KARNATAKA

Gangooru Dalits' protest enters 50th day

HASSAN, AUG. 14. It has been 50 days since the Dalits of Gangooru started their protest by erecting huts in the reserve forest area of the village. The Dalits, who were freed from bonded labour a decade ago, are still waiting for compensation for the land acquired by the Forest Department in 1992.

Eeriah, one of the Dalits whose land was acquired by the department, says that they will be forced to go back to bonded labour, if they are not given land.

The Dalits had earlier alleged that they were being denied work by the upper castes. Refuting the allegation, the Deputy Commissioner, K.H. Ashwathanarayana Gowda, said that the Dalits were not being "ostracised." He said that the upper caste people were "apprehensive" of employing the Dalits, in view of the recent developments.

"Unreasonable" demands

The villagers of Gangooru and 20 surrounding villages are urging the Government not to grant land to the Dalits. People from the upper caste in the village allege that the Dalits are making "unreasonable" demands even after the Government extended adequate facilities under various schemes over the last ten years. Several Dalit organisations, including the Dalit Sangharsha Samithi (DSS), the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP), and the Federation of Scheduled Castes and Tribes Associations have taken up their cause. The Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) has threatened to start cultivating the reserve forestland if the Government fails to sanction land as soon as possible.

The district in-charge and Public Works Minister, H.D. Revanna, said that the Government was keen on rehabilitating the Dalits. He said that he had directed the Deputy Commissioner to identify land for the purpose.

The Dalit leaders allege that the MLAs from the area are not prepared to solve the problem, as they are afraid of losing the votes of the upper castes. The Arkalgud MLA, A.T. Ramaswamy, says he is making earnest efforts to solve the issue.

Contempt of court

The Deputy Commissioner told The Hindu that the district administration was trying to solve the issue on priority.

He said that land could not be sanctioned in the reserve forest area, as that would amount to contempt of court.

A legislator, on the condition of anonymity, asked why the Government had not booked any case against those who practised bonded labour in the village.

G.H. Chandraiah, president of the Gangooru Gram Panchayat and rescued bonded labourer, said that though the previous Deputy Commissioner, L.K. Atheeq, had assured them of the withdrawal of cases booked against them for uprooting the saplings planted by Forest Department in 1992, there had been no progress since.

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