Protests boil over as landlord cuts off adivasi’s hand

The Malekudiyas,a tribal community inhabiting the Western Ghats in Karnataka, were never so angry. Not when they were prevented from collecting forest produce, not when they lost land in the name of a national park, not even when police branded them as Naxalites and shot their youth. But this time their anger has boiled over.

Belthangady town in Dakshina Kannada District trembled as a militant and angry demonstration of the Malekudiyas in hundreds, along with democratic-minded people marched to the Taluk Office. The demonstration was organised by the CPI(M) and some mass organisations. They were protesting against a horrendous atrocity – the chopping off of the hands of a poor tribal Sundar Malekudiyaby a local landlord Gopalakrishna Gowda and his henchmen. At the head of the procession was a photo of Gopal Gowda with chappal garland. His mock funeral was also conducted. The protestors surrounded the Taluk Office till the Tehsildar met them and assured prompt action.

            It all began on 26th July when Gopalakrishna Gowda and his men trespassed into Sundar’s land at Neriya village to grab it. When he resisted they tried to cut off his head with a cutting machine. When he tried to escape, four fingers of his hand were  cut off and fell to the ground. Gowda’s men tried to chop off his hands completely. They succeeded in cutting off one hand. Sundar’s wife Revathy and son Poornesh ran to rescue him, but the goons had come prepared – they threw chili powder into their eyes. Before people of village could gather, Gowda and his men ran away.

            Neriya is predominantly inhabited by Malekudiya people.  They were in the news in recent years on two occasions. First as part of obnoxious ‘Made-snana’ (religious ritual wherein lower caste people roll over the leftovers after a Brahmin feast).  And then a second time when an innocent student Vittal Malekudiya was hounded and arrested as a Naxalite.  Neriya is about 20 km.s from Belthangady.

            Malekudiyas are settled here for many decades. But in recent years, Gopala Gowda who owns about 25-30 acres has been trying to grab all adjacent land. He claims ownership for hundreds of acres of land.  He is also transgressing and grabbing Malekudiya lands. He is politically well-connected. Hence the administration and police looks the other way.  He was Mandal Panchayat President and Taluk Panchayat Member when he was in Congress.  Now he is a BJP leader. 

            Anyone resisting his land grab has to face barbaric attacks by a criminal gang maintained by him. Many Adivasis that resisted him have disappeared and after few days their bodies were floating in the river or women of their family have been raped and thrown into river.  There are about 75 unexplained deaths in this area. Gopala Gowda has been trying to grab Sundar Malekudiya’s land for many years now but he has been resisting. 16 years ago Gowda’ gang attacked Sundar’s house when he was away. The gang tried to cut off the rope of the cradle in which his child was sleeping. His wife went to resist and lost her fingers.

            Since 1991, Malekudiyas have been demanding ownership papers for the land they have been tilling for decades. They registered their claims under the Forest Act 2006 also. The Administration refused their claims saying it is not forest land but in the buffer zone. The tribals see Gopala Gowda’s hand in the response of the Administration.  Similarly in stalling a road project to Neriya, a minor irrigation project and other development works, they see Gowda’s hand.

            Sundar is admitted to and recovering in Venlock hospital Mangalore. His hand and fingers have been joined back. But experts feel both his hands may not be operational.  So far the police has not able to nab Gowda or his henchmen. They have only arrested Gopal Gowda’s wife.  Organizations conducting the struggle have warned that SP’s office will be blockaded if culprits are not arrested in a few days. But Congress, BJP units (or any other organization) or local MLA/MPs have not uttered a single word about this barbaric act or visited the family or village.