The riot happened during the funeral procession for 26-year-old Hindutva activist Harsha Jingade, which was led by senior BJP leaders and allowed despite section 144 of the CrPC being in place in the city.

Muslim victims of Shivamogga: Let down by govt and cops during riot, they live in anxiety
Delve Ground report Sunday, February 27, 2022 - 17:35

For about an hour and 20 minutes on Monday, February 21, the residents of Shivamogga’s Muslim-dominated areas like Azad Nagar, OT Road, Gandhi Bazar, Seegehatti, Siddaiah Nagar, Urdu Bazar and Clarke Pete, watched terrified as crowds indulged in vandalism, arson and violence. The mobs vented their fury on the residents during the funeral procession of Harsha Jingade, a 26-year-old Hindutva activist who was killed on the night of February 20.

The procession, which started from the McGann Hospital morgue to Harsha’s house, and ended at the Rotary Crematorium, was allowed despite section 144 of the CrPC being in place. Eyewitnesses and police sources peg the number of attendees at around 600. Local BJP leaders led the procession through communally sensitive areas. Those who were at the receiving end of Monday’s rampage narrate how violence was unleashed right under police watch.

Harsha’s residence is in Seegehatti, just off Old Thirthahalli Road, which has historically witnessed communal clashes. In the adjoining lanes, there are two mosques and several Muslim households and commercial establishments. Just hours after the news of Harsha’s murder broke out on Sunday night, violence erupted in some pockets of the area, after allegations that he was killed by Muslims. The police acted with alacrity and deployed patrol vehicles in sensitive areas and along arterial roads. Prohibitory orders under Section 144 were imposed immediately across Shivamogga. But outside the McGann Hospital, where Harsha’s mortal remains were, the situation turned volatile with stone-pelting and sloganeering.

The next day, a huge funeral procession was conducted, despite a long-standing practice by the police not to allow funeral processions for deaths deemed to trigger violence. Hundreds followed the hearse and chants of ‘Jai Sri Ram’ echoed in the city’s streets. Leading the procession were two senior BJP leaders: Karnataka’s Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj and MLA from Shivamogga KS Eshwarappa, and former CM BS Yediyurappa’s eldest son, BY Raghavendra, who is the MP from Shivamogga.

While Section 144 was evidently flouted, the police were seen providing security to the senior BJP leaders and allowing for the procession to pass through crowded streets. Pockets that usually witness communally charged clashes had only a skeleton crew trying to police the streets.

And these policemen — who were far and few in between — were expectedly unable to stop those who were tailing the procession from entering Muslim localities and indulging in vandalism and arson, allege residents. A constable with the Shivamogga police tells TNM that they were asked not to use excessive force against the rioters and just try to prevent them from “taking extreme steps.”

“You know who all were there in the procession. You can imagine why we could not act against them,” he said, referring to the powerful BJP leaders who were in attendance at the procession rally. “We did our best to ensure that nobody gets seriously injured. With so many people running amok, we could only minimise damage,” he adds.

TNM spoke to around half a dozen police personnel who were on duty when the violence broke out on February 21. They all said they were not senior enough to speak to the media but upon prodding, said that violence was not unanticipated. “If you have tracked communal violence in Shivamogga, you would expect such a situation. But we were following orders and with the number of people deployed in such places (sensitive areas), we did what we could. Many of us were not even in riot gear and were hugely outnumbered,” adds another policeman.

Videos from Urdu Bazar that TNM has accessed show goons shouting slogans, pelting stones and overturning vehicles. The police personnel in the video who were armed with batons are seen just urging them to clear the area verbally, which was ignored by most of the rioters.

One of the injured residents was 36-year-old Sabreen. A single parent, she was on her way home, where her two young children were waiting for her. She had stepped out to buy milk and other essentials when she saw a mob of people enter a narrow lane off OT Road. As chaos broke out all around her, a stone hit her head and another hit her back when she turned to protect herself, she recalls. She alleges that there were three policemen less than 200 metres away, but they barely reacted to the stone-pelting and vandalism all around.

TNM visited the area where Sabreen was injured and saw that several buildings, including a madrasa, were damaged, with glass windows broken. Eyewitnesses say that even as the vandals targeted the madrasa, around 20 children who were inside took shelter under a wooden stage for over an hour to safeguard themselves from the onslaught of stones and bricks. Those who live close to the madrasa say that they came out of their houses when they heard stones shattering glass, parked vehicles being overturned and some two-wheelers being set on fire.

Umar Farooq is a businessman who lives just off Urdu Bazaar Road. He says that in the past when there have been communally sensitive processions in the city, heavy police deployment would be seen in and around his area. But this time, not more than six police personnel were deployed when the funeral procession was passing by, he alleges.

