Special Report: Dalits killed for wanting to build temple in BJP-ruled Karnataka

DalitsTippe Swamy and his daughter Kavana | Image: Aaditya Philip Vasisht 

As the Andhra Pradesh border draws close, large hillocks, boulders begin to dot the landscape. Some gigantic ones sit astride smaller rocks almost crushing them. Just like the grief and anger that seems to crush the Dalit neighbourhood of Medigeshi village in Madhugiri taluka, Tumkur district in Karnataka, India.

Here – 21 kiloemtres away from sub-district headquarter Madhugiri (tehsildar office) and 62 km away from the district headquarter of Tumkur – a local ‘upper’ caste (Vaishya community) man Sridhar Gupta along with four accomplices executed a macabre double murder and attempted another on September 22, 2022.

“If this was a Hindu-Muslim dispute, the entire BJP government would have come stood at the Hindu’s doors. Here a Dalit died because she supported building a temple. In my wife (Shilpa) I’ve lost a fellow-farmer and my daughter her mother. No one from the government has still come to even condole her death… Shouldn’t they be ashamed about what has happened on their watch? Is this what they call governance?”

Grief has turned to anger for the 40-year-old Dalit farmer, Tippe Swamy from Medigeshi village in Karnataka’s Tumkur district whose wife Shilpa was killed more than a month ago. “Is this what a Dalit’s life… a woman’s life…. is worth for the government? I don’t keep too well. If something happens to me what should my daughter do?” he weeps convulsing in angry sobs in his small 10 x 12 home in the village’s Dalit cluster. His wife’s garlanded photograph looks down on him from among the crowd of gods and goddesses on the wall.

“The BJP keeps bringing up Hindu-Muslim in everything. They never tire of reminding us about how they’re building the Ram temple. We too wanted to build a temple in our village. Look at what happened to us. Why? Are poor Dalits like us not allowed to build temples? Should we only celebrate their building a temple in Ayodhya?” he wants to know.

His 14-year-old daughter Kavana – his only child – weeps inconsolably at her father’s side unable to process the shock of losing her mother. “I was still having dinner. Mom had finished and went out for a stroll. I heard screams and came out when I saw what had happened. Till then I didn’t know,” her voice trails.

TumkurCrime scene where the Dalits were killed

Across their home is another bereaved OBC family. Ramananjaiah was also stabbed to death that fateful night by Gupta. His bereaved wife Ramadevi, 32 and children gathered around this writer to recount how the horror unfolded that fateful Thursday night. “I had cooked my husband’s favourite broad beans in my late mother-in-law’s style… just like he liked them. I had served his thali and went to bring the hot rice off the stove when he suddenly remembered that he had not fed our buffaloes. I told him to do it later, but he insisted he would be back in a jiffy. There, he heard Tippe Swamy’s wife Shilpa calling for help and went to rescue her from the men holding her down. He went to save her but ended up sacrificing his life,” she says and wails, “How do I live now?”

Standing behind, her septuagenarian father-in-law Mallanna is quaking. But he refuses to sit down or be helped. His voice chokes as he folds his hands. His tears are now in free flow. “My son has been killed. This is gross injustice. We are pleading for justice. My grandchildren have been left fatherless. I want them to receive some help. My daughter-in-law has had to suffer this misfortune. If she is given some help it will help her and support the children too,” he says and adds, “I don’t know how much longer I have to live. Without my son the family has no bread winner. I feel helpless.”

RamananjaiahRamananjaiah’s family

Though Dalits form over 32% of the Medigeshi’s population of 2,652 followed by OBCs and Muslims and upper castes are barely 10%, the latter dominate thanks to being landed and well-off for several generations. The collective shock of Medigeshi resonates at the spot where the crime was committed.   

But what pushed Gupta to do something like this?

The FIR registered by the local police points out how Gupta felt challenged when Dalit villagers led Tippe Swamy and Ramananjaiah wanted to replace a small makeshift Ganesha shrine with a temple. Gupta claimed the plot of land where the Dalit families wanted to build a shrine belonged to his family before the government took it away under land ceiling act. 


