Tehelka.COM , Nov 2006
An independent citizens’ fact-finding team discovers that attacks on Muslims in coastal Karnataka routinely go unreported. And now, police atrocities are also being overlooked. These are excerpts from the team’s report
Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy was unrepentant about the state police’s style of violence-management in Mangalore, when he defiantly said, “Were they to dream of such violence?” In coastal Karnataka, the police could most certainly have foreseen communal violence if they had just been alert on duty. That wasn’t the problem. In fact, during the violence in Mangalore, the police were either lost in daydreams in the face of daylight looting and atrocities, or were inflicting nightmares on unsuspecting Muslims in the middle of the night.
The Press has always suppressed the fact of violence against Muslims throughout the coastal belt: but, this time around, they suppressed police atrocities too; the non-bjp parties too have maintained complete silence. This is a new development in the bloody history of coastal Karnataka’s communal violence. The administration, the police, and the media had never before worked unanimously and in tandem.
From what we saw in the violence-affected areas, wherever the Muslims had taken to destruction, it was as a response to the violence inflicted on them.
The Mangalore violence during the first week of October 2006 erupted in Bajpe, on the outskirts of the city. On October 3, a Sharada procession was scheduled and was to pass the Bajpe Masjid. Some Muslims told police about their objections to one tableau. The police and bjp mla Krishna Palemar, who was there, requested the organisers to remove that particular tableau. But the request went unheeded. Nor did they oblige to an altered request that the tableau should not pass in front of the masjid. Therefore, police stopped the procession. The organisers chose to place the Sharada idol in the middle of the road, in defiance.
What was this tableau all about? It was claimed that it was the tableau of Bappa Beary worshipping Sharada Matha, and that there wasn’t anything here that would insult Muslims. The popular legend, that was invoked, has it that Goddess Durga Parameshwari gave darshan to Beary, a rich Muslim merchant, in his dream. Legend has it that he erected a temple for her. There is also a popular Yakshagana narrative based on this legend. These days, the narrative presents Bappa Beary as a clown and the Bajpe tableau had a similar visual. The Muslim contention was that the man in the tableau portrayed a pitiable maulvi rather than Beary. However, the Muslims did not pick up a quarrel.
As the unchanged procession was allowed to proceed, seven Muslim and two Hindu shops were looted by a 1,000-strong mob. Mohammed Hanif of Top Collections incurred the highest losses: his Ramzan collection worth Rs 15 lakh was looted. Even as the looting was on, there were at least 200 policemen including the sp and the dcp stationed there. The next morning, the newspapers reported that the Muslims had objected to a symbol of communal amity and had stalled the procession!
Unlike Bajpe where the police were silent, they turned into beasts in Ullal on the outskirts of Mangalore. In the afternoon of the bandh called by Sri Rama Sene on October 6, three Hindu shops on the road to Ullal were set on fire. As there was stoning and rioting in two areas nearby, the police took it to be the handiwork of Ullal’s Muslims. They covered their faces and broke into Muslim houses when most men were away at the masjid. They robbed these people and beat up women and children. Nearly 70 Muslims of Ullal — most of them boys — were arrested and shifted to Mangalore, and two days later they were charged with criminal cases and moved to Bellary jail.
Bunder is a “Muslim area” with a substantial number of Hindus. But it is considered a communally sensitive area, for reasons of planted prejudice. On the midnight of October 8, police broke into Muslim houses, mouthed obscenities against Bearies, and arrested the men. There were communal disturbances in Bunder earlier, but the police hadn’t broken into Muslim houses like this time. More importantly, Bunder was completely calm. The Muslims we met asked us: “With three continuous days of curfew, where would our children run? Would they be asleep at home if they were involved in rioting elsewhere?” The one solace, if it is one, was that the police here didn’t loot, as in Ullal.
