The Mysore Bank Circle near Avenue Road in Bengaluru swelled with hundreds of people from all walks of life on Thursday, October 21. The Karnataka that many knew had changed, for the worse. They were angry and frustrated by the rising incidents of hate crimes, moral policing and communal violence across Karnataka. They said they couldn’t stay quiet for long, and so decided to come out and raise their voice against these crimes.
Karnataka has been witnessing a spate of hate crimes against various communities — the caste-based murder of Danappa in Koppal district in June; the murder of Arbaaz in Belgavi over an interfaith relationship in September; and the recent disruptions of Christian prayer meetings in Udupi and Dharwad districts. These recent incidents have thickened the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in the state of Karnataka.
Amid these rising crimes, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s recent statement justifying moral policing and vigilantism in the state further angered the protesters. They wanted the Chief Minister to withdraw his statement.
The protesters who gathered at Bengaluru’s Mysore Bank Circle came from different walks of life, cutting across religion and caste. Some were new to protests and were participating in a large demonstration for the first time, yet they came forward to mark their protest. TNM met some of them, to understand what drove them to come together against hate crimes.
Prajval Shastri, who has had a distinguished career as an astrophysicist, reiterated that more people should come out and protest. “I am a concerned citizen and I am disturbed by the climate of fear that has developed in our state. We cannot take it for granted that the government or the people in power will uphold the values of the Constitution any longer. That mindset has definitely changed. It is expected that there is diversity in every society. However, a subsection of society wants to spread hate. At a time like this, the Chief Minister cannot dismiss the concerns raised over this.”
Sharib Ali was in Bengaluru for a visit when he heard about the protest on Thursday and decided to join it. “Hate crimes are at their highest in Karnataka, especially in coastal Karnataka, which is a hotspot for hate crimes. The reasons for the hate crimes are often as simple as Muslim celebrations and interfaith marriages. In such a situation, the Chief Minister of the state cannot issue a statement defending the people instigating the crimes.”
Shalini Nair took time out of her workday to be at the protest. A resident of Bengaluru for 20 years, she says that she is concerned that hate crimes, which were previously reported in a few areas, are now being reported across the state. “Today, I took time out from my work to come here and join the protest because we cannot be staying quiet for long. I am concerned about what is happening in Karnataka today. This is not the Karnataka I know. When I see a Chief Minister making irresponsible statements, it gives a green signal for those involved in criminal vigilantism. This is the land of Kuvempu and Basavanna but somewhere along the way, the divisions of caste and religion have increased so much that the hate which was limited to few pockets is spreading across the state of Karnataka.”
Zumaira came from Mangaluru along with her family, including her two children, to be a part of the protest. She says she wanted to highlight the atrocities taking place in her hometown. "There are so many atrocities happening in and around Karnataka, especially in Mangaluru where I'm residing. We see Muslims being humiliated now and then by words and actions, and animosity is being created over and again. Hate speech and moral policing are increasing. The BJP government is giving opportunity for those engaging in moral policing, and the goons have no fear. We are raising voice against this group that is creating violence and also giving a call to everyone to restore peace in the state and have a harmonious society."
Shaik came from Kalaburagi to Bengaluru to take part in the protest. He is the state coordinator of the Association for Protection of Civil Rights. He says that the Chief Minister should apologise for his remark. "The current government is planning to polarise people for their benefit. He (Bommai) is a public leader, a public representative; he isn't a goonda. Goondas engage in polarisation, but someone running the government has to be cordial. When he became an MLA and a Minister, he took an oath to follow the Constitution and now they are doing the exact opposite. They are targeting minorities and oppressing the Dalits. Our demand today is that he (Bommai) apologise.”
The protest on Thursday was Vivek’s second protest so far. It was the increasing intolerance in Karnataka that brought him to the protest site, he says. “Though I have not been personally affected by incidents of moral policing and vigilantism, I have seen my friends being affected. We often hear our parents saying, ‘Marry anyone but not a Muslim.’ The Chief Minister’s words are giving a platform for those involved in moral policing and vigilantism. The seed of hate was already there but the atmosphere created today, in Karnataka, is allowing this seed to grow.”
Augustine, a commerce student in Bengaluru, says that the issues seen in news reports are now becoming an increasing part of his interactions with family members. “I can feel the hatred seen in news reports now seeping into daily-life conversations with my family members if I am hanging out with a Muslim or Hindu woman. It was a societal issue and it is also becoming a personal issue. The incidents that have been causing much of the recent violence — inter-caste and interfaith marriages — are actually not an issue at all. And the groups that are instigating these incidents are forcing us to do something and live in a way we do not want to. Secularism, religious freedom, and marrying someone of your choice are in the basic principles of our Constitution.”
Rajesh K recalls a time when he didn’t think twice when he was making friends in Karnataka. He says that this situation has now changed and that is one of the reasons he decided to join the protest. “When we are in college, we don’t pick and choose who we befriend based on their religion. But the recent stories of hate in Karnataka tell us that we should be wary of putting our arms around a Muslim and becoming friends with them. In Bengaluru, unlike other parts of Karnataka, there are many like-minded people who see there is nothing wrong with interfaith relationships. We are here to share the support and also to urge the Chief Minister to withdraw his statement. His statements strengthen the people indulging in moral policing and vigilantism, and a person in his position should be mindful of what he is saying.”
Vijayendra works with the Yuvashakti movement, a volunteer group that educates youth about the constitutional rights they have. He says that the state government in Karnataka should set up a committee where people can complain about instances of moral policing.
“I'm a Hindu myself and my god doesn't teach me to propagate violence or justify violence by saying “every action has an equal reaction,” like our Chief Minister. It is time for us to reclaim our Constitution for our country and we ask you to stand as a resistance to fight division. This protest is symbolic of people belonging to various ideologies coming together to fight the divisive forces in the country.
“Our demand is that he takes back his words and a committee be set up where people can complain about instances of moral policing. We are feeling threatened today so he must assure the public that we are safe by forming this committee.
“Morals are very subjective. I might be opposed to my sister marrying a person of another faith but the Constitution gives a certain set of rights that allow her to. If we start giving more importance to morality instead of our Constitution, we need to question ourselves whether we are heading forward or backward as a society.”
With inputs from Shishir Rao