He sparred with the Dalit families and challenged them legally by taking the matter to court in January 2022. The local court threw his case out. “Ever since he lost the case, he was seething and kept cursing the Dalit families,” says an upper caste neighbour (he wants to remain anonymous) who says Gupta became obsessed with that idea. “He kept bringing it up like a broken record, no matter what we were speaking about. He felt the Dalits were being upstarts forgetting their position and needed to be put in place,” he remembers.

The deceased man’s 46-year-old brother, Mallikarjuna, is not only an eyewitness, but was also stabbed in the back by Gupta. This survivor’s stab wound is now on the mend.

mallika arjun

He remembers being at the local Shiva temple in the next lane when he heard a woman scream on that Thursday night around 8.45 pm. “I ran to find out what was happening. Two men were holding Tippe Swamy’s wife Shilpa who was screaming and struggling to escape. I saw Sridhar Gupta standing in front of her hurling abuses. He then stabbed her in the abdomen. My brother who was feeding his buffaloes had heard the woman’s screams and went to rescue her. During the melee and ensuing scuffle, they let go of her (she fell to the ground in the open space where she bled to death) and attacked him. I saw one of them, Suresh, holding my brother on the right and Ravi Kumar holding him on the left while steadily pummelling him with punches to his face and abdomen. By the time I came screaming in alarm, Sridhar stabbed my brother in the chest. When they saw me arrive at the scene Sridhar’s attackers fled. I picked up my injured, bleeding brother who had collapsed on a pile of coconut shells left out to dry and began patting his cheek to make him talk. While attending to my injured brother, Sridhar came from behind and plunged the dagger into my back,” he says removing his shirt and turning around to show this writer his stitched wound.

Now the Dalit and OBC families of the deceased and the attacked live in fear. While the assailants are still on the run, the police are dragging their feet on the case, they claim. Mallikarjuna insists they cannot trust the police. “When stabbed and bleeding profusely, I went to the local hospital where four of my attackers had already reached. The police kept the hospital gates shut and were not allowing me access to treatment. After 45 minutes when I collapsed, they took me in. I was given stitches and a dressing for my wound and sent home. The attackers were then given safe passage by the police to escape. Now the same police claim they cannot be found.”

Has he not asked for protection? “I sought protection, but this was given only for nine days and then withdrawn ad hoc. Fearing for our lives, we’ve stopped going even to our fields. But we can’t live like this cooped at home. We need to work. I don’t know how we can do that without protection,” says Mallikarjuna, “Looks like the police want hunger to get to us if our assailants don’t.” 


Local activist Niketh Raj who is helping keep the morale of villagers high despite the circumstances, echoes Mallikarjuna: “Police stations, hospitals and courts are expected to stand by the poor and marginalised who do not have access to justice. But here the police are against families of those who have lost their lives and are seen supporting the powerful who committed these atrocities.”

He also wonders why the BJP which unfailingly speaks about building the Ram temple in Ayodhya has ignored these murders triggered by the building of a temple. “Here Dalits and OBCs wanted to build a Ganesh temple and look how two of them had to pay with their lives while one escaped by the skin of his teeth.” He charged the BJP government in power in Karnataka with not taking this incident seriously. “To date forget visiting or announcing compensation, no one in the government has spoken a single word about this incident. This is being done to protect the culprits,” he alleges and says: “For this party religion scarcely means anything more than a means to achieve political power.”

According to Raj: “If this incident was a Hindu-Muslim one, this would have been made into a state or even a national issue by the Hindutva-friendly media. The CM would have dashed here. But because the victims are Dalit and OBC, nobody is bothered. That is the sad reality.”

Tumkuru SP Rahul Kumar Shahapurwad says he has asked the local police station to furnish a report on the current status of the matter. “Since the investigation is still ongoing, I can’t comment on the case,” he said and added, “But we are taking stock of the situation and will reinstate protection if needed.”

Sources in the police department claimed there was also a Janata Dal (Secular)-INC rivalry angle to this issue. “All the accused are from JD(S) while the victims are all from INC. They have been feuding for over a decade. That is also being looked into as part of the investigation.”

