On either side of the serpentine road leading to the village of Tirumaladevara Koppa, cotton shrubs stand on pitch dark soil. The bolls clouding up at the edge of the stalks appear almost ready for harvest. One wonders if it was cotton plucked from these fields in an earlier season that was found stuffed in the mouth of Basavaraja Kademani on that gory night after amavasya in November 2011, when a medieval tantric ritual of ‘human sacrifice’ is said to have unfolded in the village that falls in the Ranebennur taluk of Haveri district.
Although it has been a little over three months since Basavaraja, who was from the Dalit Madiga community, was found dead, his unlettered parents Bharmappa and Manjavva are fighting the obstinate local administration to convince them that their son was indeed ritually sacrificed by their upper-caste landlord of 15 years. They allege that Basavanagouda Gouda, around 65, got Nijalingaswamy alias Tatu Ajja, a tantrik, to perform the ghastly ritual to “correct vaastu problems” plaguing his newly built house. The tantrik had drawn their son’s blood and sprinkled it in and around the house to exorcise the imagined evil.
The district in-charge minister C.M. Udasi agrees with the police. “I’ve made several enquiries,” he says. “This is a false complaint. This is not human sacrifice.” However, Dalit writers and activists like Devanoor Mahadeva and S. Sivalingam insist that this is indeed a reprehensible ritual offering and the state does not want to admit it as it would mean negative publicity and disrepute. Strangely, the human rights lobby is yet to mobilise on a case that involves a Dalit being “sacrificed”. People prefer to pretend it did not happen. When Outlook contacted the CM’s office, a response was promised, but didn’t come.
Basavaraja’s parents are outraged by this “fabricated tale meant only for a cover-up”. Despite the evident disinterest of the local authorities to probe the death thoroughly, and the prima facie evidence on offer (including the post-mortem report), raises many uneasy questions about Basavaraja’s death, besides punching holes in the police story.
Sometime in 2010, Basavanagouda built a house with an RCC roof. While the house was being constructed, a worker lost his life. This was seen as a terrible omen. Other workers were reluctant to continue after the death as they apparently heard strange sounds at the work site. The landlord persisted and somehow got the house completed, but very soon the walls started developing air cracks. All this prompted the landlord to summon a tantrik to perform appropriate poojas to ‘establish peace’ in the house. The tantrik, who started frequenting the house, reportedly began with basic rituals like burying lemons and coconuts in different corners of the house. When that did not work, he graduated to performing somewhat more ‘powerful’ poojas. This included burying a live pig in the compound around August 2011. Ironically, each time the poojas happened, it was Basavaraja who was asked to bury the consecrated elements, including the pig. When none of this secured the desired result, Basavaraja’s parents believe, the tantrik finally resorted to making their son the ‘sacrificial object’ on Saturday, November 26, 2011. It was the night after the new moon.
Basavaraja’s parents recall how the final evening unfolded for their son. The landlord had given him his motorbike in the evening and asked him to drop off a labourer in the neighbouring village and return quickly. Basavaraja took his friend, Nagaraja, along so that he would have company when he rode back. This was around 7.30 pm. Between 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm, when they returned to the village, the landlord had called Basavaraja on his cellphone nearly half-a-dozen times and asked him to hurry back. Once they reached the village entrance, Basavaraja asked Nagaraja to get off and wait for him in his house. When Basavaraja did not return as promised, Nagaraja called him on his phone. It rang a couple of times, but later started giving a ‘switched off’ message. Nagaraja went to bed thinking that some unexpected work must have come up at the landlord’s house. Early next morning, the police reached Basavaraja’s house and told the parents their son had been grievously injured after he had clashed with the landlord’s son and that he had been admitted to hospital. But instead of taking the parents to the hospital, the police took them straight to the police station.
The condition of Basavaraja’s body hinted at a tantric ritual, the villagers say. Turmeric and vermillion had been smeared all over the body, oil had been applied to the hair. The mouth was stuffed with cotton. There was a hole in the forehead, as if a nail had been driven there. The neck had been turned, the right eye gouged, ears and lips torn and a few teeth plucked out. The face had been crushed and it was difficult to make out that it was Basavaraja.
Cause macabre A Swabhimani Dalit Shakti protest against Basavaraja’s death
The post-mortem report of Nov 27, 2011, has similar observations. Among other things, it says, “Face has taken the shape of flat surface and compressed from both sides. Lacerated wound in middle of forehead (5*1 cm), where the wound is 5 cm deep towards the brain.... Right eye crushed and lost its shape. All skull bones fractured. All facial bones fractured. Brain has torn into pieces and has no shape and has become one mass. Right lung congested. Left lung crushed and bloodstained. Heart empty (read missing). Death is due to shock and haemorrhage.”
Outlook also tried to verify if there was any truth to the illicit relationship spin the police have put on the murder. Ninganagouda’s parents-in-law in Devarabelakeri village of neighbouring Davangere district were contacted with the help of the Swabhimani Dalit Shakti organisation. The details emerging from there are as befuddling. Ninganagouda and Deepa had been married only for six months. In those six months, she had visited her in-laws’ place only twice and stayed for 20 days in all. And when Basavaraja was killed, she was not at her in-laws’ place but undergoing treatment for an ailment at her mother’s place. The girl’s parents say they met their son-in-law in jail and asked him why he had tried to defame his wife. He apparently told them it was not “his story”, but a police “concoction”.
Basavaraja’s parents have submitted memoranda to almost everybody—from the SP and DM in the district to the CM and governor in Bangalore—but nothing seems to have helped. Mainstream Dalit organisations showed interest in the beginning but have suddenly gone mute. Meanwhile, the local MLA and social justice department have offered Basavaraja’s parents a meagre compensation. But compensation isn’t what Basavaraja’s parents want. They want justice.
Reporting on the case of human sacrifice (The Deathly Altar of Tatu Ajja, Mar 5), you say “the human rights lobby is yet to mobilise”. As a representative of the People’s Democratic Forum, which has been working with the Swabhimani Dalit Shakti, another group, I’d like to state that we have been working on the case and even organising protests. Likewise, the PUCL, too, has done quite a lot. We are trying to have the case seen as one of human sacrifice rather than just murder.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Tantric ritualism still waters the superstitious minds of our countrymen.Propitiating deities,real and imagined has caused great damage in cultivating social tensions bordering on suspicion,jealously and rank discrimination.Basavaraja's death should be properly investigated and must not be treated as a closed chapter or a one off incident.
Outlook 02 March 2012
The report on human sacrifice in Karnataka gives all the details of the gory event. But I am compelled to state that it is not complete at least in respect of a particular detail. Your representative says that "Strangely, the human rights lobby is yet to mobilise on a case......" I write on behalf of a human rights organisation called Peoples' Democratic Forum (P D F), which has been since the beginnibg working along with Swabhimani Dalita Shakti, a dalit organisation to unearth the facts of the case. Your representative could have noticed the names of the HR bodies PDF and PUCL on the banner if only he had looked at them more closely or even cursorily. It means that the HR organisations took part not merely in collecting facts , but also in the protests held at Ranebennuru Even now we are striving to get the establishment recognise the case as one of human sacrifice and not merely a murder.I fail to understand what is meant by a lobby here ; we are not a lobby , but a serious organisation functioning for quite a long time in Karnataka and also in other parts of the country. This is to set the record right.
(Member - PDF)
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