'We even went to Kumbh Mela': Muslim traders evicted from Karnataka temple fair

Members of Bajrang Dal evicted traders from the Bappanadu temple fair near Mulki, as part of an aggressive campaign to boycott Muslim businesses in temple fairs.
Muslim trader walks out of Bappanadu temple fair
Muslim trader walks out of Bappanadu temple fair
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It was with the hope of selling a few clothes at the fair that Hamid, Imran and Furkan – all traders from Uttar Pradesh – turned up at the Bappanadu Durgaparameshwari Temple, near Mulki in the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, on Thursday, March 24.  But in an ignominious turn of events, members of the Bajrang Dal identified them as Muslims at the entrance of the temple and asked them to leave the fair immediately. “They (Bajrang Dal members) asked us our names. When we told them, they said we had to vacate the premises because we are Muslims,”  Hamid, one of the evicted traders, tells TNM.

“We informed them that we were only there to sell some wares and would leave on our own in a few hours. But we were told not to stay there for even one more second,” he says.

They were made to feel like outsiders, say the traders, who plan to go elsewhere with their merchandise. “We are not sad about the losses we incurred. We are used to enduring losses in business. But our regret is that we were told to leave just because we are Muslim. We have gone to the Kumbh Mela. We have done business in Yogi’s (Adityanath) city. But we were never told to leave a place because we are Muslim. Today, for the first time, an objection was raised against us because of our religion alone,” says Hamid. “There are many states that have no objection to Muslim traders. We will go to such places now,” he adds.

The developments in the Bappanadu temple come in the face of the temple’s syncretic history, which dates back over 800 years. A sign installed in the temple premises describes it as a “modern day testimony to communal harmony”. “The temple, said to be built by a Muslim merchant, is today known for the rare practice of allowing Muslims to accept the prasada (blessings of the deity),” reads the sign.

A sign at the Bappanadu temple in Mulki, Dakshina Kannada

The exclusion of Muslim traders at the Bappanadu temple is part of an aggressive campaign by Hindutva groups in coastal Karnataka to boycott Muslim businesses at temple fairs. Three banners put up in prominent spots of Mulki town this week had warned that Muslim traders will not be allowed to set up stalls at the Bappanadu temple fair this year. “We will not trade along with those who do not respect the law of the land, those who kill the cows we worship, and those who question the unity of this country,” the banners read.

Even though no group openly took responsibility for installing them, a Bajrang Dal member says their workers were behind the banners. “We had informed them (the Muslim community) and even put up flexes to make it clear that Muslim traders will not be allowed. We had conveyed the decision to the temple committee as well,” says Amith Shetty, a Bajrang Dal member. The Hindutva group also took it upon itself to evict Muslim traders who arrived at the fair in Mulki. “People of other religions were not allowed to come to the fair. Still, they came here and set up stalls. So we calmly told them to leave,” says Amith. All of the 130 stalls set up at the fair were by Hindus, he says.

Banners outside the Bappanadu temple, Mulki

Members of Hindutva groups in coastal Karnataka, who earlier used to mark stalls run by Hindus by placing a saffron flag, were emboldened this year after receiving the BJP government’s tacit approval for their actions. Responding to a question raised by opposition members in the Karnataka State Assembly on March 23, Law Minister JC Madhuswamy said that non-Hindus cannot do business around annual temple festivals, and only Hindus can participate in the auctioning of stalls and setting up of shops, citing the 2002 rules of the Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act. This rule, however, had not been implemented at temple fairs in coastal Karnataka until this year.

The Bappanadu temple committee, which manages the fair, attempted to distance itself from the banners that came up in Mulki. “This should not have happened. But we can’t do anything about signs placed outside the temple premises. We had allotted stalls for Muslim traders in our temple, but they came back to us saying they don’t want to set up stalls,” says Duggana Savanth, the hereditary trustee of the temple.  

Durgaparameshwari Temple in Bappanadu, Mulki

However, a Muslim trader, who used to set up a stall selling toys at the Bappanadu temple fair for the last 30 years, contends that stalls allotted to Muslims were revoked by the temple committee. He was initially allotted a stall when he approached the committee on March 17. “But three days later, the temple committee called us and said there was a demand to exclude Muslim traders from the fair. They returned the money we paid (Rs 500) for the stall and said they would not be responsible if there is an issue,” says the trader. “We felt that there would be a confrontation if we went against their wishes and set up our stalls, so we did not go to the fair this year,” the trader says.

Muslim residents in and around Mulki, who usually attend the temple fair in numbers, were conspicous by their absence this year. “The banners should have been taken down immediately. But since they remained there throughout the week-long fair, it was a sign that the temple authorities and the administration supported the people who were trying to boycott us,” says the trader.

Goods brought by Muslim traders at the fair

Hindutva groups Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Hindu Jagarana Vedike supported the ban on Muslim traders in temple fairs. They say that they were irked by the bandh called by Muslim groups over the verdict in the hijab case on March 17.

Two days before the fair at the Bappanadu temple, Muslim traders were barred from putting up stalls at the annual Mari Pooje festival in Kaup, a coastal town 18 km north of Mulki, in the neighboring Udupi district. The same banner seen in Mulki was also put up in Kaup, outside the Hosa Marigudi temple. Muslim traders, who usually make up more than 50% of the stalls at the festival every year, were not allowed by the temple management this time.

This story is a part of a series of stories on exclusion of Muslim traders from temple fairs.

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