BJP-ruled Karnataka is on a dangerous path of radicalisation. Rana Ayyub traces the scary distortion of an entire society
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Long march RSS members take part in the Hindu Shakti Sangama in Hubli
Photo: Karnataka News Images
IS KARNATAKA the new Gujarat, the second laboratory of Hindutva for the BJP and the broader Sangh Parivar? As the BJP government in the state enters the final year of its first term in power it had earlier ruled in alliance with the JD(S) that disturbing question comes up again and again. Behind the morality and hypocrisy, the humbug and corruption that the BJP establishment in Bengaluru has been charged with is a harder, harsher truth: the scary distortion of an entire society.
Two weeks ago, the so-called porngate controversy rattled the country, when three BJP ministers were caught in the Assembly watching a pornographic clip later explained as the recording of a woman being raped while the House was in session and discussing poverty. While that controversy claimed the headlines, it also forced the RSS and its affiliates in the state to hurriedly cancel plans of the extended session of the Hindu Shakti Sangama. A Hindu show of strength, as the name implies, the Sangama was supposed to be held across the state after the opening convention in Hubli. Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda turned up in Hubli, wearing the RSS trademark khaki shorts perhaps the first time a chief minister has been seen thus clad at a public event. If pictures tell a story, this one spoke volumes of the saffronisation of Karnataka.
The Sangama may have been interrupted by the Sangh Parivar, embarrassed and still recovering from the shame of porngate. Nevertheless, as TEHELKA travelled through Karnataka, spending a week journeying from urbane Bengaluru to northern and coastal Karnataka, what became apparent was that right-wing Hindu attacks on Muslims and Christians were now a regular feature. This reporter came back with accounts, incidents and testimonies that were so brazen, it was shocking.
Take a small example. On 22 January, there was uproar in Uppanangadi, a hamlet near Mangalore. Kalladka Prabhakar Bhatt, a senior RSS leader known for his proximity to Sadananda Gowda and his predecessor BS Yeddyurappa, was addressing a crowd and resorted to extreme and undignified imagery. Lift the veils of Muslim women, Bhatt told the throng, and glimpse what they have to offer. His listeners cheered; policemen listened too, but strolled casually, as if nothing were happening.
Soon after, the local minorities a mix of Muslim and Catholic organisations approached the police, which reluctantly filed an FIR against Bhatt. Yet it refused to arrest him, arguing there was no basis for taking him into custody. Rather, as if to compensate, the local police then filed an FIR against the president of the Muslim Central Committee, Mohammad Masood, under Section 153(a) of the Indian Penal Code Promoting communal enmity between classes as well as Section 505(2) Making statements that create or promote communal enmity.
Two senior police officers have asked to be moved to Central government postings because they cannot take what is happening in the state
What was Masoods fault? He had called a press conference to condemn Bhatts despicable one-liner. When contacted, Mangalore SP Abhishek Goyal suggested that there were grey areas and the police would certainly study the case. While the police was still studying the footage of Bhatts public meeting, the man himself inaugurated the new building of the Mangalore Police Commissionerate! Sitting with him in the VIP row was none other than the chief minister.
It was the sort of moment and photo-op the media just waits for. Yet the presence of Bhatt so soon after the unseemly incident found no mention in the media coverage of the inauguration of the new building. It was almost as if there was a conspiracy of silence. Only one plucky local newspaper broke the Omerta: Karavali Ale.
At one time, Karavali Ale was Karnatakas most popular newspaper. Part of the reason it is not any longer may have to do with the stance of its editor, BV Sitaram, who has been one of the few voices in the state warning against the rising tide of religious bigotry. For two decades, he has documented each and every communal incident, big and small, in the state and has suffered for it.
Caught in a bind RSS leader Prabhakar Bhatt (left) and Home Minister R Ashok
Photo: GK Hegde
In 2009, Sitaram was arrested when a case was filed against him for defamation. Twenty-five policemen turned up and surrounded him. It seemed like they had come to arrest a terrorist, he exclaims. His fault was he had written about the exploits of a local Bajrang Dal leader.
