05/21/2007, 00.00
INDIA
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Dalit woman killed for asking a question

by Nirmalo Carvalho
A Dalit woman was assaulted on Friday for daring to ask a former village councillor from an upper caste whether he had seen her missing cow. Brought to hospital, she died the next day. When news of her death reached her village, residents started protesting and set up a road block. The protest action ended when police promised to catch the murders.

Patna (AsiaNews) – Asking a question cost Karo Devi her life. The Dalit woman from the village of Dhansil, Gaya District, eastern Bihar state, was brutally assaulted last Friday by one Saroj Singh, an upper caste former village council member, for daring to ask him about her missing cow. Because of her ‘effrontery’ the man and his brothers beat the woman, holding back her husband who had tried to intervene. She died in hospital on Saturday from her injuries.

Upon hearing the news, irate villagers blocked traffic on the Gaya-Cherki road. The traffic blockade was lifted three hours later, following assurances by police officials that they would do everything possible to bring the Dalit woman's murderers to justice.

In confirming Karo Devi’s death, Gaya District spokesperson Amit Jain said that based on the information available the deadly incident originated in a dispute over passage rights.

When told that landlords and Dalits live in separate parts of the village and that passage rights could not be the reason for any dispute, he said that he was not ruling out the missing cow as being the cause of the murderers’ madness. He added never the less that Saroj Singh and his brothers, Manoj Singh and Raj Kumar, were wanted on murder charges.

“This was a gruesome murder,” Ruth Manorama, the 2006 Right Livelihood Award laureate and a well-known Dalit women's rights activist, told AsiaNews. “The National Commission of Dalit Women will be sending a fact-finding team to investigate Karo Devi’s death and we will take up the issue with the Human Rights Commission and [. . .] demand justice.”

“In our society,” she explained, “caste divisions are becoming a problem. Violence against Dalits is increasing and our government is doing nothing. In 60 years since India’s independence, very little has changed in the condition of the Dalits. Their oppression is even sanctified by the religious rituals of the upper castes.”

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