Fined Rs 60,000 for touching idol, Karnataka Dalit family says will only worship Ambedkar now – The Indian Express

“If God doesn’t like us, we will not pray to him. We will offer our prayers to Dr B R Ambedkar,” said Shobamma out of frustration. Shobamma was given a deadline to cough up a fine of Rs 60,000 by October 1 after her son touched a pole during a religious procession of the village. The offence: Shobamma belongs to a Dalit family.
Shobamma lives in Ullerahalli in Malur taluk of Kolar district, barely 60 km from Bengaluru, with her family. On September 9, Shobamma was penalised for her son’s “crime” but the incident came to light only on Monday when she narrated her ordeal to a few Dalit organisations of Kolar.
On September 8, the villagers were holding the Bhootayamma fair and Dalits were not allowed to enter the village deity’s temple. Shobamma’s 15-year-old son, who was outside when a procession was taken out in the village, touched a pole attached to the idol of Sidiranna, a prominent south Indian village deity. Venkateshappa, a villager, noticed it and alleged transgression and asked his family to appear before the village elders.
The next day, Shobamma, who met the elders, was in for a rude shock after she was asked to pay a fine of Rs 60,000 by October 1. She was also told that if she fails to pay the fine, she would be “thrown out of the village”.
According to the local residents, the village consists of nearly 75-80 houses, and most of the families hail from the Vokkaliga community. The village has around 10 Scheduled Caste families. Shobhamma’s house is in the outskirts of the village and her son is a student of 10th standard at a school in Tekal village.
Ramesh, Shobamma’s husband, mostly remains ill, leaving the woman to be the sole breadwinner of the family. “I take a train every morning at 5.30 am to Bengaluru and work as a housekeeping staff at an apartment in Whitefield and return by 7.30 pm. I get a salary of Rs 13,000 and that is all we have to run the house. The Rs 60,000-penalty came as a shock for us,” Shobamma said.
Asked what did the village elders say, Shobamma said she was told that the idol has turned impure since a Dalit boy had touched it and they needed to purify it and repaint the idol and the fine amount will be used for the work.
“If God doesn’t like our touch or if people want to keep us away, what is the point of us offering prayers? Like any other person, I also have spent money, offered donations for God. Hereafter, I will not do any such thing and will only offer prayers to Dr B R Ambedkar,” she told The Indian Express.
Sandesh, a local activist who runs Ambedkar Seva Samithi, said he came to know about the incident Monday night and rushed to meet the family. “I went to their home and helped them file a police complaint. Even after 75 years of independence, if such social evils are still in practice, where will the poor people go?” he questioned.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Kolar Deputy Commissioner Venkat Raja said he visited the village Wednesday and met the family. “We have given them a plot to construct a house and have paid them some money. We will provide a job for Shobamma in the social welfare hostel as well. I have also informed the police to arrest the accused at the earliest and they are at it,” Raja said.
Meanwhile, the police invoked provisions of Protection of Civil Rights Act against former Gram Panchayat member Narayanaswamy, Venkateshappa, the husband of the Gram Pradhan, panchayat vice-president and a few others.
Such incidents in Karnataka are not new. Last year, in Miyapur village in Koppal district, a Dalit family was slapped a fine of Rs 25,000 by the village leaders for a boy’s “offence” of entering a local temple. The government, which had taken up the issue, launched a programme named Vinaya Samarasya Yojana, an awareness programme meant to eradicate untouchability.
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