Sitaram points to the newspapers stacked in his office. Picking up some of them at random, from the previous months pile, almost every day one finds mention of an attack on Muslims and Christians, on churches and mosques. Sitaram is distraught: They go around shouting Pehle qasaai, phir Isaai First butchers (Muslims), then Christians. According to official figures, a church has been attacked almost once every 10 days in the past three years. In some cases, the very presence of a Muslim boy with a Hindu girl has caused a riot.
The opposition to Hindu girl-Muslim boy romance is part of a peculiar phenomenon that the Sangh Parivar labels love jihad. This paranoia began in Kerala and alleges that Muslim men are being trained to woo and then indoctrinate Hindu girls, to win converts to Islam.
Bhatt is an exponent of theories of love jihad. In December 2011, the Hindu Nagarika Samiti held a massive protest meeting in Sullia, where Bhatt attacked the police for its supposed anti-Hindu sentiment and spoke of how love jihad, terrorism and cow slaughter were rampant in the state.
He was joined by others, notably Satyajit Suratkal, regional convener of the Hindu Jagran Vedike, who said: Whenever the Muslims provoked us, we have given a suitable response. If they want more, then there might be a recurrence of earlier happenings. If the police join hands with traitors we will teach them a lesson too.
Other speakers were equally inflammatory. Some wanted cases booked against Sub-Inspector Ravi Kumar and action to be taken against the SP and the ASP because of alleged bias against Hindus. Soon all three officers were transferred. Ravi Kumar was shifted back to his earlier posting in Puttur town a day after his suspension was formally sought by the BJP district unit.
WHICH DIRECTION is Karnataka taking? In many senses, it seems to be a replay of Gujarat, with a shorter time-span. Like in the western state, there is a manipulation of class and commerce for religious ends. In Gujarat it took religious riots beginning with the bloody killings of 1969 and extending from the 1970s to the 1990s for the Sangh Parivar experiment to mature. Karnataka saw a similar surge with the Ayodhya movement in the late 1980s, and escalation with the Suratkal riots of 1998, which killed 18 people. In the process, relatively peaceful Mangalore, Suratkal, Bhatkal and Ullal became the fulcrum of the Hindutva movement.
At this point, it wont be right to call Karnataka the next Gujarat. But give it five years, it will prove to be worse than Gujarat, says analyst Sunder
The rise of the Sri Ram Sene, Hindu Jagran Vedike, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, Sanathan Sanstha and Bajrang Dal were part of this radicalisation project. So was exploitation of socio-economic conditions, says Suresh Bhatt of the PUCL. The current communal tensions in Dakshina Kannada and Mangalore have their roots in the regions rapid development since the 1970s.
Land reforms created new spaces for different castes and communities to operate in and compete with each other. Dominant social groups like Konkani Brahmins, Bunts and Christians found opportunities in new ventures like banking, education, tile manufacture and cashewnut trade. Many Bunts moved to Mumbai to establish Udupi eateries.
As studies done by fact-finding missions show, traditional backward castes like Mogaveeras and Billavas, who were freed from dependent tenancy, moved into small businesses like fishing. Here they had to contend with the Bearys, a Muslim community with a sizeable (15 percent) presence in Dakshina Kannada, and a heavy concentration in districts like Mangalore, Bantwal, Belthangady and Surathkal. All these areas are today communally sensitive.
The Gulf boom of the 1970s and the new industrialisation enabled the Beary community to prosper in petty business (textiles and groceries) as well as mid-level ones such as hotels and the spice trade. All this led to disgruntlement among the newly-empowered backward castes. It created room for religious mobilisation.
Ever since the BJP came to power, attacks on minorities have only multiplied
19 AUGUST Farmer Sadananda Poojary, who is also a part-time cattle trader, is murdered by Hindutva activists in Udupi.
7 SEPTEMBER Roopashree and Vikhar Ahmed are assaulted and paraded in public by Hindutva activists in Vittla. A group of Hindutva activists drag Deepa and her fiancé Abdul Wahid out of a bus in Mangalore and assault them.
