In Dakshina Kannada, violence is the normal and no one seems to want peace: Here’s why

‘If there is peace in the region, then no one will gain politically.’
In Dakshina Kannada, violence is the normal and no one seems to want peace: Here’s why
In Dakshina Kannada, violence is the normal and no one seems to want peace: Here’s why
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Dakshina Kannada, a hotbed for communal violence, has remained tense for the last 45 days due to the spate of communal killings in the region.

With the death of SDPI leader Mohammed Ashraf Kalyi and the revenge murder of Sharath Madivala, parts of the district witnessed communal clashes and has been under prohibitory orders since May 27.

On the ground, however, there is little surprise, as locals say they have grown used to the endless cycle of violence that has almost become routine. While violence may not occur daily, many residents of places like Bantwal say they are ready for violence to erupt anywhere and at any time.            

The blame for the latest spate of killings and violence, as with each such episode, is getting passed around between Hindu and Muslim groups. The prospect of peace, meanwhile, recedes further away with each such incident.

How did Dakshina Kannada come to this point? To understand when rampant communal violence began in the district, how it grew to its current proportions and why groups do not want to make peace, one has to go back to the 1990s.

The roots of communal clashes

Dinesh Ulepady, a social activist who is also the defence counsel in the controversial Prashanth Poojary murder case, says that the hatred between the two communities is rooted in the horrific Babri Masjid issue.

“Communal violence had erupted in many parts of the country and clashes took place in Dakshina Kannada in December 1992. Eight people were killed in the riots, which had erupted in six taluks. Over 100 people were injured and property worth lakhs of rupees was destroyed. The enormity of the hatred that was seen during that time became the turning point in both the social and political set up in the district,” narrates Muneer Katipala, state President of the Democratic Youth Federation of India.

One of the greatest achievements of the Sangh Parivar in the district, Muneer says, is that it managed to polarise the society and make people “extremely conscious of their religious identities”.

“In this district, it is religion first and politics later. This is decades-old brainwashing and it has spread to almost every household in the district,” Muneer adds.

With the rise of the Hindu outfits, Dakshina Kannada also saw the rise of Muslim groups, after 2001.

“On the one hand, the Hindus were polarising their vote banks. At the same time, similar fear and insecurity was created among the members of the Muslim community. With the initial eruption of violence in the district, the Karnataka Forum for Dignity – which started off as a forum to protect the minorities, Dalits and other marginalised communities – soon became the Popular Front of India, known for perpetuating violence against the Hindus and indulging in moral policing,” Suresh Bhat Bakrabail, of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, says.

A member of the Social Democratic Party of India, which is linked to PFI, said, “Since Hindus attack us, why should we not attack them?”

Suresh Bhat says that the Muslim outfits in Dakshina Kannada have also cashed in on the brutal revenge killings and channelised the sense of victimisation within the Muslim community to achieve its own ends.

 “The PFI claims to be an organisation which protects minorities but they indulge in killings and moral policing just like the Hindu outfits. Following in the footsteps of the radical right, they too recruit youth between the age group of 18-27,” says Vidya Dinakaran, a social activist.

The gradual polarisation of Dakshina Kannada

It was a few years after the Babri Masjid clashes in Dakshina Kannada, that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s youth wing – Bajrang Dal – struck its roots in Dakshina Kannada. In the next few years, multiple other pro-Hindu organisations sprouted in the district.

“It was sometime in the mid-1990s that another pro-Hindu outfit – who called themselves Hindu Yuva Sene – under their newfound leader Gunakar Shetty, began organising the Ganeshotsav at Mangaluru’s Nehru Maidan. Almost every year, the outfit uses the 10-day celebration as an opportunity to incite clashes between the two communities,” alleges Dinesh.

In 1997, a former officer of the military, Ashraf, was accused of raping and murdering a 17-year-old girl called in Puttur taluk.

Her death was followed by widespread communal clashes as the Hindu groups blamed the Muslim community for forcefully trying to “convert Hindus”.

“The Hindu outfits saw fit to begin instilling fear in people’s minds. They started spreading rumours that the Muslim community was trying to convert Hindus. This was one of the methods of recruiting the youth into the outfits. By creating fear, they presented themselves as the saviours of Hinduism and offered solace to those who bought into the rumours,” says Vidya.

