A 23-year-old man was stabbed on Thursday night for travelling with his friend, a Hindu woman. This is the 4th case of moral policing since March 2021.

A representative picture of the silhouettes of a couple sitting inside a busRepresentative image
news Moral policing Friday, April 02, 2021 - 18:38

In yet another incident of vigilantism in Karnataka’s Dakshina Kannada district, a group of men assaulted a Muslim man traveling in a bus from Mangaluru to Bengaluru along with a friend, a Hindu woman, on Thursday night. The man and the woman, who are friends and former classmates according to the police, boarded an overnight bus in Mangaluru bound for Bengaluru. 

But they were stopped at Pumpwell Circle in the city around 9:30 pm by a group of men who raised questions about the interfaith duo traveling together. In the commotion, the man was stabbed with a sharp object and is currently in the ICU of a private hospital in Mangaluru. The group that waylaid the couple had members of the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad. A Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader confirmed to TNM that their members had stopped the couple and violence ensued.

The victim was identified as Aswid Anwar Mohammed, a 23-year-old man from Baikampady in Mangaluru. Police officials at the Kankanady Police Station in the city registered a first information report (FIR) in the case and are questioning 15 persons for attempting to murder the young man traveling in the bus. No arrest has been made in the case yet. 

“The woman has told us that she knew the man for many years as they were classmates. She said she was travelling to Bengaluru for a job in digital marketing and that the man was travelling with her to help her since he had been to Bengaluru before,” Shashi Kumar, Mangaluru Police Commissioner told reporters on Thursday.

The woman was also hurt in the assault, according to the police. “We are enquiring how this group of people got information about the travelers. They were traveling in an overnight sleeper bus to Bengaluru. The group of men were agitated because they were from different communities and they raised allegations about 'love jihad',” a senior investigating police official said. 

A message shared widely on WhatsApp following the incident stated that activists from the right-wing group Bajrang Dal stopped the duo from travelling on Thursday night.

“Continued Operation of Bajrang Dal Today (Thursday 01/04 night) A Hindu young woman who was fleeing with a Muslim man was traveling from Mangaluru to Bengaluru. Bajrang Dal activists stopped the couple near Pumpwell,” read a message widely shared on WhatsApp in the district.

Police officials are yet to confirm this and are investigating whether those involved in the incident are affiliated to the Bajrang Dal. “We are also verifying the social media message and we want to nab everyone involved in this crime,” Kankanady Inspector Ashok P said. 

Sharan Pumpwell, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) divisional secretary, said that pro-Hindu activists from VHP and Bajrang Dal tried to stop the man and woman at Pumpwell Circle on Thursday night. “Our members' intention was to save the girl. It is true we stopped them but a lot of people gathered there and the incident went out of hand. I don’t condone the violence but why is it happening? The state government has to think about it and should bring a law to prevent 'love jihad',” Sharan Pumpwell told TNM. 

"Love jihad" is a bogey term propagated by right wing groups to claim that men from the Muslim community are marrying women from other religious faiths, particularly Hindu women, in an attempt to convert their faith.

According to district police officials, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal are linked in the district and the members often team up to gang up on interfaith couples. The VHP and Bajrang Dal also post about their interventions in these cases on social media, mostly via WhatsApp statuses and WhatsApp messages. “The incidents have increased in the last few weeks. We will raise our voice about this issue regardless of the government in power in the state,” Sharan Pumpwell added. 

This is the latest in a series of similar moral policing incidents in Dakshina Kannada district in the past month. The first one was reported on March 17 in Bantwal when a trio of two Muslim men and a Hindu woman were stopped and harassed by a group of men, some of whom were affiliated to the Bajrang Dal. 

Read: Bajrang Dal men gherao interfaith trio traveling on Mangaluru-Bengaluru bus

In an incident on March 29, Moodabidri police prevented a group of right wing activists from harassing a man and woman from different religions who were traveling from Mangaluru to Mumbai in a private bus. Police officials said they were tipped off about the right wing group’s plan and took the couple aside. After speaking to them and their parents, they were sent on their way. 

In another incident on March 30, a boy and girl traveling in a bus from Udupi to Surathkal were stopped after the girl was spotted resting her head on the shoulders of the boy. “...This was observed by other passengers on the bus and they got down from the bus in Vidyadayini Circle. Upon information they were taken to the police station,” stated a message from Mangaluru Police Commissioner Shashi Kumar.

He said that no complaint was filed in the case since neither was abused or assaulted. “In the last few cases, cases were not registered. But in yesterday’s incident, there was a serious case of stabbing. It was registered as a case of attempt to murder and we have begun enquiring those who were involved in the incident. They will be arrested soon,” Shashi Kumar said. 

While most incidents go unrecorded in police stations, Suresh Bhat Bakrabail, an activist with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), has been chronicling communal incidents in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts every day based on reports in national newspapers as well as regional newspapers like Karavali Ale. He categorises the incidents into moral policing by Hindu vigilantes, moral policing by Muslim vigilantes, cattle vigilantism, hate speech, attacks on places of worship and other incidents. In 2021, Suresh Bhat has recorded 34 communal incidents so far (until March 30) including 11 incidents of moral policing by Hindu vigilantes. 

In 2020, he recorded 110 communal incidents which was higher than the figures for 2018 and 2019. In the past, moral policing incidents have also been reported in the Muslim community, particularly by members of the Popular Front of India (PFI). Over the last ten years, he has recorded, on average, 117 cases of communal incidents every year. 

His records reveal a pattern of bullying that occurs regularly irrespective of the government in power in the state and centre. This is a city that has seen attacks like the 2009 Mangaluru pub attack in which no one was found guilty even though the entire incident was filmed.

Read: No witnesses, no video evidence: How and why the Mangaluru Pub Attack case collapsed

The fresh wave of incidents in the past month has sparked fears about religious vigilantism once more in Dakshina Kannada district. 

“What is surprising in the latest incident is that this led to a violent stabbing. In the last month, there have been similar complaints but it did not escalate into violence.  It may either be out of revenge or desperation. But it is definitely to show their strength,” a senior police official told TNM.

Read:  3 Bajrang Dal men held in Udupi for allegedly attacking Hindu Jagrana Vedike member

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