15 DECEMBER A group of 24 Muslim youth from Bhatkal go on a picnic to Nethrani island. Hundreds of Hindutva activists land there and attack them. One person is killed and two sustain serious injuries.
24 JANUARY Hindutva activists attack Hindu girls for hanging out with Muslim boys at a Mangalore pub.
16 AUGUST Right-wing activists throw pork into the compound of the Badriya Darussalam Madrassa at Madhva near Bantwal.
3 NOVEMBER Clashes break out between Hindu and Muslim students at Uppinangady First Grade Government College.
19 NOVEMBER Hindutva activists attack two Muslim men in Mangalore alleging that they had written love letters to a Hindu girl.
25 JANUARY Two churches are vandalised and a statue of Mary is damaged in Mysore and Uttara Kannada district.
5 JANUARY Malpe sub-inspector Santosh Shetty is suspended for allegedly assaulting Bajrang Dal member Kishor after Hindutva outfits lay siege to the police station.
1 FEBRUARY Puttur ASP Amit Singh earns the ire of Hindutva groups for allegedly insulting Bantwal City Development Authority Chairman Govinda Prabhu, against whom there are police cases. Around 200 persons led by MP Nalin Kumar Kateel and MLA Mallika Prasad lay siege to Singhs house. The cop is later transferred out.
16 MARCH Car mechanic Badruddin, 21, is murdered for falling in love with a Hindu girl in Bantwal. Ganesh, the girls father, is later arrested for the murder.
23 MARCH Ullal resident Mymoona appeals for a CBI probe into the arrest and jailing of her husband Muhammed Ali and son Javed Ali. She claims they were arrested on trumped-up charges of terrorism and that the Dakshina Kannada police, under the influence of the Sangh, is targeting Muslims.
26 FEBRUARY Bajrang Dal activists trash a Muslim boy and Hindu girl at a juice shop in Kadaba. The couple is handed over to the police, who let them off after a warning.
8 JULY Nityananda of Peral is attacked by Yuva Morcha activists, who accuse him of taking cattle to an abattoir.
18 JULY Mangalore resident Bushra, a mother of four, alleges that Bajrang Dal activists threatened her and forcibly converted her to Hinduism.
13 AUGUST Bajrang Dal activists raid a farmhouse in Ullal, alleging it was hosting a rave party and attack the youth gathered for a birthday bash.
22 AUGUST Some Hindu youth in Sullia were in the habit of teasing Muslim girls. When Mohammed Riyaz confronted them, they beat him.
30 OCTOBER Hosa Diganta, a newspaper brought out by the RSS has received undue favours from the state government. It has been given the status of a state-level paper.
26 DECEMBER Asif of Sakleshpur and a Hindu girl elope to Bengaluru and stay at a rented house. Hindutva activists got wind of this and tried to convert Asif to Hinduism. Asif is arrested and charged with kidnap and rape, along with his two friends.
28 DECEMBER A 20-member mob attack a prayer hall of the Hebron Assembly of God in Mangalore. The attackers allege that conversions were taking place and vandalise the building.
The Sangh Parivar began by consolidating unemployed youth in the Billava and Mogaveera groups. Neither have strong community organisations, and the Bajrang Dal and Sri Ram Sene filled the gap. Billavas form a majority of Sri Ram Sene cadre and have moved from being followers of Sri Narayana Guru to champions of Hindutva. Mogaveeras have found a niche in the Bajrang Dal.
Using various frontal organisations, the Sangh network infiltrated virtually every village in these parts of Karnataka. All this preceded the actual coming to power of the BJP by a good decade and speaks for the assiduous cadre-based skills of the Sangh Parivar. In February 2006, the BJP entered the government as a junior partner of the JD(S). In May 2008, it was in power on its own, having won the mid-term polls.
