Moral policing in Belthangady: two Dalit girls booked for indecent exposure, soliciting, sent to Mangalore District Jail — despite one being minor — and released three days later on bail.

A sleeveless top and a skirt was all it took for four men and the police to assault two girls, brand them prostitutes and jail them for three days in Guruvayankere, Belthangady.

According to sisters Rukmini (18) and Roshini (16), children of daily-wage labourers, they were waiting at Guruvanyankere bus stop around 11.30 p.m. on July 17, when two men on a bike – Dolphy and Shashi Shetty – whom they were acquainted with, allegedly harassed them.

“They told us they have a lodge room ready. We were insulted, and so shouted,” said one of the sisters.

What followed, they said, was revenge in the guise of “inculcating morals”. The two men started to assault them, screaming out “prostitutes”. The girls were chased to a farm, where their sweaters were torn off – revealing a sleeveless top – and they were molested.

The girls, who belong to a Scheduled Caste community, said, “They said we were lower castes, and should not wear the clothes of rich people…that there were ‘rules’ laid down by the previous government for us to follow.,” said Ms. Rukmini, who is married.

The women were then dragged back to the bus stand where, in the presence of a constable from Belthangady police station, they were berated and beaten. “Two other men, Kishore and Shekhar, joined them. They tore our sweaters and a local paper reporter forcibly took our picture,” she said. .

The constable took them to the police station, where they were booked for indecent exposure and soliciting. The two girls were sent to Mangalore District Jail – despite Roshini being a minor – and were released three days later on bail. Though the police claim injury marks were absent, a report from district Wenlock hospital catalogues injury marks to the back, hands and legs.

After their discharge, the two girls and a Dalit organisation went to Superintendent of Police Abhishek Goyal for action.

“We will take up inquiry, but so far no case has been registered based on the complaint by the two ladies,” he said.

The Belthangady police denied abusing the two women, while maintaining they were above 18 years with “sufficient evidence to show prostitution”.

In the meanwhile, a Dalit organisation in Belthangady sent the police a letter with over 400 signatures, claiming the women were “not of good character” and urged the police not to file their complaint.

(Names changed to protect the women’s identity)

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