Bageshree S.

Seven Dalits were murdered at Kambalapalli village nine years ago

All the 32 accused in the case were acquitted by the Kolar Sessions Court

Bangalore: September 11 marks the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

While the Act has received much flak for its perceived “misuse”, the progress of the case on the murder of seven Dalits at Kambalapalli in Kolar on March 11, 2000, one of the most gruesome cases reported in Karnataka, remains a glaring testimony to laws failing to ensure safety and dignity to the worst victims of atrocities.

Appeal for retrial

The appeal for the retrial of this case, admitted in the Karnataka High Court in July, 2007, is still to come up for hearing.

It was after much delay and deliberation that the Government had gone on appeal against the Kolar Sessions Court verdict of 2006, which acquitted all the 32 accused in the case for the “failure of prosecution to prove the charges against the accused” after all the 40 witnesses turned hostile during the hearing.

It has been nine years since the gruesome incident took place and three years since the accused were acquitted by the court.

With the appeal on it pending for two years now, Kambalapalli case is a glaring instance of justice being delayed and denied to Dalits.

Coercion

The appeal against the sessions court judgement gains significance because several witnesses in the case have admitted to being coerced, covertly or overtly, into turning hostile.

Saapala Gangalappa, one of the witnesses, had told this correspondent during his visit to Bangalore in May 2007: “I will narrate everything as I saw it if the Government gives me protection.”

M. Venkatarayappa, the main witness who lost five members of the family in the massacre, pleaded helplessness just after the sessions court verdict was out and said in an interview with The Hindu: “What can one man do? They have given all the witnesses money.”

His wife Ramakka, sons Sriramappa and Anjaneya, and daughter Papamma were among those killed when the house they were in was set fire to by “upper caste” people.

N. Venkatesh of the Dalit Sangharsha Samiti and Basavaraj Kowthal of the Human Rights Forum for of Dalit Liberation , who were part of a high-level meeting held last week on Dalit atrocity cases, have demanded that retrial of the case, when it gets going, should be held outside Kolar to ensure that there was no coercion of witnesses.

Back in the village, there is little hope of the case going anywhere.

B. Jagadeesh, a B.Ed. graduate from Kambalapalli, said: “All the witnesses are already too old.”

Rehabilitation

The promised rehabilitation at a cost of Rs. 3 crore for 66 Dalit families of Kambalapalli is also only partially met. While all were given houses, 22 are yet to get any land.

“They had promised irrigation borewells for every four acres. Only two are functioning now,” he said, adding that most educated youth in the village did not have jobs.

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