IT WAS now time for the great leap. The year 2008 was a take-off point for the Hindu right in Karnataka. Once the BJP government was installed, it had a choice between broad-based development of the state and consolidation of the Sangh structure. Four years on, its obvious which path was chosen. In its first year itself, the government had given evidence of its agenda. Bajrang Dal activists attacked churches, with the administration scarcely taking stern action. The question of whether the government would rein in extremist elements was answered in the negative.
Then CM Yeddyurappa and his home minister VS Acharya who passed away earlier this week made a series of statements that sought to discount the extent and intensity of the attacks. There were repeated references to spontaneous anger of ordinary people allegedly due to conversions.
The BJP knows why it is in power here. It is because of us, the RSS and the VHP. Whatever we do, we have their support, says Shenava
The other action of the BJP and this was seen even when it was in coalition with the JD(S) was to withdraw cases filed against Sangh Parivar activists for inciting religious hatred, under Section 153(a). One beneficiary of this was Pramod Muthalik of the Sri Ram Sene. He shot to infamy shortly afterwards, following the pub attack in Mangalore.
Many believe the Sri Ram Sene went into decline after the pub attack. The BJP disowned Muthalik even though the larger Parivar backed him. The TEHELKA sting operation (Rent a Riot by Pushp Sharma and Sanjana, 22 May 2010) proved that far from an army of committed ideologues, the Sene comprised hoodlums for hire. As a senior IB official posted in Karnataka puts it, The Sri Ram Sene, Bajrang Dal and other fringe outfits are all offshoots of the RSS. But it conveniently dissociates itself from them when it wants to.
A glaring example was the January incident in which five Sri Ram Sene miscreants sought to hoist the Pakistani flag and implicate Muslims. The police caught them, but there was a twist to the story. Investigating officials reveal that the RSS put pressure on the state government to protect itself. The blame was put on the Sri Ram Sene, but those arrested were apparently RSS cadre. This was hushed up.
Shiv Sunder, a political analyst with Lankesh and one of the most clear-headed observers in the state, says the police in Karnataka is not communalised, unlike Gujarat, but is forced to look the other way. But yes, he says, the situation is similar. The Home Department has its own set of officers, mostly from the OBC communities; the Brahmins, of course, dont do the dirty job. At this point of time, it wont be right to call Karnataka the next Gujarat. But give it five years, it will prove to be worse than Gujarat.
Its a chilling thought.
Already neutral and professional officers are feeling the heat. Two senior police officers have asked to be moved to Central government postings because they cannot take what is happening. DG (CID) Roopkumar Dutta is one of them. Sources close to him say he has had run-ins with the chief minister and home minister. At one stage, Governor HR Bhardwaj had to step in and ask the home minister how the government could let an officer of Duttas stature feel compelled to want to leave. Duttas hands are tied because he has been refused permission to act against Sangh affiliates.
WHO ARE the lumpen Sangh activists being given protection? Rubina would know their type. Only 22, Rubina is a convert to Islam from Bantwal, near Mangalore. In her own city and her own state, she is a refugee, running from place to place to find a secure home. She was born into a Brahmin family but turned to Islam of her own volition, and married a Muslim man. Her idyll never lasted.
Rubina came to meet this reporter covered from head to toe, scared of being recognised. Soon after the wedding, her husband was picked up on charges of terrorism. While he was in custody, the Mangalore Police barged into her house late at night. Inspector Venkatesh Prasanna enquired about her husband, abused her for converting to Islam.
With a child to take care of, Rubina shifted to the city. She pleaded with TEHELKA that if her case comes to light, she will be in trouble with the cops. I cant live in peace, she cried, they ransacked my house, twisted my arm. I stay with a friend. Im worried about my child. As Rubina said this, she wept copiously her tragedy as wrenching as it was obvious.
Rubinas case is typical of what the state authorities call love jihad. While the Karnataka Police had told the high court in November 2009 that there was no case of love jihad in the state, this was not enough for the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. Despite absence of evidence, the love jihad paranoia continues to be whipped up. Recently, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister S Suresh Kumar called love jihad a grave issue, and Home Minister R Ashok promised a new investigation. No wonder, in the past three months alone, 18 Muslim men have been attacked, presumably as love jihad suspects.