“The procession was supposed to take a different route but turned into Gandhi Bazar. This circle is sensitive and in the past during such times, there was always a police van parked here. But this time, we saw no police here. We saw goons in saffron shout slogans and barge inside and we were helpless. The police failed to control the situation. I called Circle Inspector Harish Patel continuously, but he did not pick my calls. I tried calling people in the crime department (CCB), but they too did not pick up. In less than half an hour we saw so much violence take place here. Women and children got caught in the violence and were screaming,” Umar recalls.

Near Azad Nagar, less than 2 km from Urdu Bazar, residents narrate similar stories of onslaught. Over three-square kilometres off OT Road have been cordoned off, with policemen along with Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel not allowing outsiders to enter. These areas were particularly targeted because two of the accused arrested for Harsha’s murder lived in these colonies. For this very reason, hundreds of residents faced the ire of a mob who allegedly charged in, vandalised a mosque and threw stones at random strangers who were going about life as usual.

The narrow lanes, lined with closely packed houses, still showed evidence of the attack two days later. Shattered glass pieces, remnants of vehicles that were set on fire and debris from damage to houses could be seen scattered here and there. Karim Ullah Khan was selling vegetables just outside his one-room house in Clarke Pete. He says a mob of around 200 to 300 people came armed with swords, logs and stones.

“Nobody said a word to anyone. They just started beating us up. They had all covered their faces with masks and handkerchiefs. They were part of the funeral procession and the police could not do anything,” he says. Karim says that he had to get five stitches on his head at the local government hospital. “We are staying awake and keeping watch at night, we try to get some sleep during the day. We live in fear of being attacked again,” he adds.

Abdul Rafa runs a shop just three lanes from Harsha’s house in Seegehatti. On Monday morning, the vehicles he uses to bring goods from the market were parked right outside his house. The security forces had assured him that there was no reason to worry. Trusting this, he did not remove the vehicles from the street, but within hours a mob came to their road and torched his vehicles, even as he and his family watched in horror from inside their house. “The police could not do anything. They just kept telling the mob not to burn anything, but beyond that they did nothing to stop them. By next morning, the burnt vehicles were taken away, we don’t know by whom,” he says.

Interestingly, though the Hindu houses are situated close to that of Muslims, hardly any of them faced the brunt of the violence.

Residents who sustained injuries say they continue to live in fear of the majoritarian wrath. They have no connection to the accused, but they fear being targeted because they belong to the same religion and perhaps lived in the same locality. Families from both communities say they have lived together peacefully for decades. But now, many from the Muslim community feel that the goons attacked them with impunity, as the police and the ruling party either connived with them or decided to look away.

“We are being punished for the crimes of someone else. We have been living here in communal harmony for so many years,” says Zareena Begum. She has mobility issues after suffering a stroke a few years ago. She was injured when someone lobbed a stone through her living room window and the shattered glass struck her forehead. She was admitted to McGann Hospital for a couple of days and discharged with eight stitches on her head.

The Hindu residents living in these areas also spoke of how they all have lived in harmony for decades. “They have their own way of life and we have ours, but that doesn't stop us from being friends and good neighbours,” says Rathikanth. His family has lived in Clarke Pete for two generations now. “We exchange food, our children grew up together. So we feel terrible to see them in fear now,” he adds.

Even in Harsha’s residence which was teeming with relatives and friends, we spotted several Muslim neighbours who were helping the family in the kitchen and with other arrangements for the guests visiting them.

Making a mockery of the prohibitory orders, several leaders from the BJP, RSS and other Sangh Parivar organisations made a beeline to Harsha’s residence. The visuals of the funeral procession were beamed live across news channels and incidents of violence too were shown by a few TV channels.

The Deputy Commissioner, who refused to answer questions about the violence saying that it was under the purview of police officers, claimed that the administration had not given permission for the funeral procession. “It is not right for me to comment on the police deployment, the Superintendent of Police should answer that. But I can confirm that we had not given permission for the procession,” Selvamani R, Shivamogga’s Deputy Commissioner, told TNM.

Despite the presence of additional police forces and senior police officer ADGP S Murugan being sent to the city immediately after Harsha’s killing, the police failed to protect citizens from the violence that was bound to follow. Calls to district SP Laxmi Prasad BM remained unanswered despite multiple attempts.

Director-General and Inspector-General of Police Praveen Sood has been instructed by Home Minister Araga Jnanendra to submit a report on how two police stations – Doddapete and Kote – failed to thwart Harsha’s murder. But no probe has been ordered on the violence during the funeral procession.

“The local officers are the best people to answer the questions. I’m not on the ground so cannot comment. But the local police did their best to bring the situation under control and ensure that no untoward incidents happen,” Praveen Sood told TNM.

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