Elections 2019: Attack on Dalits and A Silent BJP’s Loud Speeches on Martyrs in North Karnataka

Davanagere, Dharwad, Ballari, Bijapur, Belgaum, Koppal, Bagalkot and Bidar are some of the constituencies in northern Karnataka where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has manged to firm up its support base. The saffron party’s presence in these historically secular, underdeveloped and mostly drought-hit regions is surprising.

Among the reasons behind this development could be the alleged neglect of these districts by the ruling Congress-Janata Dal (Secular)’ — apart from the presence of Lingayat community, which is a traditional BJP vote-bank.

Newsclick visited Davanagere, which has a Zilla Panchayat Member, a Taluk Panchayat Member, an MLA and an MP from the BJP. We also visited Santhebennur, a village at a distance of 50 km from Davanagere, which again is dominated by the BJP.

“We will not vote for BJP or any party,” say dalits in Santhebennur

Santhebennur is a village with a total population of 10,239 in Channagiri taluk of Davanagere district, and 18.6 per cent of its total population comprises the Scheduled Castes (SCs). The village is physically divided based on castes. Two major divisions is between the upper caste, OBC and the SCs. These divisions are yet again based on various sub-castes and so on. There has always been a tiff in the village between the SC area and the upper caste area.

Sitting in front of the village temple in the SC colony, an elderly person of the village recollects incidents from the past, and says, “It was very common to be beaten by the upper castes and especially Uppara (an OBC caste) and certain phrases like madiga soole makkalra (children of madiga prostitutes) were part of our daily lives. It is unfortunate to see that the current generation does not seem to recognise it as an insult but as the natural way they are supposed to be addressed by them (Uppara caste). But nothing like this had ever happened.”

He was referring to a brutal attack by the Uppara community on the SC colony on April 12, 2019. Speaking to us, Huchhangi Prasad—a young poet and writer, teacher of media and an activist—who was also attacked by the enraged mob from the Uppara community, introduced Abhishek.

A verbal exchange of abuses between Abhishek and a few boys from the Uppara community got blown out of proportion, resulting in a riot-like situation. Prasad informed us that Abhishek is studying in the first PUC (Class 11) and is not from this village, his father is an alcoholic and the family’s house had collapsed so he and his mother have moved here, taken a loan and got a house built for them to live in.

Abhishek explained what had happened. He and his friends were swimming in the Badhra channel near the village at the same time as a few boys from the Uppara community. This is when a boy of the Uppara community verbally abused the caste of Abhishek. When Abhishek questioned this, he was physically attacked. Taken aback by what had just transpired there, Abhishek and his friends got back to their houses not knowing what horror awaited them. As the colony was celebrating a local festival, the families were busy in preparing food and entertaining guests, but in no time their houses were attacked and they were beaten black and blue.

Manjamma pulled her son and grandson from the crowd to show how badly they were beaten up. Her son has got a major head injury while the grandson, who is only 6 years old, was whipped with a cycle chain that left scars all over his back.

“We don’t have any jobs. We have to work as wage labourers and live with our wages. What have we done to them (Uppara caste)? Aren’t our children children? What did they get by throwing all the festival food that we had made by using our hard earned money?” asked an enraged Manjamma.

Do the panchayat members have an answer to these questions?

The current SC panchayat member said, “The three other Panchayat members who are from the BJP were standing outside the colony and were ordering the mob to attack every house and not spare anyone.”

A case has been registered in the Santhebennur police station and Prasad informed us that the police personnel, who were extremely helpful on the day of the attacks, have arrested four people from the Uppara community. In turn, the Uppara community has filed cases against twelve boys from the SC colony.

Prasad also pointed out that none of the political parties had come to this colony to canvass for these Lok Sabha elections, even as the election in the region was only three days away by now.