It is all so blatant that Sangh Parivar functionaries take responsibility for such attacks and insist they have government backing. Just a day after Bhatts vulgar speech, this reporter met the Karnataka unit chief of the VHP, Jagadish Shenava, and discussed his own hate statements against Muslims and Christians. He was dismissive: See, the BJP knows why it is in power here. It is because of us, the RSS and the VHP. Whatever we do, we have their support. Do you think we will let these jihadis run away with our daughters and sisters? We know how to deal with them. As Shenava spoke, a gun-toting security officer kept him company. Asked about it, he laughed: Oh, this is just to take care of the jihadis, the state has given it to me.
Be it BS Yeddyurappa or Sadananda Gowda, both are first Sangh members and then state administrators, says Ahmed, a lawyer
People like Shenava have every reason to laugh. While we were speaking in Udupi, a church was attacked in the nearby hamlet of Hallangadi. In his complaint submitted to the police, the pastor who provided TEHELKA with video footage of the event, showing Bajrang Dal members entering the church premises on 28 December 2011 detailed the attack but to no avail. The footage shows men in orange headscarves invading the church premises, and abusing and hitting the pastor. If this is the police, rues Pastor Prasanna, where do we get help from? He has now written to the prime minister and the UPA chairperson for justice. Local Christians went on a protest march on 22 January.
Why blame the police? After the 2008 Mangalore church attacks, Yeddyurappa had called it a natural reaction to forced conversions. Sadananda Gowda, the favoured child of the Sangh Parivar, merely termed the incident hearsay.
The problem is beyond damage control, says lawyer Nooruddin Ahmed, who has appeared for Muslims accused in love jihad cases. What do you expect of a state where the chief minister has given a free hand to miscreants. Be it Yeddyurappa or Sadananda Gowda, both are first Sangh members and then state administrators. The Congress too has no interest in our issues. M Veerappa Moily, SM Krishna, arent they aware of whats happening?
State favours and funds are being directed towards Sangh affiliates. In November 2011, Yeddyurappa gave land in Bengaluru worth Rs 50 crore to six frontal bodies of the Sangh Parivar. Next, the Karnataka government released several lakhs of rupees by way of advertisements to a 2012 calendar published by Hindutva organisation Sanatan Sanstha.
Expectedly, the indoctrination project has reached the education system. Changes have been sought in the curriculum. Social sciences textbooks of Classes V to VIII are being rewritten with history retold to suit old prejudices. The state government has allocated Rs 14 crore to publish these new textbooks for the coming academic year.
By getting the Religious Bill passed, VS Acharya opened another avenue for the Hindutva cause
JUST 10 days before he died on 14 February, state higher education and Muzrai minister VS Acharya, 72, got the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments (Second Amendment) Bill passed. It provides for the setting up of state and district-level quasi-judicial bodies called Dharmika Parishats with the power to decide whether a religious institution is a Hindu place of worship or a composite one shared with other faiths. The parishats will also have power over composite shrines.
The Bill has been roundly criticised, with Janata Dal (Secular) leader MC Nanaiah saying management committees of prominent temples would be infiltrated by politicians from the BJP and used to further the Hindutva agenda. Voicing similar views, KL Ashok, secretary of the Komu Souhrida Vedike, an anticommunal organisation said, From 2002, when BJP MP Ananth Kumar declared Baba Budan Giri or Datta Peetha as the Ayodhya of the south, the Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and other Hindu groups have tried actively to take over the shrine. They demanded that the sufi samadhi should be removed and a Hindu priest be appointed. After four years of litigation, the Supreme Court ordered that the status quo be maintained.
But Acharya proclaimed, Baba Budan Giri is not a dargah. It is Dattatreya Peetha and comes under the Hindu religious tradition. In the case of shrines like Mulki Bappa, where there is an Islamic tradition also, and Muslim priests have been traditionally appointed, the management committee will include Muslims.
