With the Karnataka Assembly elections 2023 just days away, South First is bringing you ground reports from key constituencies. This series brings you voices from the ground, the mood of the voters, and issues that matter — as well as those that don’t — as people make up their minds on who they will elect in the upcoming Assembly elections.
Even as India celebrates its 75th year of Independence — the Union government has termed it “Amrit Kaal” — around 40 Dalit families residing in the Hinchgera village near Afzalpur town in the Kalaburagi district of Karnataka are struggling to lead a normal life.
They say they are frequently harassed and denied access to basic amenities by people belonging to the upper castes for many years now.
Hinchgera is barely 10 km away from the taluka headquarters. This village is situated on the banks of the Bheema river, which is the lifeline for the people of this region.
The condition of the Dalits in this region of Afzalpur Assembly constituency, who belong to Holeya and Madiga, sub-sects of the Scheduled Castes (SCs), is harrowing, to say the least.
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“People belonging to the upper castes behave heinously. They intentionally defecate and urinate on the only road that we (Dalits) have access to in our locality,” Prakash Doddamani, a resident of Hinchgera (SC locality), told South First.
“We are being denied all the basic amenities by the upper castes only because we are Dalits,” he added.
He also said: “Our village was severely hit by floods twice — in 2009 and 2019 — as the locality is barely 200 metres away from the Bheema river. The government decided to relocate the whole village and identified five acres of land for that purpose.”
Despite the government giving five acres of land to all the villagers to relocate, the upper caste denied them the land because they were Dalits.
“Even the government, taluka and district administration have turned blind to caste discrimination,” he said.
“The floods were so severe that our houses were damaged. But we did not receive a single penny from the relief fund. We are residing in the damaged houses that belonged to the upper-caste people,” said Prakash, who is a postgraduate and works as a driver on a contract basis.
The MLAs, local officials, and the government have always ignored and turned a deaf ear to our issues,” he added.
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Other electoral issues
The other Dalits of the village alleged that they were being denied jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) because of their caste.
Mallesh Doddamani, another resident of Hinchgera, said: “We have even been denied access to clean drinking water.”
He pointed out: “The authorities have carried out the Jal Jeevan Mission, which is aimed at providing a drinking water connection to every house, in our locality. The tap and pipeline connections were completely damaged even before the water supply started.”
He added: “All 40 Dalit families are dependent on a single borewell, which has a manual handpump. There is hardly any water available in it.”
“The poverty is severe. Many parents discontinue their children’s education and take them to work in brick kilns across Maharashtra. Around 80 percent of the people migrate not only in search of a better livelihood, but also to avoid harassment and discrimination by the upper castes,” said Doddamani.
With the hope of getting justice, these 40 families have staged protests, complained to the authorities concerned, and knocked on the doors of the elected members. All they have received are assurances and abuse.
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Situation in Afzalpur
Afzalpur is known for its rich agricultural heritage. The town is surrounded by lush green fields, and is known for producing high-quality crops such as sugarcane, cotton, and jowar.
The local economy is based mainly on agriculture, with many farmers and small-scale businesses operating in the area.
The town is said to have come into existence during the Bahmani Sultanate. It also has many historical places like the Afzal Khan Mosque. Heritage sites can also be found in Udachan, Mashal, Gangapur, and surrounding areas.
Afzalpur also shares a border with the Akkalkot taluka of the Solapur district of Maharashtra. Bheema and Amarja are the two rivers flowing in the region.
In terms of education, Afzalpur has several schools and colleges that offer quality education to students.
The town also has the Post Graduate Centre for Science of the Gulbarga University. However, for professional courses, the students are dependent on Kalaburagi, Vijayapura, and surrounding districts.
Even when it comes to health infrastructure, the town doesn’t have adequate facilities. People are dependent on Kalaburagi and Vijayapura and Maharashtra’s Solapur and Miraj for medical care.
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No development, all corruption: Voters
Voters in both urban and rural areas alleged that ever since the BJP’s Malikayya Guttedar and the Congress’ MY Patil began representing the segment, the region witnessed zero development.
The segment lacks basic amenities such as clean drinking water, street lights, roads, and infrastructure for agricultural activities, despite two rivers flowing through the region.
Farmer Shivashankrappa Kudari, a resident of the Sona village, told South First: “The government acquired 1.5 acres of my irrigated land to lay a canal under the Bheema Lift Irrigation Project. It has been over three years, and the government is yet to pay us the compensation.”