Confirming this, a youth from the colony said, “We don’t get anything from any governments, none of these houses you see here are from the government. We had to take loans and build these tiny houses for ourselves. We do not even have our own water connection and the government hospital here has got no facility whatsoever. Why should we vote? When we are unwanted for the political parties? We have decided not to vote this time.”

The situation in the village is still grim and there are police vans standing at the entrance of the Uppara community side of the village. Most importantly, said Prasad and others, no politicans and not even the MLA (SA Ravindranath also from BJP) had visited the colony, when at least the MLA is expected to visit the place to inspect in the event of an atrocity case, for example. Prasad adds, “Such incidents are very common here during any election, it could be assembly, general, taluk, grama, zilla elections, there always is a situation like this. But this time it was the most brutal one.”

On asking why the BJP has been coming to power in the region consistently, Prasad said the majority of the Lingayats support the BJP, which is why they end up winning here. This has been the case in this part of Karnataka. As Hindustan Times has earlier reported, “One of 28 parliamentary constituencies in Karnataka, Davanagere is dominated by the Lingayat community. The Congress party has been victorious on the Davanagere seat six times since elections were held in 1977. The Bharatiya Janata Party has followed closely with five wins. The BJP has held the Davanagere Lok Sabha seat since 1999 as G Mallikarjunappa won the seat that year.”

BJP and its Wave in Davanagere

Back in Davanagere, we could see the party workers of the Congress and JDS in some places standing in shade and speaking to people. There are large vans with a screen playing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message of “Vote for Pulwama Martyrs” with graphic images of soldiers fighting for the nation. These vans stay parked at selected places for hours together and this has been happening for many days, says a municipal worker travelling with us from Santhebennur to Davanagere.

As though proving that this tactic of the BJP is working, a conversation broke out between two men travelling with us in the bus. One of them, Chandrappa might have been in his late 60s and an older man (he was addressed as ajja by others in the bus), who might have been in his late 80s, were sitting next to each other. The bus halted for a minute or two in front of a temple in Thyavanige village. One such digital van of the BJP was playing a campaign video in front of the temple. There was an old man and a child sitting under a flag poll opposite the temple and watching the video; we must note these digital vans have really loud speakers. This digital van triggered a conversation between Chandrappa and ajja.

Chandrappa initiated the conversation by asking ajja, “Who will you vote for?” Ajja replied, “Kaii gene nanna mata” (my vote is always for open palm, meaning the symbol of the Congress party). This enraged Chandrappa who started fighting with ajja about what the Congress had achieved. At some point, ajja asked, “Who killed Gandhi?” Chandrappa retorted, “Who made Pakistan?” Before the fight could turn ugly, the surrounding passengers intervened and tried to pacify the two old men but failed. Chanadrappa kept insisting that ajja ask a girl sitting adjacent to ajja who she would vote for. When ajja finally gave in and asked, she said, “I will vote for Modi because everyone is voting for Modi.” Ajja was very disappointed and started announcing in the bus that the Congress will win this time and some people in the bus agreed, saying, “Of course, it is going to be the Congress!”

Chandrappa who was shouting at the top of his voice about the greatness of Modi and the BJP, kept saying, “Had you ever read the name of Pakistan in the newspapers during your Congress government? Look, now Modi has showed them their place.” However, this is not sentiment that one commonly hears in this region, in which people live in extremely horrid conditions.

The reason this conversation was narrated here is because, first, it tells us about the wide propaganda of the BJP in the region and as Newsclick has earlier reported, the party has nothing to talk about in this drought-hit and poverty-stricken region. Second, it makes one wonder since when the people of this country started voting for a party based on their desire to see someone particular as PM and not based on the work that the party has done. Third, the likes of Chandrappa who think reading about Pakistan is important in daily newspapers are absent in the villages, where the people are sick of the BJP as well as the MP GM Siddeshwara of the BJP.

Siddeshwara, who has been MP since 2004, is yet again the candidate the BJP has fielded in Davanagere against HB Manjappa from the Congress and Siddappa BH from the BSP.