Hindutva fascism in Karnataka, South India: Mayhem in Mangalore: Yoginder Sikand

Early this month, a series of violent incidents rocked Mangalore and several nearby towns and villages in coastal Karnataka. Two people were killed, dozens injured and property worth several lakhs was destroyed. Although a semblance of peace has now been restored, tension remains, as I discovered after a recent trip to the area along with some social activists from Bangalore.

For some years now, Hindutva forces have been very active in the Dakshina Kannada district, where Mangalore is located. The MP from the area and most of the local MLAs are from the BJP. The road leading to Mangalore is strewn with saffron banners and flags, indicating the presence of numerous Hindutva outfits. Economic factors, such as competition between Muslim and Hindu traders and contradictions between some sections of the fishermen community and Muslim traders have been used by Hindutva forces to whip up anti-Muslim sentiments and consolidate their presence. Consequently, relations between Hindus and Muslims have been badly affected, an outcome of which were what many locals believe were the pre-planned riots of early October, in which BJP and Bajrang Dal leaders, including some occupying top positions in the present Karnataka government, are said to have played a leading role.

Madrasat ul-Badariya is a small mosque-cum-madrasa recently constructed in Bejai, a locality in Mangalore. There are around a dozen Muslim houses in this largely Christian and Hindu area. On the evening of the 6th of October, some young men entered the area in a car, scaled the wall of the Christian locality and barged into the madrasa. The only person inside the madrasa was Abdul Ghafur, the imam. They are said to have pelted the imam with stones, plunged swords into his body while raising slogans hailing the Bajrang Dal and then fled from the scene. The muezzin, who was in the adjacent bathroom while this was happening, fled to a nearby house to inform people of the attack. The imam was rushed to the hospital, where he died.

Says Noor (name changed), a local youth, ‘There has never been any communal tension in this area. Even in the 1992 and 1998 violence our locality remained tension-free. This incident was clearly motivated to terrorise us. But what can we do? We have to live and die here’. The imam was just 23 years-old an from a very poor family, he tells me. He is survived by his aged father, who is almost blind, his mother and three sisters of marriageable age. He was the sole breadwinner of his family.

In Unity Hospital, Mangalore, a young Muslim man writhes in pain on his hospital bed as he tells us about how his cousin Ibrahim, who, while travelling in an ambulance to the airport, was laid upon by a Hindu mob, and was killed. The young man and six others were also in the vehicle and, they, too, were attacked with lethal weapons but escaped. The mob pelted his genitals with large stones, and he does not know if he can ever fully recover. He is a daily-wage earner and does not know how or when he can go back to work.

It is clear that the police, too, actively engaged in this campaign of terror directed against the Muslims. In several Muslim localities in Mangalore and in nearby BC Road and Ullal that we visited, evidence of police brutality was amply evident. Rows upon rows of houses were set upon by the police in the dark of night. They barged into several dozen houses, breaking down doors and shattering windowpanes. Inside, they went on a rampage on the pretext of searching for miscreants, smashing television sets, wrenching open almirahs and abusing and physically manhandling womenfolk. Scores of Muslim men, most of them said to be innocent, were arrested and, it is alleged, false cases slapped on them. Many of them have been sent to jails in far-off places, some as distant as Bellary, over 400 kilometres from Mangalore. Their children and womenfolk have had no news of them. We met numerous Muslims who said they sought to file cases but the police refused to register them.

Says Fatima (name changed), whose husband and son have been in jail for the last fifteen days, ‘My husband was a poor daily wage earner. He had nothing to do with the violence. The police forced themselves into our house, stole my jewellery and took my husband away. For fifteen days we have had no source of income. We are surviving thanks to the help of our neighbours’.

Uncontrollably sobbing, Najma (name changed), another Muslim housewife, says, ‘My husband is a heart patient. He is on medication. He was at home when this happened. The police broke down our door and grabbed him and dragged him off with them. He is perfectly innocent. I have no idea when he will come back’.

Looting and destruction of Muslim shops, in many cases said to have been abetted by the police, has resulted in loss of property running into several lakhs. In Ullal, some Hindu shops, too, were attacked, following a rumour, proved later to have been false, that the police had fired on Muslims in the vicinity of the famous dargah located in the town.

A rumour of the imminent slaughter of cows by a Muslim butcher is said to have sparked off the recent violence in Mangalore. Apparently, over the past four years there have been several incidents of Bajrang Dal activists manhandling Muslim butchers. Last year the Bajrang Dal even took over the slaughterhouse in an auction in a bid to keep the Muslims out. However, they could not run the slaughterhouse for long and so it was once again taken over by a group of Muslims. Yet, they managed to get it closed down for several days on the grounds of lack of hygiene. This time Bajrang Dal leaders decided to use the issue of animal slaughter to engineer anti-Muslim violence in the town. According to some reports, this was pre-planned. An so when a Muslim butcher, was transporting what some say were buffaloes (and not cows) that he had bought for slaughter from a Hindu, Bajrang Dal activists pounced on the opportunity to set off a wave of attacks on Muslims in Mangalore. Some local Kannada newspapers, whose Hindutva connections are well-known, played a major role in further instigating the violence by publishing false reports of Muslim attacks on Hindus.

As of now, a semblance of peace prevails, but for the families of the scores of people killed or injured in the violence, whose houses and properties were attacked by mobs and the police and whose menfolk languish in jail, many on trumped up charges—mostly Muslims—things can never be the same again. Says Mohammad, a Muslim youth from Mangalore, ‘Hindutva leaders and some newspapers have made the ridiculous claim of SIMI or the Laskhar -i Tayyeba being behind the violence. Not even an idiot will believe this. The Hindu fascist forces started the violence, and those responsible for it still remain largely scot-free, while scores of innocent Muslims have been arrested and terrorised. What sort of democracy and justice is this?’.

‘Hindutva forces want to plunge India into the throes of civil war’, says Mohammad’s friend Hussain. ‘Inter-communal relations have largely been good here’, he adds, ‘but the Hindutva fascists want to destroy that, and are trying to do that all over Karnataka, now that they are in a coalition government in the state. Only Allah knows what the future holds for us’.