Sidi at Hariharapura, Hassan, Karnataka.
News Struggles

Dalit Hakkugala Samiti demands end to the inhuman ritual of ‘Sidi’

A degrading, age-old ritual in Hassan district of Karnataka which involves piercing the flesh of Dalits using metal hooks has come under challenge by democratic forces led by the Dalit Hakkugala Samiti.

The ritual known as ‘Sidi’ is held as part of the Udusalamma Devi Jaathra Mahotsav, a festival held every March in honour of Udusalamma, said to be an “incarnation of Durga”, at Hariharapura village in Hassan district, about 180 km from Bengaluru.

Sidi involves inserting metal hooks into the flesh of the backs of Dalit men, who are then tied to a wooden pole. The men dangle from the wooden pole with the help of the hooks, while the pole, which is mounted on a central axis, spins slowly (see video further below) as it is pulled by a rope held by other men. After one man completes one full pivot, another man takes his place.

This dangerous ritual is performed by Dalit men from the neighbouring village of Chakenahalli.

While the men dangle from the pole, women from the families of the men participate in the festival by fastening their lips shut with thin needles, in a ritual known as baayige beega (“locked mouths”). Dalits walk on coal embers before Sidi begins.

It is to be noted that even as the Dalits are made to perform the most dangerous tasks that are part of the festival, they are not even allowed inside the temple!

This year, however, sections of Dalits who have been taking part in Sidi refused to participate in it any longer, while progressive forces have taken up the issue with the objective of ending the inhuman ritual. The Hassan district unit of the Dalit Hakkugala Samiti (DHS) submitted a memorandum on March 10 to the district administration and the tahsildar of Holenarasipur taluk demanding an end to Sidi. The memorandum, signed by DHS leaders Prithvi M J and Raja Sigaranahalli, and veteran Dalit leader Narayandas, demanded that the practice be disallowed on 24th an 25th March 2017 at the Hariharapura Udusalamma Jaathra.

The memorandum said:

“Such an inhuman practice continuing unchecked due to social pressures and invocation of superstitious beliefs is a blot on any civilised society. In addition to this inhuman practice, the Dalits are forced to starve for more than a week so that “the muscles are loosened up for easier piercing”. Once their backs are pierced they are hanged on a pole, lifted high and rotated. There are many examples of people hurting themselves badly as well as deaths. Last year in Hebbal Village of Belur Taluk in Hassan District, a person died as the pole from which he was hung broke.

The people from Dalit community, under an atmosphere of fear induced by threats, superstitious beliefs and invocation of divine retribution, are forced to be part of such an inhuman practice. Undoubtedly this is an atrocity on the Dalit people. Perpetuation of such casteist and inhuman atrocities cannot be allowed to continue and it is a responsibility of a civilised society to put an end to it. It is an even greater responsibility of the government to stop such anti-Dalit practices.”

Following these developments, the administration held meetings to try and persuade the villagers to avoid going ahead with the ritual, but it refused to take a resolute stand on the issue. Under the prevailing atmosphere, sections of the oppressed communities also were reluctant to completely boycott Sidi, and the ritual was performed on Saturday, 25 March.

These events underscore the need to further intensify the fight to force the government to prohibit inhuman practices and the struggle to raise the consciousness of the people. The DHS and other progressive organisations have vowed to build the broadest possible unity to fight and put an end to retrograde practices such as Sidi.

Sidi at Hariharapura in Hassan district, Karnataka.

Memorandum submitted by the Dalit Hakkugala Samiti (English translation is given further below):

dhs-memorandum-demanding-end-to-sidi-cropped

Full text of the DHS memorandum:

Memorandum Seeking Ban on Inhuman Practice of Sidi at Hariharapur Udusalamma Jaathra

In Hariharpur Village of Halekote Hobli Holenarasipur Taluk on 24th and 25th March Udusalamma Devi Jaathra Mahotsav is being held. Seven villages around Hariharpur jointly organise and participate in it.

In the name of tradition, superstitious practices are promoted in the Jaathra wherein Dalit families from neighbouring Chakenahalli are pierced with iron hooks on their backs and their mouths are locked with iron hooks. They are then hanged on a long pole and rotated in a cruel inhuman practice called Sidi. This practice has been going on for many years.

Such an inhuman practice continuing unchecked due to social pressures and invocation of superstitious beliefs is a blot on any civilised society. In addition to this inhuman practice, the Dalits are forced to starve for more than a week so that “the muscles are loosened up for easier piercing”. Once their backs are pierced they are hanged on a pole, lifted high and rotated. There are many examples of people hurting themselves badly as well as deaths. Last year in Hebbal Village of Belur Taluk in Hassan District a person died as the pole from which he was hung broke.

The people from Dalit community, under an atmosphere of fear induced by threats, superstitious beliefs and invocation of divine retribution, are forced to be part of such an inhuman practice. Undoubtedly this is an atrocity on the Dalit people. Perpetuation of such casteist and inhuman atrocities cannot be allowed to continue and it is a responsibility of a civilised society to put an end to it. It is an even greater responsibility of the government to stop such anti-Dalit practices.

Hence the Dalit Hakkugala Samithi demands that this practice be disallowed on this 24th and 25th March at the Hariharpur Udusalamma Jaathra. Failing such an action, we warn that we will be forced to launch an intense struggle till the inhuman practice is stopped.

Signed by

Prithvi M J, District Convenor, DHS

Raju Sigaranahalli, Convenor, Holenarasipur Taluk, DHS

and

Narayandas, Veteran Dalit Leader

 

News reports:

“The gods must be crazy”, The Hindu, April 1, 2017

“Dalit families refuse to take part in Sidi ritual”, The Hindu, March 19, 2017

“Row notwithstanding, Sidi ritual held in Hassan”, The Hindu, March 26, 2017

“Karnataka village’s shame: Dalits ‘repent for sins’ in age-old ritual”, Hindustan Times, March 28, 2017.

 

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