Released after a four-month ordeal, the gritty student is determined to continue his struggle for the rights of tribal families living in and around the Kudremukh National Park in Belthangady taluk, who have been denied access to basic amenities.
Four long months in prison under charges of waging a war against the Indian state; having to face the humiliation of being made to write an examination in chains; and being denied permission to enrol in the third year of his journalism course at Mangalore University, have evidently not dulled Vittal Malekudiya’s resolve.
Weeks after he was released, the 22-year-old shared the stage with leading intellectuals, social activists and academics at an interactive session organised by the Democratic Youth Federation of India, the organisation he is part of, and other bodies.
Addressing the audience, the gritty young man said he saw his ordeal as part of the government’s design to stifle dissent among tribal communities, in this case the families living in the land adjoining and part of the Kudremukh National Park in Belthangady taluk. He said people in the region had been denied access to basic amenities such as roads, healthcare and education, and the government was simply trying to coax them into forfeiting their land rights for a paltry package worth Rs. 10 lakh. “I will go back and continue to organise them and fight these policies. They cannot use anti-naxal laws to silence us,” the young man asserted.
While Kannada writer K. Marulasidappa praised Mr. Vittal’s “will to fight”, he pointed out that thousands of such voices are going unheard. “While Dalits and minorities have organised themselves and are able to speak and protest for their rights, tribal communities are largely unorganised and are deeply exploited,” he said, criticising the government’s policy of declaring more reserved forests and driving tribal communities out of their homes.
‘In elite company’
In a lighter vein, academic G.K. Govinda Rao said Mr. Vittal was in elite company. “You’re out on bail and so is the State’s Higher Education Minister, the only difference is that they (the politicians) cheated the people, and you, at this young age, want to help the people,” he said.
Pointing to the image of Mr. Vittal appearing for his university examination in chains, Mr. Rao said it was a “shameful and inhumane” act. “We, and other leaders from the CPI-M, asked the police and authorities how was this allowed, and they had no reply. It’s a shame,” he said. He said that he was inspired by the young Mr. Vittal’s speech and his determination to pursue a democratic struggle against the authorities that tried to silence him.
Poor track record
Karnataka Prantha Raitha Sangha secretary G.C. Bayya Reddy said Karnataka had a poor track record of implementing the Forest Act. “Progressive movements in the State have to take the larger issue of tribal injustice forward.”
The DYFI and the Students Federation of India announced their resolution to fight for Mr. Vittal’s right to be admitted to the next year of college (currently being denied by the university), to demand a conducive environment for him to be able to complete his degree, and to struggle for the rights of tribal communities in the district.