AT GOODINA BALI
On October 13, there were four mild explosions near the BC Road Bus Stand that slightly damaged shop windows. Two people were stabbed. Next morning, the coastal press reported it as if it were a terrorist plot. Soon, the police swung into action and broke into Muslim houses at the nearby Goodina Bali and arrested 20 men, most of whom were either beedi-rollers or coolies.
The same police had slept when, on October 5, the Bajrang Dal had forced a bandh in the district. In broad daylight, 11 Muslim shops were looted and that too barely 100 metres from the police station. This loot and destruction was designated a “communal riot,” by the media.
Soon after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, Muslim houses and shops were looted in several places of coastal Karnataka. Since then, there has been a systematic Hindutva brigade-led attack on Muslims — in Puttur (1997), Suratkal (1998-9), Kundapur (2002), Adi Udupi (2005) — and Protestant Christians. It is now routine for the Hindutva brigade to co-opt the media, raise an alarm that Hinduism is in danger, and then attack Muslims with redoubled bestiality.
AT FAISAL NAGARA-VEERANAGARA
Veeranagara and Faisal Nagara are two settlements on Mangalore’s outer edge on the bank of Nethravathi river. This stretch was formerly called Kodange. In Faisal Nagara, Muslims are a majority with a substantial number of Hindu households while in Veeranagara, Hindus are a majority.
On October 6, Muslim youths stoned some Hindu houses at Faisal Nagara. The mob broke into four Hindu houses and damaged them. In one house, a middle-aged man and his son were beaten up. We visited the house, but couldn’t see any symptoms of systematic destruction. The same evening, the police forcibly shifted 30 Hindu families of Faisal Nagara to a camp in adjacent Veeranagara. While doing so, they told people that they could stay at their own risk.
Nearly 150 people have returned to their homes after staying three days in the camp. All of them we spoke to categorically said that they would not have gone but for police pressure, and that they perceived no threat.
Though this shifting of Hindus to Veeranagara was due to police irresponsibility, it gave the media a golden chance to fan communal hatred as it showed “the terrified Hindus” at the Veeranagara camp.
At Veeranagara, a shop that belonged to Abdul Khader (of Faisal Nagara), was attacked. Khader lodged a police complaint, naming some looters but none were arrested. Instead, his second son Pervez was arrested and taken to Bellary jail. When Fathima, wife of Khader’s first son, questioned the police, a policeman tried to molest her.
TWO INCIDENTS, TWO POSSIBILITIES
Hasanabba belongs to Maanur village of Bantwal Taluk. Of the nearly 20 households here, five belong to Muslims. A well-to-do beedi contractor, Hasanabba has employed nearly 120 people and all of them are non-Muslim women. He had earned the villagers’ respect by getting the local youth employment as well. But that didn’t matter on October 6 when 20 youth marched into Hasanabba’s house. As soon as he opened the door, he was struck on the head by a s
Sensing danger, he immediately closed the door.
Hasanabba called his friend and lawyer Ramesh Upadhyaya, a bjp man. As soon as Upadhyaya came to the spot, the mob fled. Next day, the village elders expressed their sympathies to Hasanabba. He pleaded with them, “These boys are your children. Please take them to the village temple, let them promise to your God that they won’t repeat this in future.” None of the elders responded. Unwillingly Hasanabba lodged a police complaint and named the culprits. But they still continue to be at large.
We saw a ray of hope at Perlagudde at Veeranagara. At the entrance here, there is only one Muslim household, surrounded by dalit households. Khalid lives here with his two elder sisters. On October 6, when he was returning from the masjid, three sword-wielding men stabbed him. When we met Khalid at the hospital, he named those who attacked him. Next day a group surrounded his house, stoned it and were about to set fire. Then, 70-year-old Kalyani and other neighbours — all dalits — scared the group away.
At the courtyard of Khalid’s house, this is what Kalyani told us, “They have done no wrong to anyone. If someone says we will set fire to his house, how can we sit quiet?”