Temple entry fines, segregation: In this north Karnataka district, untouchability an open secret

“I do not want to know whether all are equal in the eyes of God but I do want to know whether all are equal in the eyes of human beings,” says a hoarding of Dr B R Ambedkar that welcomes people to Miyapur village in north Karnataka’s Koppal district. This is the same village where a Dalit resident, Chandrashekar Shivappadasara, was recently fined Rs 25,000 after his three-year-old son strayed into a local temple.

Discrimination against Dalits is rampant across this region. The incident at the Miyapur village was, however, different—Shivappadasara, 27, seemingly stood his ground and the issue was taken up by the police.

Five people including the temple priest—all of them from the OBC Ganiga community—were arrested. What Shivappadasara’s family faced was the fifth instance of caste discrimination-linked conflict in the Koppal district in recent times. The other significant incidents include the killing of a Dalit boy over a relationship with an OBC girl and an imposition of a Rs-11,000 penalty on a 24- year-old Dalit man for entering a temple. Local residents say atrocities against Dalits tend to be highly under-reported.

Around the 630 villages in the district, including Miyapur, untouchability is an open secret and exists with the tacit understanding of all and sundry, including government officials, according to several local residents The Indian Express spoke to.

Miyapur has a population of 1,500—most of them from the Ganiga community. The 91 Dalits living in the village are not allowed inside eateries, temples and barber shops. To visit any of these places, they have to travel to Hanumasagar, 8 km away. The water tanks in Miyapur are also segregated.

“I was not interested in going against the villagers as it would put me in a tough situation but I realised they would target me in any case,” said Shivappadasara when The Indian Express met him at the village this week.

Shivappadasara said he lives in fear and that it was the state social welfare department that eventually lodged the police complaint on his behalf after he hesitated. He said soon after the fine was announced against him, the local police station called a “peace” meeting. These “peace” meetings, usually held by government servants — especially the police — tend to worsen the situation for those who complain.

“Forget about the common public, even our elected representatives follow these social evils in order to protect their vote banks as going against these communities will hinder their political prospects. In most of the villages, Dalits have no choice but to come to an understanding to live with the practice of untouchability,” said Hiremani Galappa, a resident of Koppal town.

People from the Ganiga community say Shivappadasara has given their village a “bad name”. “These things have been practised over several generations for the welfare of the village,” said a Ganiga community man who did not wish to reveal his name.

Congress leader and Kushtagi MLA Amaregouda Linganagouda Patil Bayyapur, said: “Generally, these kinds of incidents should not happen but someone made it public with a political motive. I have requested villagers not to indulge in such practices.”.

Data from Koppal district authorities show that 169 cases have been registered under the SC/ST Act between 2018 and September 2021. None of them ended in conviction, while over 140 of them are under trial.

Koppal SP T Sreedhara said witnesses and victims turning hostile has been a major reason for the lack of convictions. “There are multiple reasons for it, including the need for victims to continue working in the villages under those who belong to the majority community,” the SP said.

The district administration has started a survey—using private agencies and NGOs—to identify pockets where untouchability is practised. Koppal district Deputy Commissioner Suralkar Vikas Kishor said, “(Untouchability) has been practised for hundreds of years and it cannot vanish overnight. We are launching several programmes once a study is completed.”

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