People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 45

November 10, 2013



Rape-Murder Cases Exposes Feudal Lords’ Black Deeds


B Madhava


ONE year after the brutal gang rape and murder of Soujanya, a 17 years old college student of Ujire near the temple town of Dharmasthala in Belthangady taluk on October 9, 2012, the whole district of Dakshina Kannada in coastal Karnataka has risen in protest demanding a CBI enquiry. People are spontaneously organising protests in almost every village of Belthangady taluk. 




It was in the morning of October 9, 2012 that Soujanya, daughter of poor parents Chandappa Gowda and Kusumavathi, left her home for the Manjunatheshwara College in Dharmasthala where she was a student in the second year of plus 2 PUC course.  According to her mother, the poor girl left with empty stomach. However, she did not return in the evening, leaving the family in deep agony. An extensive search was conducted by the family and neighbours throughout the evening and till late in the night. Her body was then found in a jungle near the road leading to her college, on the morning of the following day. Her legs were found tied to the trees on either side with her shawl. Her clothes were torn and there were signs of her resistance to the brutality. The news appeared in press the following day. But no political party except the CPI(M) came forward to demand immediate action to apprehend the culprits and bring them to justice, though there were voices of protest in the media from some organisations and individuals. The state government then entrusted the case to the Corps of Detectives (COD) and then washed its hands off. The COD, which was later renamed as CID, did not submit its report for a whole year.


In this background, the district committees of the CPI(M), DYFI, SFI and AIDWA decided to jointly organise a vehicle jatha from Belthangady to Mangalore and submit a memorandum to the deputy commissioner demanding that the investigation be entrusted to the CBI. The jatha was conducted on October 9, 2013, the first anniversary of Soujanya's death. The jatha culminated in a huge public meeting before the deputy commissioner's office, which was addressed among others by Seema, an MP and all-India leader of the AIDWA. This programme, which attracted wide coverage in the media, shook the conscience of a vast section of the people in the district and outside. Many organisations and prominent individuals began organising protests all over the district, particularly in Belthangady, the home taluk of Soujanya where people protested in almost every village. CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, along with the party’s state secretary G V Srirama Reddy and others, visited the house of Soujanya at Pangala in Belthangady on the evening of October 27, 2013, and talked to her parents. 




There was all-round anger on the failure of the CID to submit its report. The police had arrested an insane person who was aimlessly wandering in the area and who was handed over to the police by the local people. The police started a campaign that Santhosh Rao, the insane person under their custody, had confessed his guilt and that they were satisfied that he alone was the culprit. The people were, however, not convinced by the claim of the police. They started asserting that it was a case of gang rape and demanded that all the perpetrators of the heinous crime be arrested and prosecuted.  The father of Soujanya had given to the police the names of three persons whom he strongly suspected to be the perpetrators of the crime. He still asserts that his suspicion is correct. But the CID and the police made a show of calling two of them and getting their statements; they naturally said that they had nothing to do with the incident. The third suspect is said to be in America. He is related to the head of the Dharmasthala temple who addressed the press and asserted that the said relative had left for America much before the date of the incident. 


One may note that over the last two decades there have been innumerable cases of suspected rape and murder in Dharmasthala village. About 20 years ago, Padmalatha, a student of the same Manjunatheshwara College in Dharmasthala, was kidnapped, raped and murdered, and her body was later found floating in the river. The widespread suspicion about the reason for this heinous crime was that Devananda, the father of Padmalatha, had contested the panchayat election against the diktat of the feudal lords that there would be no election in Dharmasthala and that their candidates  should be elected unopposed. None except the CPI(M) protested, at that time, against this illegal and illegitimate injunction by holding a powerful rally at the district headquarters. But the issue died down for lack of public support.


Among the large number of similar instances, another prominent case can be cited here. About 30 years ago a school teacher called Vedavalli, who was fighting for her lawful right to be promoted as the head mistress of the school run by the same feudal lords, was killed. The henchmen of these very lords had poured kerosene on her body and set her afire. The case was treated as one of suicide and closed by the police. Her husband, Dr Herale, is still alive to narrate the crime committed against his wife. 




As per the information gathered by some organisations, there have been more than 450 cases of unnatural death in Dharmasthala and Ujire villages during the last 11 years. The reasons are unknown in most of the cases. People say that most of the victims of these unnatural deaths had themselves resisted or were related to persons who had resisted forcible eviction from the lands occupied by them since generations.


The fact is that the area in the vicinity of Dharmasthala temple is treated as a private empire. For example, the auto rickshaws, taxies, jeeps etc, parking in Dharmasthala, are allotted additional numbers with the prefix 'D'. 


Protests have now spread to other parts of Karnataka, including Bangalore, the state capital. A cross section of intellectuals and some heads of religious institutions are also participating in these protests. One of the popular television channels of the state, viz, TV9, has telecast prolonged panel discussions on the Soujanya case. 


Now, as per the reports appearing in the press, the religious head of Dharmasthala temple has written to the chief minister suggesting that the investigation be handed over to the CBI. However, the opinion is divided on this course of action and several of the people are indeed talking about the vulnerability of the CBI to yield to high level influence mounted by powerful forces through the ruling party of the day. They thus are not prepared to harbour an illusion that justice would be bestow upon the late Soujanya.