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In the Abalavadi village of Karnatka, a girl was killed for falling in love with a Dalit. In a chilling case, an entire village, Abalavadi, appears to have stood mute witness to the murderous beating and killing of a young girl, Suvarna, 22, by her immediate relatives, even as her Dalit paramour of five years, Govindaraju, 24, helpless to stop it, was thrashed and allowed to crawl away with nothing but his life. It is said to be the first case of honour killing in Karnataka. On January 5, two months after the incident, Govindaraju's still-rattled mother and two sisters-in-law, Tholasamma, Thayamma and Mangalagowri, told the jurisdictional Mandya district police that they witnessed the November 6, 2011 killing. The battered Suvarna, belonging to the dominant other backward caste of Vokkaligas, was hanged from the rafters of their cattle shed by her relatives, egged on by her father Davalana Ramakrishna. According to their account, and the version given exclusively to India Today by Govindaraju, nearly 300 villagers belonging to the girl's caste, as well as several Dalits, watched the incident. No one intervened. "They could not bear the idea of their girl being with me, a Dalit. We loved each other so much and longed for a life together, but they killed her. They told her, you want a Dalit boy, we will kill you in his house,'' a distraught Govindaraju told India Today over the telephone from his hiding place. Activist Lakshman Cheernahally, who is fighting for justice for Govindaraju and Suvarna, said some Vokkaligas were supporting their cause. "But this incident is just the latest among the anti-Dalit incidents in this Vokkaliga-dominant district,'' he said. Most Vokkaligas at Abalavadi insist Suvarna's death was suicide. "Will any man kill his own daughter? That too his only child whom he brought up like a flower?'' asks Suvarna's neighbour Savitri, 40. The deceased girl's classmate Jayalakshmi, 22, says: "She was weak and always complained of stomach ache. She killed herself. Her father would never have raised a hand against her. He was so caring, we used to wish our fathers were like that.'' Abalavadi gram panchayat member Lakshmamma, 40, from the Congress party, says: "Ramakrishna, our village elder from Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S), got Govindaraju's brother Thimmappa elected to the panchayat. Look at how they repaid him.'' Another neighbour, Ningamma, 35, maintains that Govindaraju's family was trying to duck outstanding loans of Rs.4 lakh taken from Vokkaligas by concocting the case. ''They are using Suvarna's death to make money,'' she says and points to the Rs.25 lakh rehabilitation package that some organisations have sought for the family. Govindaraju angrily denies these allegations. He says the "characterless'' Ramakrishna egged on Suvarna's brother Sunil, 16, to commit suicide a year ago, as he suspected that the boy was illegitimate. "After Sunil's death, Suvarna was the sole heir to about four acres of land and a jaggery unit, so all her cousins were eyeing her property. They seized the excuse of our relationship to get rid of her,'' he claims. The village of Abalavadi, near External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna's hometown of Maddur, is home to over 2,000 Vokkaligas and about 300 Dalits of the "untouchable'' Maadigas. The Dalits are "outsiders'' from Kunigal, 45 km away, who migrated to Abalavadi over three generations ago. They do not have land, but work as labourers on Vokkaliga lands. "They are a lazy lot, but we can't even raise our voices against them. They complain to the police for flimsy reasons and we are immediately penalised under the (Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of) Atrocities Act (1989). They may be just a minority in this village, but they know their power,'' says an angry Vokkaliga villager. This feeling is reflected across the region and the death of Suvarna, with its consequent Dalit agitation, threatens to exacerbate the long simmering inter-caste conflict in this hotbed of Vokkaliga politics. In the past one year, the district administration has reported an alarming number of inter-caste disruptions, perceived as an effort to capture and consolidate the Dalit vote. "We have still not identified a specific party that is fomenting this trouble, but a pattern of instigation is certainly emerging,'' a senior official in the district administration who did not want to be identified, told India Today. With just a year to go for the 2013 Assembly elections, Mandya district and its surrounding Vokkaliga belt, which accounts for 45 seats in the 224-seat Assembly, is crucial for the fortunes of all parties. The JD(S) led by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, and the Congress, are traditional rivals here, but the ruling BJP is making inroads. Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party is also stepping in. Suvarna's death and immediate cremation had been passed off as a "hidden suicide''. Locals and the police admit that it is the norm for bodies of suicide victims to be burnt without a case being registered or a post-mortem, as no one wants to get involved in the legal process. But Govindaraju's family, drummed out of Abalavadi since the incident, were emboldened by local bsp leader Krishnamurthy to lodge the complaint about what happened two months ago. The family is still in hiding. Govindaraju's elder brother Thimmappa also approached the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), along with several Dalit organisations. He contends that the district police are not in a position to conduct an impartial inquiry as the Vokkaligas are politically powerful. He has asked the shrc to conduct an independent inquiry and also sought its support to refer the case to the CBI. "I took up the case suo motu based on media reports, before these people approached me. I issued notices to the chief secretary, the Mandya district administration and the superintendent of police. I also spoke to the inspector general for the range and sought a report within six weeks,'' shrc Chairperson Justice S.R. Nayak told India Today. Mandya's Superintendent of Police Koushalendra Kumar said there did appear to be a case as per Govindaraju's family's allegations. "We have arrested most of the accused, including Ramakrishna,'' he said. The district administration is looking to resolve the case quickly, as several Dalit and Vokkaliga organi- sations are staging dharnas and processions countering each other, which could lead to serious clashes. The district Deputy Commissioner P.C. Jaffer said, "We are working to bring back harmony to the village.''


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