Over the last few months, Karnataka has witnessed a rise in attacks against Dalits. (SEE BOX) Activists like Niketh Raj link these attacks to the climate of strident exclusionary Hindutva being facilitated by an ecosystem which allows perpetrators to get away. Karnataka Minister of Social and Backward Classes Welfare, Kota Shrinivas Poojari brushes this off as political propaganda. “We have zero tolerance for any attacks on Dalits or tribals. We have already asked the police to take strict action in such cases.”

When this writer met Dalit ideologue-writer Devanuru Mahadeva at his Mysuru residence he scoffed at what he called “shrugging off responsibility by the BJP government,” and linked it to the party’s “caste-supremacist Hindutva.” Already, his book RSS: Aala Mattu Agala which analyses this phenomenon in great detail, has come in for sharp attack from the BJP and Hindu right-wing outfits. “This goes all the way back to their belief in the Manusmriti which says Brahmins have come from Brahma’s head. Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers) come from his arms, Vaishyas (traders) from his thighs and Shudras from his feet. They are condemned to doing menial jobs and serving all these three classes. Anyone who uses Ambedkarite indoctrination to resist being boxed as a Shudra and asserts her/his human dignity is singled out for attacks and atrocities.” Calling the current attacks “a not-so-subtle attempt to inject Manudharma into society, he told this writer, “If you look carefully this is an assault to destroy Constitutional values.”


# On April 6, 2022, a group of Dalits were beaten up and insulted at a musical event in Gadag after they requested singers to perform a song from a TV serial based on the life of Bhimrao Ambedkar.

# On September 4, 2022, when a Dalit (Channdasar community) couple visited the local Maruteshwara temple at the Miyapur village in Kushtagi tehsil of Koppal district with their three-year-old son, the priest and several upper caste locals objected to their entry. At a meeting held on September 11 the upper castes imposed a penalty of Rs 25,000 on the Dalit family for “defiling the temple.” When the Dalit family expressed their inability to pay the penalty they were further threatened with ex-communication

# On September 8, 2022 a Dalit couple Shobha and Ramesh from Ullerahalli village in Karnataka’s Kolar district was fined Rs 60,000 after their 15-year-old son touched a pole attached to the idol of Sidiranna, a prominent south Indian village deity.

# On September 29, 2022 A 14-year-old Dalit boy was tied to a pole and savagely beaten in the Chikkaballapur district of Karnataka on the mere suspicion that he had stolen an upper caste girl’s gold earrings.

# On September 30, 2022 Upper caste locals in Kolar Devanahalli, refused to let a procession of local deities Sree Kateeramma and Gangamma through an area where Dalits reside. The incident led to clashes between the two groups in which several were injured.

# On September 30, 2022, Social ostracisation of 100 Dalit families of Tidigol village in Sindanur taluk in Raichur district was enforced after a Dalit youth accidentally touched a chariot wheel during a temple festival. Upper-caste members stopped selling provisions to Dalits, pound their foodgrains at the flour mill and serve them tea or snacks in the local hotel.

# On October 9, 2022 Muniraju, a Dalit resident of Gottaluru, visited the neighbouring village of Doddapura, to perform puja at Gangamma temple. Chandrappa, a resident of Doddapura, his close relative Siddaiah and 15 upper caste people assaulted him, leaving him with bleeding injuries in his head.

It is this anti-constitutionality that Medigeshi’s Dalits stood up to… But they have had to pay dearly and now live in fear as the local police water down the case while Karnataka’s BJP regime looks away.

To protest this apathy, several locals joined the Bharat Jodo Yatra passing through the region seeing hope for justice in this move. And Congress leader Rahul Gandhi who is leading the yatra said: “BJP has three objectives… the first is to maintain caste hierarchy and eventually destroy the Indian Constitution… the second objective is to make sure that Indian women are always subservient to Indian men… the third objective is to divide India along religious lines… That is basically the goal of the BJP.”

He further averred: “Congress’ views are diametrically opposite to this. We want to protect the Constitution and the rights of women, bringing communities and religions together.” Insisting that the Congress does not discriminate between caste communities, religions, and states he further stated: “As a party we understand how to bring harmony to this nation. The aim of Bharat Jodo Yatra is to unite India and stand against the violence being spread in the country.”

(The author is a senior creative writer and journalist)

Photocredits: Aaditya Philip Vasisht 


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