Monday, August 22, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Dakkaligas are in Karnataka’s SC list of 101 communities, but most benefits are cornered by Madigas and Holeyas

karnataka: caste bias
Twice-Born, In Damnation
What could a people that Dalits deem unclean have to celebrate about
on Independence Day?
Sugata Srinivasaraju

   Dakkaligas, lower in the caste ladder than bigger Dalit groups,
feted their first I-Day this year
   The tricolour was unfurled in the Chikkanayakanahalli graveyard
amid much fanfare and colour
   There are 400 households in the community of around 1,200


As PM Manmohan Singh addressed a celebratory nation from the Lal Qila,
a nomadic people in Karnataka feted their first Independence Day in
the sun-kissed periphery of the Chikkanayakanahalli township in Tumkur
district. The unfurled tricolour and festoonery brought an unfamiliar
cheer to the few thatched huts that comprise the Dakkaliga community's
camp in the five-acre graveyard that belongs to the Madiga subsect of
Dalits in the town.

It may be 64 years since Independence and constitutional guarantees
for the oppressed may have been in place for over 60 years now, but
the Dakkaligas are still treated as 'untouchables by
untouchables'—their chief tormentors are the Madiga-Dalits, with whom
they claim kinship. For centuries, the popular belief has been that
they are the 'adopted children' of the Madigas and have to survive by
begging (in recent years, however, youngsters have taken to selling
plasticware and brooms made of palm fronds in the anonymity offered by
bigger towns and cities). The Madigas themselves are 'outcastes' and
the Dakkaligas are further down the ladder. Which is why they dwell in
the graveyard of the outcastes. When such is their deprivation and
humiliation, what cause could merit such fanfare as was witnessed on

'Independence' came late, in 2010, when due to intense pressure on the
administration from good samaritans like former chairman of the
state's backward classes commission, C.S. Dwarakanath, and Dr
Raghupathy, a local vet, possession certificates were allotted to 19
Dakkaliga families. A first in the southern Karnataka region and no
mean achievement considering some Dalit organisations had officially
resisted the alienation of their graveyard land. In muncipal records,
Raghupathy says, the changeover in possession of land has still not
been clearly recorded.

Another cause for cheer on I-Day was the congregation of community
members, who are scattered across the state, on July 23 to deliberate
issues of pertinence. Here, they decided that their historic
coming-together should find joyous expression in the unfurling of the
national flag on August 15. The signs of organisation and mobilisation
was clear at the July meet, where a survey of Dakkaliga households in
16 districts of the state was also presented. They had a clear
inventory of their numbers now: 400 households and about 1,200 people.

Saluting the flag. (Photograph by Sugata Srinivasaraju)

The amateur survey, conducted by youngsters of the community, also
revealed that the socio-economic situation of the Dakkaligas in north
Karnataka was relatively better compared to their clansmen in the
'progressive' south. Half-a-dozen families in the northern districts
had already managed to obtain government sites and caste oppression
there was far less too. "There is no point in comparing ourselves with
other higher castes, but Madigas in the southern districts thrash us
even if we enter their colony by mistake. They think the dust on our
feet causes disasters. Even politicians here don't seek our votes
because the general belief is it will bring them defeat," says
Shantraj, whose enterprise saw the organisation of the July meet.

"Dakkaligas are included in the SC list of Karnataka's 101
communities, but most of the benefits are cornered by the more
populous communities like the Madigas and Holeyas. The other grave
disadvantage this community faces is that they are a micro-minority of
a few thousand, while the others number in the tens of lakhs. When
Dakkaligas seek caste certificates, government officials often do not
identify their community because that would mean they will eat into
the reservation pie of the larger ones. And if the official happens to
be a Dalit, they face greater discrimination. Also, they are
educationally backward. As far as I know, there are only two BA
graduates among them and they haven't found government jobs. In a
democracy like ours, the numerically small are always ignored,"
Dwarakanath articulates.

At the meet, the major grievance aired by most Dakkaligas pertained to
caste certificates. The aggrieved said they were deliberately called
either 'Adi Karnataka' (a different SC community) or 'Madigas' in the
caste certificates issued by the government and this was being done to
deny them their constitutional rights. Maruti, of Lingasagur in the
Raichur district, who holds a BA degree, says: "Sometimes, officers
bluntly tell us that there is no caste called Dakkaliga. That there is
only Vokkaliga (the dominant Gowda community). Our caste is not in the
government's computers."

Even more shocking was the revelation at the public hearing of how
prevalent the practice of 'untouchability' against the community had
become in the southern districts, especially in Tumkur,
Chikkaballapur, Kolar and Davangere. Sample this incident narrated by
three Dakkaliga women: "A couple of months ago, a self-help group was
carrying out a membership drive in Chikkanayakanahalli and was
offering identity cards. We went to get ourselves photographed, but
people in the queue created a ruckus and ensured that we could not
enter the hall." The venue the women were denied entry to? The
Ambedkar Bhavan.

Shantraj recounts what happened to him after he accidentally entered
the Madiga-Dalit colony in the town to sell his plasticware six months
ago: "A woman vegetable vendor grabbed hold of me by my collar in the
town square the next week and claimed that after I had entered their
colony, one of her relatives had died." Raghupathy terms this
"repressed anger". "How else can we interpret the violence of one
oppressed community against the other?" he asks.

To create a more assertive identity, the community has now initiated a
search for a powerful image to represent them. "The Dalits use the
photograph of Ambedkar. We will perhaps create a picture of the
ram-headed Daksha Brahma (a mythological character)," says Malakappa
of Yadagir district. Until they create one, they have decided to adopt
Gandhi and the new graveyard colony with nineteen sites has been
christened Gandhinagar. This I-Day, perhaps, was the beginning of a
small reclamation effort for the Dakkaligas.


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