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On 15 September 1999, non-Dalits attacked the Dalit hamlet of Malasamudram. Armed with batons and bamboo sticks, a dominant caste mob attacked the Dalit colony, injuring several Dalits, including women. The attackers forcefully stripped Dalit woman Gangaratnamma of her clothes, beat her publicly, paraded her naked around the village, and then made her run for her life.
On 15 September 1999, Latha, a ten-year old Dalit girl, went to fetch water from a common bore-well in Malasamudram. Meanwhile Kalavathamma, a non-Dalit girl from a powerful and land-owning Backward Caste (Golla), arrived at the same well to fetch water. When Latha did not immediately step out of the way for her, Kalavathamma kicked away Latha’s water vessel, pushed Latha out of the way and abused her by caste name. Latha returned to her house and reported everything that had happened at the bore-well. Latha’s mother Gangamma immediately went to the bore-well and asked Kalavathamma what right she had to push her daughter away. At this, Kalavathamma angrily gathered the people of her caste and informed them that not only had a Dalit girl failed to make way for her at the bore-well, but then the Dalit mother had confronted her on the issue. The dominant caste community promptly announced that Dalits should no longer fetch water from the bore-well. The Dalits felt insulted by the announcement, since the bore-well in question was a common one and the denial of their access to it amounted to an assertion of ‘untouchability’. As a community, the Dalits went to the bore-well to exercise their right to the drinking water resource. Among the Dalits at the gathering was 28-year old Gangaratnamma, who had come to Malasamudram to see her parents.
Angered by the Dalits’ assertion, the non-Dalits assembled and attacked the Dalit colony. They assaulted and severely beat those Dalits whom they could catch. The attackers seized Gangaratnamma and forcefully stripped off her clothes. She escaped, ran to her house and closed the doors. The non-Dalits followed, broke open the doors, dragged naked Gangaratnamma outside and publicl beat her. One of the dominant caste assailants tried to crush her neck with his leg. When she again escaped and ran, the attackers chased her. Dalits Gangaratnamma, Ramanamma (40), and Venkata Swami (27) were severely injured in the course of the attack and were admitted to the hospital at Penugonda. Dalits Alivelamma, Narasimhulu, Venkataswami, Narayanamma, Gangadri, China Doddappa and others, also injured in the attack, were admitted to Gorantla Hospital. Gangaratnamma recognized the miscreants who attacked her. In the complaint she registered with the police, she identified as her assailants Golla Chinnappa, Golla Rangappa, Golla Narayanappa, Golla Kesanna, and Talari Sivappa, all of whom were reputedly well-connected with Telugu Desam Party (TDP) minister Nimmala Krishnappa. The accused were arrested and then released on bail.
Kausilya Devi (23), belonging to Musahar (SC) was married to Kulkul Manjhi at the age of 13 years. After marriage, Kausilya left her natal home and came to live with her husband and in-laws in their village of Kamlavadi, in Pandaul block, Madhubani district, Bihar. Kausilya and her husband both work as daily wage agricultural labourers. Kausilya is illiterate and both her natal and marital families are extremely poor, even relative to the poverty of the Musahar community generally.
With her husband, Kausilya Devi had three children: the eldest, her son Shiva (5 years) attends the local anganwadi; her daughter Chand Kumari (3 years) has started studying in the local government school; and she has one more daughter Sapna Kumari (1 year). Kausilya Devi and her husband work hard and live off their meagre earnings as agricultural labourers. When there is no agricultural work available, Kausilya Devi collects wood from the forest to sell as firewood in the village. Throughout most of their married life, Kausilya Devi’s husband Kulkul Manjhi has abused her physically, verbally and sexually. Kausilya Devi says that after working all day in the fields or cutting wood and carrying it on her head all day, and then returning home and taking care of their children, meals and housework, she often was not in the mood for sexual contact. Despite this, her husband demanded sex from her and often forced himself upon her despite her protests. Moreover, often when she refused sex, Kulkul Manjhi physically beat her and shouted abuse at her, saying, for instance, “Fuck your mother, you illegitimate woman!”
In the months preceding July 1999, whenever Kausilya Devi went to the forest to collect firewood, she noticed a man named Sitaram (BC Barai, 40 years), watching her on the way. Sitaram is a small landowner who sharecrops for his livelihood. At that time he used to frequent the Musahar colony of Kamlavadi. He also wandered near the forest, particularly when Kausilya Devi was coming or going. Often, when he saw Kausilya Devi coming, Sitaram whistled at her. Other times, he made suggestive looks at her with his eyes. When she ignored him, he grew more aggressive in his harassment. He began to follow Kausilya Devi and pull on the edge of her sari when he caught up with her.