He added: “The leaders visit only during the elections and promise to pay the compensation at the earliest. Once the elections are over, they don’t even turn up in our village.”
He also said: “When we knock on their doors, they not only ignore us but also abuse and threaten us for claiming our rightful compensation.”
Shivashankarappa continued: “Even the officials are corrupt. The governance has completely collapsed here.”
He explained: “The corruption is so rampant that we have to pay bribes at every table to get the government documents, which are supposed to be provided at free or nominal cost.”
He concluded: “We have lost hope in the elections.”
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Even the agrarian community is unhappy with the government’s inability to implement irrigation projects completely in the region, and alleged corruption by all the recent MLAs in the segment.
Social activist Srimantha Biradar, who is also a farmer leader, told South First: “The irrigation projects in this region are not for the welfare of the farmers but for the elected representatives and contractor’s welfare. The farmers’ issues have remained unaddressed for the past four decades.”
He added: “The government sanctioned the funds, but it was all pocketed by the contractors and the legislators. The farmers here are so hapless that they don’t even display the courage to raise their voice against the sitting MLAs.”
He also said: “Despite having land, villagers migrate to Pune, Mumbai and other cities of Maharashtra in search of better livelihood. If the government implements the irrigation projects properly, this will boost the agrarian community and address many major issues of the rural areas.”
Biradar added that corruption was the main cause for the lack of implementation of projects in the segment.
Political equations in Afzalpur
People of Afzalpur seem to have had enough of the political drama between the BJP’s candidate and six-time MLA Mallikayya V Guttedar and the Congress’ nominee and three-time MLA MY Patil, who currently represents the segment, over the last five decades.
In the last 11 Assembly elections, the Congress has won seven times, and Janata Party and Janata Dal (Secular) won twice each. The BJP is yet to breach the fort that is the Afzalpur Assembly seat.
The BJP is also facing a rebellion in Afzalpur. Nitin Guttedar, a younger brother of Mallikayya Guttedar, was a BJP aspirant. After the party showed a preference for his elder brother over him, he is contesting as an independent candidate.
This has marred the chances of winnability of former minister Mallikayya, claim political watchers.
Local political commentator Somanath Nola pointed out: “In the 2018 Assembly elections, Mallikayya Guttedar had given his word that he would vacate his seat for his younger brother Nitin Guttedar in the 2023 polls. But he did not stand by his words and decided to contest elections for another term.”
He explained: “This did not go well with Nitin and his supporters. He is contesting as an independent candidate. Many BJP followers have quit the party and are rallying behind Nitin. He is young. People are looking for change in Afzalpur.”
Nola also said: “People have seen enough of the adjustment politics and corruption of Guttedar and Patil for the last five decades. There is anger among the people that both these senior leaders didn’t carry out any development works in their tenure.”
Guttedar belongs to the Ediga community, which has barely 500 votes in the segment. Meanwhile, Patil belongs to the influential Lingayat community.
Rudaragouda Patil aka RD Patil, 38, the alleged kingpin of the Police Sub-Inspector (PSI) recruitment scam in Karnataka, has filed papers from Afzalpur seat as a Samajwadi Party nominee.
He is currently out on bail and has 16 cases against him. He is campaigning intensively in the rural belt.
The JD(S) has fielded Shivakumar Natikar, who is facing his maiden Assembly election and belongs to one of the dominant Koli communities in the region.
The Samajwadi Party and independent candidates are also putting up a fight in this election, pointed out political commentators.
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There are over 2.26 lakh votes. Of the total votes 1.16 lakh are men and 1.10 lakh are women voters in the segment.
Lingayats, SCs, STs, Kurubas, Kolis, and Muslims are the influential communities in the Afzalpur Assembly seat.
There are over 60,000 Lingayat votes, the Kolis have around 40,000 votes, SCs and STs have nearly 50,000 votes, Kurubas have over 32,000 votes, and Muslims have around 30,000 votes in the segment. Brahmins and other communities are around 10,000 votes.
Social activist Shrimant Biradar pointed out: “People here vote neither along caste lines nor on development. They instead prefer to vote based on the individual relationships with the candidates.”
He added: “The voters, mainly in rural areas, expect the elected members to take part in their family events, ceremonies, and funerals. They vote in the elections based on this.”
Biradar also claimed that money flows on the eve of polling.