Following a series of attacks and counter-attacks involving two groups of Nandihalli villagers — the Dalit community and the caste Hindus — in Karnataka’s Haveri district, 30 people have been booked for caste atrocities, among other sections of the Indian Penal Code.
The clashes resulted in property damage, Dalit women being abused and misbehaved with, and even a few Dalit homes being set ablaze.
A majority of the 30 were from the Basaveshwara temple in Nandihalli village. They were also booked for sexual harassment, assault, wrongful confinement, rioting, arson, criminal trespass, unlawful assembly, and intentional insult provoking breach of peace.
The Halageri police of Kumarapatnam Circle have registered a total of four FIRs — three from the Dalit community and one counter case from the caste Hindus.
Moreover, the Haveri district police had the additional task of handling the major law and order issue amid the chief minister’s visit on 5 March, as they did not want to embarrass Basavaraj Bommai who hails from the Haveri district himself.
The starting point
According to the police, it all started with YouTuber Ramesh B Malladad — belonging to the SC community — who runs a YouTube channel where he highlights atrocities against Dalits in his village of Nandihalli and the nearby villages.
On 4 March, Ramesh’s mother Hemavva Malladad (43) approached the Halageri police and filed a complaint that she and her son Ramesh had gone to visit the Basaveshwara temple to offer prayers on the evening of 3 March when they were stopped at the temple gates by the caste Hindus who threatened them and warned them not to enter the temple.
Hemavva alleged that the temple authorities threatened to cut her son’s legs if they entered the temple. However, the mother-son duo entered the temple and even stepped out to participate in the procession (Jatre) that was happening outside the temple.
Around 7.30 pm that day, Ramesh’s father Sunil Shivappa Malladad, who was with his friends close to a convention hall overseeing the procession, was approached by the caste Hindus from the temple and abused with filthy language for being a Dalit.
He was also abused for his family’s participation in the temple activities like the procession which the caste Hindus had pooled in funds to organise.
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Houses ablaze, women abused
A group of caste Hindus — around 30 of them — allegedly gathered around 11.30 pm and headed to Ramesh’s house where he was not present.
The group of men allegedly hurled stones at Ramesh’s house and damaged it, and even attempted to set his house on fire. Ramesh’s neighbours’ houses were also pelted with stones, police sources told South First.
The irate group went around asking for Ramesh and even misbehaved with the women members at Ramesh’s house. The group then allegedly tore down a flex banner of Dr BR Ambedkar and hurled chappals and stones at it.
Soon after, the group set two houses on fire, which a few neighbours managed to douse, the police added. The group kept asking for Ramesh and fled from the spot soon after Ramesh’s family members called the police.
An attack on a caste Hindu
Meanwhile, on 5 March, a farmer called Iranna Basavaneppa, who is also a temple committee member, approached the Halageri police and filed a counter complaint against the Dalit community members for attacking him.
In his complaint, he stated that the temple committee members were conducting a meeting on 25 February to plan and organise the Basaveshwara temple fest and procession when the accused party members barged into the meeting.
They demanded that the procession happen according to their terms and conditions, to which the temple committee members took objection.
On 3 March, when Iranna was standing in front of his house, around 10 Dalit community members allegedly came after him with wooden logs and stones, and trespassed into his house and started assaulting him.
He stated that after this, the group of Dalit members moved near the convention hall close to the temple where they were allegedly misbehaving with a woman when Iranna and another temple committee member rushed to the woman’s help.
At this time, two of the Dalit villagers caught hold of Iranna, pinned him to the ground and attempted to strangle him. When several villagers rushed to the spot to rescue Iranna, the Dalit villagers allegedly threatened them with atrocity cases against all of them and left the spot.
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FIRs filed against both sides
The Halageri police on 4 and 5 March registered two FIRs, respectively. In the first case, which was an atrocity case, the cops booked around 30 villagers, most of whom were temple committee members and caste Hindus.
In the second case, the accused were booked in an attempt to murder case where around 35 villagers, a majority of them belonging to the SC community, have been named as accused.
As it was two large groups of villagers that had clashed, the Haveri district police had deployed reserve police force for more security cover.
Moreover, Chief Minister Bommai had visited Haveri on 5 March where the cops managed to maintain law and order by deploying additional police personnel.
Clashes continued even after FIRs
According to senior police officials South First spoke to, the accused in both the cases — around 65 of them — had gone absconding soon after the two cases were registered.
However, on the intervening night of 5 and 6 March, a group of Dalit community members again approached the Halageri police station and filed a complaint that around 2.30 am, that a group of caste Hindus had come to Ramesh’s friend’s house and allegedly attempted to set fire to his house.
Ramesh’s friend is also a YouTuber who highlights the problems of Dalits at Nandihalli and nearby villages.
They alleged that another group of caste Hindus, at the same time, had gone to the house of a Dalit man named Tirukappa and tore down a flex banner of Dr BR Ambedkar put up near his house and also set his motorcycle on fire before they escaped from the spot.
Based on both the complaints from the Dalit men, the Halageri police registered two more cases of atrocities and are on the lookout for the accused.
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The complaint that started it all
A senior police officer privy to the investigation told South First that the two YouTuber friends, on 3 March, had issues with the DJ playing music during the temple procession. The duo had also informed the police that the DJ was playing songs even after 11 pm.
The police reached the spot and asked the DJ to stop the music and wind up the function, which the DJ did.
Soon after the police sorted the issue out and left, the two groups engaged in a clash, the police said.
“We have so far arrested two persons identified as Basavaraj Shiddappa Nittur (26) and Paramesh Basavarajappa Maganur (29) from the Nandihalli village. The two arrested accused have been very active in the clashes — evident in the CCTV footage that our men have collected,” said a senior police officer.
He added that “we also tried to verify Ramesh’s mother’s claims that she and her son were not allowed to enter the temple, but though the CCTVs were working fine, we are unable to get that footage.”
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Basaveshwara temple’s open arms
Another officer said that the Basaveshwara temple that has a historic significance in Ranebennur taluk, is frequented by not only villagers from 13 villages in and around Haveri, but also attracts devotees from other districts and states.
When the police conducted their inquires, they were apprised that since a large number of people visit the temple, there is no discrimination with regards to any caste or creed, but there is a rule in this temple that nobody, except the priest, can enter the sanctum sanctorum, the officer added.
Soon after the cases were registered, the police, along with the Deputy Commissioner of Haveri, did their first round of peace meetings with the Nandihalli villagers.
“We have to keep doing a few more peace meetings in order to attempt a truce between the two groups,” the officer said.