by the police on a computer
Superintendent of Police Iada Martin Marbaniang said that although he was not aware of the allegation that the Investigating Officer (IO) DySP Madhureddy was a relative of Venkanna, who has not been named in the complaint. “I had changed the IO on July 7 because he was of the same caste (as the accused) as the family had no faith in the impartiality of IO. In the interest of the investigation, I changed IO,” Marbaniang said. He added that he would also look into the allegations that Vittal was forced to write a complaint that the police gave him.
His relative and Bagalkot district president of the Dalit Sangharsh Samithi (B Krishnappa group) Bheemrao Kalavvagol says: “There have been numerous atrocities, rapes, killings of Dalits (in Bagalkot district). Mulbagal is a reserved constituency. No MLA elected from this seat has shown any concern for Dalits. Maajigalu agli, haaligalu agali, yaaru Dalitara bagge kalaji torsalla(neither former MLAs, nor incumbent MLAs, nobody cares about Dalits). When they keep quiet, the savarniyas will be emboldened to do this to us. Why does this happen to us in even in a constituency reserved for us?”
Asked whether they feared a backlash from upper caste people in their village, Vittal said that police protection had been provided but withdrawn five days ago. “Fear is there,” he said almost as a matter of fact.
Vittal’s family belongs to the Hindu Madar caste, who were bonded labourers to feudal landlords till around 60 years ago, but little has changed for them in this time.
“We had to do whatever they told us and live on whatever they gave us.” Pointing to a distance of a few feet from himself, Vittal says “Even today, if they stand there, we have to stand here, with our eyes down and arms folded. If for any reason we have to go to their house, we have to wait outside. We are not allowed into hotels, cutting madalla (no one will cut our hair). Except for the Durgamma Gudi in Mirji, we are not allowed into any other temple. We have to stand outside, do namaskara and be on our way.”
Vittal’s family has incurred debts of around Rs 95,000 to pay for Anil’s medical bills. “We borrowed the money from friends and family. If we repay the money by the end of the month, then we don’t have to pay interest. Otherwise, it is Rs 2 for every Rs 100.” He has no idea when they will be able to repay this money. Vittal is a daily-wage worker and earns Rs 200 a day.
It was only three years ago that life took a slight turn for the better for the family. Anil and his parents began to cultivate sugarcane on a plot of land belonging to a Reddy man, but instead of wages, they would get a share of the profits.
“We cultivate a third of the land, so we get a third of the profits that come from the harvest,” Vittal says. But that too, is given to them by the landlords after deducting input expenses. Last year, the yield fetched Rs 1 lakh, and their share was Rs 30,000. But they got only half that amount after input costs for seeds, pesticides and fertilizer were deducted.
The sugarcane is still standing, but Vittal’s family has harvested a bitter crop.
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