One day in July 1999, Kausilya Devi was in the jungle as usual with several other Dalit women collecting firewood. The women were spread out over a wide area. Kausilya Devi had collected a large bundle of wood and bound it. Preparing to go home, she was lifting the heavy bundle onto her head. At that moment, Sitaram arrived at the spot and came forward, ostensibly to help Kausilya lift the bundle. As he helped her put the bundle on her head, he also groped both her breasts. Kausilya Devi was furious and said, “Are you not satisfied with your wife at home? If you are not satisfied with your wife, then go grope the breasts of your mother and sisters!”
As she was shouting at him, the other Dalit women in the forest began arriving with their wood bundles. Seeing them approach, Sitaram quickly left the area. Five days later, still in July 1999, Kausilya Devi was again in the forest in the afternoon to collect wood, this time in the company of a Musahar Dalit woman named Jalsi Devi. Sitaram arrived at the spot and stood quietly, staring at Kausilya Devi. She and Jalsi Devi ignored him. When the two women were finished with their collection and began to leave the jungle with the bundles on their heads, Sitaram asked Kausilya Devi for a safety pin so that he could remove a thorn from his hand. Kausilya Devi replied, “I am the one cutting wood here, but somehow a thorn has found its way into your hand? Look, if you really have a thorn in your hand, then show it to a doctor and have it removed!” Having said this, and sensing that Sitaram had malicious intentions, Kausilya Devi told Jalsi Devi to hurry up and the two of them began to leave the forest. Jalsi Devi moved ahead and Kausilya Devi followed behind. Quickly, Sitaram approached Kausilya Devi from behind and assaulted her, grabbing her forcibly so that the wood bundle fell from her head. When she shouted, Sitaram tore a piece of cloth from her sari and stuffed it into her mouth to silence her. Jalsi Devi, seeing what was happening, dropped her wood bundle and ran ahead toward the village, shouting for help.
Having gagged Kausilya Devi, Sitaram forcibly dragged her from the forest into a nearby field of standing sugarcane. There he tore off her clothes and violently raped her. When he had raped her, he laughed, stood up, and said, “Do you remember what you said about my mother and sisters? This is your punishment for saying that.” Meanwhile, Jalsi Devi had run toward the distant Musahar colony, shouting that Sitaram had abducted Kulkul Manjhi’s wife. On the way, she passed some Dalit agricultural labourer men of the Dusadh caste. Hearing her shouts, the Dusadh men ran toward the forest to rescue Kausilya Devi. They did not find her, but the news of the abduction spread “like wildfire” throughout the villages, and soon about 20 men of the Barai caste, too, came to the forest to take the side of Sitaram. A fight ensued in which the Dusadh men threw stones at the Barais, and the Barais in turn attacked the Dusadhs with spears and sickles. The Barais, better armed, inflicted serious injuries on several of the Dusadh men who had come in defence of Kausilya Devi. The Dusadh men in the fight included Malhua Paswan, Ramfal Paswan, Dani Paswan, Ram Bharosa Paswan and Ram Swaroop Paswan. Ramfal Paswan was grievously injured in the fight and died before he could receive medical attention.
After the rape, Sitaram returned to the Barai quarter of the village and learned of the caste violence and the death of Ramfal Paswan. Concerned that he would be implicated in a police case, he went to Pandaul police station and filed a false case, stating that the Dusadh men had cut bamboo from his property, and that this was the cause of the caste violence. After the rape, Kausilya Devi returned in pain to her home in the Musahar colony, where she learned what had happened in the village. News also arrived that Sitaram had filed a case against the Dalits. Kausilya Devi immediately went to Pandaul police station and filed her own complaint with the police, informing them of the rape. Due in part to her illiteracy, she did not learn the Station Officer’s name or caste, nor did she obtain a copy of the FIR.
The next day, news spread in the Musahar quarter of the village that Sitaram had again approached the police station and given the Station Officer a bribe of Rs.20,000/- to scuttle Kausilya Devi’s rape case. Kausilya and her family were unable to confirm the report, but when the police made no enquiries and no investigation, they began to believe it was true. Now Kausilya Devi begins to doubt that the Station Officer in fact registered a FIR. Activists aware of the case think the Station Officer may have simply written down the particulars of Kausilya’s complaint without formalising the complaint as a FIR.