Activists say that over the years, multiple Hindu outfits like the Sri Rama Sene, Hindu Jagarana Vedike and Hindu Rakshana Vedike cropped up as the communal clashes increased.

The leaders of these outfits, a seasoned police officer alleges, came to power by resorting to communal violence.

On December 31, 2001, the controversial AIDS pinprick case resulted in severe communal clashes. The clashes arose due to rumours around the annual festival at the Nandikeshvara temple in Asodu village, where merchants set up stalls for a fair.

“Petty thefts occur during this festival and the merchants use pin pricks to discourage people from stealing. The issue took a communal turn when a rumour started doing the rounds that Muslims are spreading AIDS through such pin pricks,” the ex-police officer says.

Hindu activists lodged a police complaint, and a man named Jamedar Altaf and three others were arrested and booked for attempted murder. On the night of December 31, a mob attacked 25 Muslim houses and they resorted to widespread arson and theft.

“This mob was led by Satyajit Suratkal, the man who started Hindu Jagarana Vedike. But Satyajit was never named as an accused in the case. The reason why the communal violence has perpetuated in the area is the notorious nexus between the police and the pro-Hindu groups. In this case, a few activists of various pro Hindu groups were lined up and the investigating officer asked them who was willing to go to jail for Hinduism. Twenty-five of them were picked out and booked. These members also get luxurious treatment in jail. When they come out of prison, they became indebted to Satyajit. That’s how he recruits men for this cause,” a source with person knowledge about the Vedike’s functioning told TNM. 

 There are groups within the Muslim community too, who have turned to rumour-mongering and incitement of violence in order to build their support base.

Vidya points out that there have been many instances where rumours about Hindus brutalising the Muslim community are spread on Facebook Groups..

 “Such rumours lead to killings of Hindus, which in turn leads to communal clashes. In December 2009, a group called Muslim Defence Force had sent messages via Facebook and Whatsapp warning Muslim men and women to not indulge in “un-Islamic activities. These messages had threatened Muslim women who spoke to Hindu men and had asked them to unfriend their Hindu friends on Facebook. These kinds of threats and rumours are perpetuated to incite violence,” she adds.

According to Dinesh, outfits like PFI and SDPI (a registered political party) gained more members by winning their confidence through charitable works, just like the RSS.

 “They provide money for educating poor families in return for their loyalty. The youth feel indebted to them and end up indulging in violence and moral policing. Both communities are equally dangerous and have completely polarised the society,” he says.

To add to the melee, says Vidya, in the last decade, certain pro-Christian groups have also risen since 2008.

According to Walter Maben of the Karnataka Missions Network, the Christian groups took root after the Bajrang Dal’s brutal attack on 10 churches across Mangaluru. “The Bajrang Dal has made us militants,” Maben adds.

Suresh Bhat says that with the rise of these Christian organisations, Dakshina Kannada has become a completely polarised society. “There are about 50 evangelical organisations in the District. It is not only Hindu-Muslim violence anymore. Dakshina Kannada has become a place with a religiously intolerant society,” he says.

Why peace is a bleak possibility in the district

According to Suresh Bhat, the Hindu right has too much to gain politically from continued violence.  

“Once the BJP is in power, the communal killings do not stop, but they definitely decrease. But when another party is in power, the violence increases as the Sangh Parivar wants to project the government in a bad light. The murders go up drastically just a year or two before the Assembly elections. When SM Krishna and later Kumaraswamy and Dharam Singh were in power, Sadananda Gowda and Nalin Kumar Kateel had made statements about how the violence has increased and had blamed the government for inaction,” Suresh Bhat explains.

Confirming this reading, Dinesh says, “If there is peace in the region, then no one will gain politically. As long as there are clashes, the Hindu right can find an opportunity to shame the government. Pramod Muthalik of Sri Rama Sene had once said that he would not need a single Muslim vote to come to power.”

What’s more, he adds, "Just like the Hindu outfits and BJP, even the Muslim organisations and parties are looking for political gain in the region. SDPI now contests in gram panchayat and zilla panchayat elections. They too gain from polarisation politics, which is why both the sides do not want to make peace."

Edited by Rakesh Mehar.

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