Activists and the residents of entire villages are protesting an attack on five Dalit men by Hindutva activists who accused the men of stealing and slaughtering an ox.
As Gujarat continues to see protests against the violence of “cow protection” vigilantes following the attack on Dalits in Una, hundreds of villagers and activists in Karnataka are now protesting a similar incident in the state where five Dalit men were beaten up for allegedly stealing and slaughtering a cow in Chikmagalur district.
The attack took place on July 10 when a group of around 40 men, associated with Bajrang Dal, barged into the victims’ home at night. The Dalit men, one of whom is disabled, were attacked with iron rods, with two of them suffering broken bones as a result of the violence. The injured – Balaraj (56), Muthappa (26), Dhanush (24), Sandeep (20), and Ramesh (35) – are all from the villages of Shantipura and Kunduru.
The police, who were allegedly present at the scene, took no action to stop the attack, and instead booked the Dalit men under the provisions of the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964. Balaraj, Muthappa and Dhanush were taken into custody and taken to the Jayapura police station while Sandeep and Ramesh managed to escape arrest. The three who were arrested were released on bail the following day.
Balaraj told the Hindustan Times, “30 Bajrang Dal people beat us up and police just stood there. If police doesn’t protect us, what is to be said? My hand is broken, but now they claim they didn’t do it.”
The police have since confirmed that the family legally purchased the cow from a fellow resident of Shantipura village – something the injured men and other residents had insisted on all along.
The incident went largely unnoticed until July 24, when activists from various organisations, including the Dalit Sangharsha Samithi and Komu Souharda Vedike, travelled to Shantipura to speak with villagers about the attack, urging them to take action against such acts of violence. Their speeches referred to the protests in Gujarat, where Dalit residents are refusing to pick up and dispose of the carcasses of dead cows.
“No work in houses, fields, roads will happen without us Dalits. If you attack us, we will hit back. It is happening in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and now in Chikmagulur. We will not tolerate this,” the Hindustan Times quoted Sekhar, a Dalit Sangharsha Samithi activist.
Balaraj, with help from activists and lawyers, has filed a case against his attackers citing the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The seven people named in the complaint are currently out on bail. Karnataka’s rate of conviction under the SC and ST Act is 4.9%, which is nearly a fifth of the national conviction rate for cases under the same act. The rate of conviction in the concerned district is even lower at 3%.
Dhanush, one of the victims, said that the attackers used the allegation of cow slaughter as an excuse to avenge a long-standing personal feud between himself and Manjusree, one of the Bajrang Dal men who was involved in the July 10 incident, the Indian Express reported. The report added that an official from Jayapura police station has confirmed that Dhanush, his friend Sandeep (another of the victims) and the men with Bajrang Dal links have filed cases against each other in the past.
The charges brought against the Dalit men have highlighted the ambiguities of the Act they are charged under.
The Act outlines requirements for the legal slaughtering and sale of bovine animals but not the consumption of beef, effectively de-criminalising beef consumption. The law states that an authority needs to issue a permit to authorise the killing and selling of a bovine animal. While it clearly establishes that slaughtering a cow in an unauthorised place is illegal, it leaves the sale of beef up for debate. In 1966, the Karnataka high court declared that since the state government had not appointed any authority to license beef selling, a permit to authorise the sale could not be issued. Local residents appeared confused when asked if they knew of a “competent authority” to approach for permission to slaughter a cow or sell its meat, according to the Hindustan Times.
Activists involved in the case have also pointed out that the police did not charge the original seller of the cow, Nagappa Gowda, with abetting the crime. They see this inaction as indicative of police bias against Dalits.