Dalits vote for ballot, not upper caste bullying, in Tumkur

TUMKUR: For the dalits in the most backward villages in Tumkur Lok Sabha constituency, this election was not just about voting for the candidate the upper caste strongmen had demanded, it was also about asserting their right to vote independent of any threats and inducements.

This dalit assertion, this breaking away from the diktat of the upper caste village heads has not been easy. It has been marred with internal rife within the community as well as violent responses by the snubbed upper castes.

For example, in Rapte village of Nagalamadike hobli, in the dalit dominated Pavagada taluk, three members of a family were beaten up for refusing to vote for the candidate their upper case leaders had demanded. And this is not an isolated case.

The genesis of this dalit assertion is economic.

The opening up of the economy gave rise to thousands of small, unskilled jobs in construction sites and factories in cities like Bangalore, Mysore and Tumkur.

This gave an opportunity to the dalit young to leave their villages and its caste boundaries for jobs in the cities.

They earned far more than what they could in villages, sent most of the money home and made their families financially independent. With economic independence came a renewed sense of identity and as the landlords lost most of their field labourers to these city jobs, their influence waned.

Sogatu Venkatesh, a dalit leader in Tumkur said: "With the money their sons sent, the man found the power to turn into 'no men' from yes men'. Obviously when the traditional 'Yes men' take the liberty to say even 'no' it irks the upper caste people." According to Venkatesh, this new-found economic independence has changed voting patterns of the dalits as they no longer vote en bloc under upper caste pressure but a section of them votes for the candidate they think will work for them.

This better economic status of a few has also given rise to internal conflict within the community, with the weaker section among them being pitted against the well-off by upper caste people.

For instance, in Hunasavadi village of Madhugiri taluk, the upper castes had incited the 'weaker' section of the dalits against the economically well off, resulting in violence.