Between May 5 and 11, the campus of Sai Shankar Educational Institute in Kodagu’s Ponnampet was used by Bajrang Dal to hold their annual program.

Bajrang dal members seen holding air guns during the event in Karnataka
news Controversy Tuesday, May 17, 2022 - 08:02

Just a few months ago, Hijab wearing students were marked out as a threat to law and order by Hindutva groups backed by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai's BJP government. They threatened to start wearing saffron shawls if Muslim women were were allowed to nwear the Hijab. If law and order is indeed a priority for the state government, what then are we to make of the weapons training camp held by the Bajrang Dal recently at an educational institution in Kodagu?

Between May 5 and 11, the campus of Sai Shankar Educational Institute in Kodagu’s Ponnampet was used by Bajrang Dal to hold an annual program. Organisers claim that these programs are held every year to spread awareness on culture, history and self-defence. In photos and videos of this year’s training camp, the cadres were seen using weapons like trishul (trident) as well as air guns, as per the claim by the organisers, as part of the training.

Tabassum Banu from Hassan district, whose daughter had not been allowed to wear hijab in classrooms in February this year questions the double speak of the Karnataka government. “My daughter was not allowed to wear hijab inside the classroom and the reason given was that we have to leave our religion outside the classroom. And here they are allowing Hindu groups to use the campus to make communal statements and even give arms training. Is secularism only for us, Muslims?,” she asks.

So far, the state government has chosen to not act against or even issue statements against the use of weapons in the training camp. A Bajrang Dal leader TNM spoke to confirmed that the discussions were around 'love jihad', conversions and cattle slaughter, and how to save Hindus from it. The picture of RSS member Harsha who was stabbed to death in February 2022 was used to emphasise the message. 'Love jihad' is a bogey term used by right-wing organisations to propagate the theory that Muslim men ‘trap’ and marry Hindu women with malafide intentions.The Union government had told the Lok Sabha in 2019 that no “case of ‘love jihad’ had been reported by any of the central agencies”.

The Kodagu District Committee Secretary of Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political wing of the Islamic organisation Popular Front of India (PFI), and Madikeri Municipal Council member Amin Mohsin alleged that the arms training was conducted with the intention of disturbing the harmony in the area. “It is astonishing that the campus of an institute was used for such a training. While the Karnataka Education Minister says that no weapons’ training was given, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad district president for Kodagu has said that they have distributed and given training for country-made arms. Serious action needs to be taken against the organisers, institution, and trainers and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has to start an inquiry into this. The houses of the Bajrang Dal members involved in this have to be raided because they have accumulated the weapons in the houses,” he demanded.

Bengaluru-based advocate Clifton Rozario says this normalisation of the public display of threats and intimidation does not augur well for society and dubbed it a death knell for democracy. “The same educational institutions that protested against hijab saying it is a religious symbol have no qualms against allowing arms training inside an educational institution. The silence on part of the government is most worrisome. This government has stopped behaving like an elected body and is behaving just like a political party,” he says.

“We are seeing a militarisation of youth,” alleges Maitreyee Krishnan, a lawyer who works on human rights violations. “After the radicalisation that we saw with the distribution of saffron shawls, arms are now being given in the hands of youth, pushing society into a war like situation. It is time the state authorities step in and ensure that this is immediately stopped and constitutional values of equality and fraternity are installed,” she says. 

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