Caste violence has risen in India during the pandemic. Activists say Dalits are also not able to protest these acts of atrocities like they used to, before COVID-19. Photo courtesy of AFP
A mob of at least 13 people brutally beat up a lower caste man with sticks in the South Indian state of Karnataka allegedly because he touched a scooter belonging to an upper-caste man.The incident, which took place on July 18 in the rural town of Talikoti in Bijapur district, was captured on video.The video shows the man, Kashinath Talwar, 28, surrounded by men and being attacked and stripped. He appeared to be crying.
Talwar is a Dalit, a term used to describe members of castes that were once considered so low as to be untouchable.The caste system, which is over 3,000 years old, divides Hindus into rigid hierarchical groups based on their work and duty – and dictated their standing in the Indian society. The lowest in this order are the Dalits, who continue to face economic and social boycott in certain parts of India even though it is outlawed in the Indian Constitution.
According to a first information report (FIR) filed by Talwar’s father Yankappa at the Talikoti police station, the group of men attacked them at around 11am while they were on their way to a construction site where they worked. Both father and son are daily wage labourers. The father stated that he was walking some 200 metres ahead of his son when he heard the commotion and saw around five men beating Talwar.“I immediately went back and asked them what happened,” Yankappa told news outlet The News Minute. “The five men accused my son of touching their car. They said, ‘He touched our car and made it impure, now he should be taught a lesson.’”The complaint states that within half an hour, around 20 men had gathered to beat up Talwar. Yankappa said that one of the men kicked him too when he started begging for his son’s life. Casteist slurs were hurled at both. “He said, ‘How dare you touch me and make me impure?’” said Yankappa, who added that the crowd of attackers soon swelled to 50.
By 12pm, when the Talikoti police arrived, the mob had allegedly threatened to burn the two alive and abused Yankappa’s daughter and wife when they rushed to the spot. The FIR stated that two men grabbed the 26-year-old daughter, “tore her clothes”, kicked and beat her.Senior police officer Anupam Aggarwal told NDTV that 13 people were named in the FIR, some of whom were called in for questioning. The police also notified the media of a counter-complaint by the upper castes against Talwar, which accused him of flashing two young girls. It is not known if an FIR has been filed on the basis of the counter-complaint.A 2019 report by the Committee for Monitoring and strengthening Members of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Community, Karnataka showed a 67 percent spike in violence against scheduled castes as compared to 2018.Advocacy bodies and activists say that violence against Dalits saw a spike during the pandemic in India.In the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Dalit advocacy bodies released data that shows rise in cases of rape, murder and lynching on the Dalits. One vigilance panel counted 81 caste violence cases in the state which included 22 murders, eight attacks on Dalit neighbourhoods and violence against 134 persons.Raees Mohammed, the founder of digital platform Dalit Camera, which documents voices of Dalits and other marginalised voices, told VICE News that the pandemic is seeing new patterns of caste atrocities.
“There are more chances of interactions of castes as more and more people are asked to stay within their communities or villages,” he said. “In some neighbourhoods, clashes are taking a casteist turn.”On July 18, another Dalit man was allegedly beaten to death over suspicion of theft by members of another caste in the western state of Gujarat. In another news reported dated July 20, an upper-caste Hindu man forced a 14-year-old Dalit boy to eat faeces after hurling casteist slurs at him. In another viral case from last week, a Dalit couple in the state of Madhya Pradesh died from consuming poison after the police attacked them and destroyed their crops in what they claimed was government-owned land.Activists also point out that restrictions and the possibility of COVID-19 infection is also stopping Dalits from protesting. “Under normal circumstances, these incidents would have sparked protests in a big way. Now, there is helplessness,” said Mohammed.For now, the Talikoti police told The News Minute that they offered protection for Talwar and his family. “We expect to arrest the accused persons soon,” they said.Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.