During his earlier stint as home minister, Acharya came under severe attack for his subtle support to Sri Ram Sene activists in the infamous Mangalore pub attack case. It was this and his inability to stop attacks on churches that made Governor HR Bhardwaj recommend his shifting. Acharya was also one of former chief minister BS Yeddyurappas most vocal supporters and was opposed to Ananth Kumars chief ministerial ambitions. He was also accused of favouring Gopal Hosur, the state intelligence chief who activists claim has been complicit in running the Sangh agenda.
One of Acharyas last acts etched in public memory is his defence of the practice of the annual made snana at the Kukkre Subramanya temple near Mangalore, the practice of Dalits rolling on plantain leaves containing leftover meals of Brahmins. An unmoved Acharya defended it as a tradition that had voluntary participation.
What do they contain? The Class V textbook (Veda Kalada Bharata) says cow slaughter was forbidden in the early Vedic period. The historical record, however, suggests otherwise. Historians such as DN Jha have shown how the Rig veda has references to beef eating.
The textbook narrative runs parallel to the controversial Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2010. The Bill, passed by the Assembly and adopted by the Legislative Council, seeks a blanket ban on the slaughter of milch animals and draught cattle. It is awaiting presidential assent.
With elections in 2013, the RSS and BJP plan to renew their agitation for a presidential approval for the Bill. It is even more draconian than the controversial Madhya Pradesh law because it extends the prevention of slaughter provision to not just cows but also bulls, bullocks and buffaloes. What do you expect the animal owner to do? asks political analyst Shiv Sunder, in an ordinary situation, the farmer would sell it, make money and buy younger cattle. Here he is not allowed to sell his cattle. You are attacking his means of livelihood.
A GREATER cause for concern for Karnatakas liberals is the attempt to inject communal polarisation even in the cosmopolitan environs of Bengaluru, Indias IT hub. A casual visit to the Satyam and Infosys complexes makes for some disturbing observations.
Umesh Hegde (name changed to protect identity) talks about the infiltration of the Hindutva groups into the IT sector: Initially, we were asked to come to the shakha to rejuvenate ourselves and learn yoga. Within a month, my colleagues and me were shown a map of Akhand Bharat, and told how Bharat needs to be cleansed of Muslims. And believe me they have managed to find sympathisers. In five years, the number of RSS shakhas in Karnataka has gone up by 50 percent, helped by public funds and facilities.
Stoking the fire Attacks on churches by right-wing activists have risen since 2008
In his article, Hindu Taliban Assaulting Freedom, Militarising Society, commentator Praful Bidwai was prescient: One can only marvel if thats the word at the breathtaking speed with which the Sangh Parivar has vitiated the social climate in state after state. Within months of taking power in Karnataka, it has unleashed savage repression and turned Mangalore into a Hindu Taliban bulwark, where women are attacked if they go to a bar, where Hindus must not mix with Muslims, and where there is no media freedom and free interaction among young men and women. Karnataka has become the Gujarat of the South.
The unfortunate part in the process of communalisation of Karnataka has been the concurrence of the media. Newspapers in Karnataka have encouraged the polarisation for pecuniary benefits. For example, the Mangalore-based daily Hosa Digantha has been accorded state newspaper status although its circulation does not meet the required criteria. Its editor, Chudamani Aiyyar, is an RSS activist.
While Gujarat newspapers played up the supposed threat to Narendra Modi from Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists, Karnataka too witnessed such attempts. Rashid Malbari, an underworld figure and regarded a foil to Hindutva gangsters like Ravi Pujari (also from Karnataka), was put behind bars for allegedly plotting to assassinate Modi and senior RSS men in Karnataka. Local dailies played up the story just like they did in 2005 when Udayavani reported that madrassas were hoisting Pakistan flags. It had to issue a retraction when the police gave a clean chit to the madrassa. Other newspapers like Vijaya Karnataka too sedulously promote the idea of Muslims and Christians as members of other religions.
Come to think of it, in Karnataka, so does the government.