December 2006 
Year 13    No.121


Above the law

Police terror in Mangalore



Chief minister of Karnataka, HD Kumaraswamy was brazen in his defence of the police’s style of violence management in Mangalore. "Were they to dream of such violence?" he asked defiantly. The answer is unequivocal. In coastal Karnataka the police could certainly have predicted the occurrence of communal violence at any time without having to resort to dreams: alertness on duty alone would have been enough to prevent the mayhem. Lack of alertness was not however the sole problem. In fact, during the Mangalore violence of October 2006 the police were either lost in daydreams in the face of daylight looting and atrocity or were themselves inflicting nightmares on sleeping Muslims in the dead of night.

During the Sharada tableau procession in Bajpe on October 3, Muslim shops were looted in the presence of hundreds of police personnel, including the superintendent of police (SP) and the district commissioner (DC). On BC Road in Bantwal taluk, five shops in Vasudeva Plaza and six other nearby shops on the highway, less than 100 metres from the police station – all Muslim owned – were systematically looted for a full hour in broad daylight in the presence of the police. And in Bunder, Mangalore city, Goodina Bali in Bantwal and Ullal on the outskirts of Mangalore, the police themselves broke down the back doors of hundreds of Muslim houses, looted what they could, destroyed what they could not carry, mouthed vile invectives against Muslims and arrested the men who were then framed on criminal charges and shifted to far-off Bellary jail (a well-known criminal confinement centre). Family members do not know why, like wild beasts, the police broke into their houses, nor do they know why their men were arrested.

Until we visited these areas and ourselves witnessed the destruction and looting, we were completely unaware about what had occurred. The press and the media have always suppressed news of violence against Muslims in the coastal belt but this time around they completely suppressed reports of police atrocities as well. Even non-BJP parties maintained a studied silence about it. This is a new development in the bloody history of coastal Karnataka’s communal violence. The administration, the police and the media have never worked so unanimously in such perfect tandem.

Conversely, from what we saw in the violence affected areas, in most cases where the Muslims had also taken to destruction – as they have, this time – this was done in response to the violence inflicted on them and was sporadic and non-systematic.

In Bajpe: "Communal Amity", Hindutva style

The violence in Mangalore during the first week of October 2006 in fact erupted in Bajpe, on the outskirts of Mangalore city. Mangalore airport, now international, lies in Bajpe. On October 3, a Sharada procession was scheduled to traverse Bajpe’s main road where the Bajpe masjid also stands. Some Muslims spoke to the police about their objection to one of the tableaux in the procession. They submitted a written complaint to that effect and the police then requested procession organisers to remove the concerned tableau. Krishna Palemar, the Bharatiya Janata Party MLA (BJP member of the legislative assembly) who was present at the spot, also requested the organisers to oblige. Nevertheless, the requests went unheeded. The procession organisers did not even comply with a modified request – that at the very least the concerned tableau need not pass directly in front of the masjid. The police then stopped the procession whereupon the organisers, in defiance, chose to place the Sharada idol in the middle of the road.

What was the controversial tableau all about? Organisers and others claimed the tableau depicted Bappa Beary of Bappanadu in devotional posture before the goddess, Sharada Mata (Durga), insisting that it contained nothing that could be construed as an insult to Muslims. According to the popular legend that the tableau invokes, long ago, a rich Muslim merchant, Bappa Beary’s boat stopped while on a river voyage, in waters that had turned to blood. The goddess, Durga Parameshwari, then revealed herself to the merchant in a dream. Bappa Beary became a devotee of the goddess and built a temple for her worship. The area where the temple was situated came to be called Bappanadu. (Today Bappanadu village is located near Mulki on national highway 17, equidistant from both Mangalore and Udupi.) There is also a popular Yakshagana Prasanga (folk narrative) called Bappanadu Kshetra Mahatme based on this legend.

In modern day Yakshagana Prasanga performances Bappa Beary is often depicted as a clown even as Muslims around us are heartily abused and insulted. The Bajpe tableau was a visual of similar ridicule. The Muslim contention was that in the tableau the pitiable man with cap, beard and hands raised in appeal seemed to portray a miserable maulvi rather than the rich merchant, Bappa Beary. In any event, in this instance the Muslims did not pick a fight – they had merely, and in writing, registered their displeasure with the police.

That very night i.e. October 3, the authorities decided to allow the Sharada procession with no changes being made either in the concerned tableau or the procession route. Seven Muslim and two Hindu shops near the masjid were looted by a mob of nearly 1,000 people. Mohammed Hanif of "Top Collections" incurred the highest losses. Hanif had opened his shop with the help of a bank loan a mere two months earlier and his Ramzan collections worth Rs 15 lakh were all stolen. Ismail’s fruit stall was burnt down. Anwar’s watch shop and Siddiq’s cellphone shop were looted. Even as the looting was in progress, carried out by "promoters of communal amity", there were present, in fact, at least 200 police personnel, six sub-inspectors, the superintendent of police and the district commissioner himself overseeing the procession as silent witnesses. We saw video footage of nearly 1,000 men armed with talwars (swords), iron rods and soda bottles, together with the police, SP & DC in the procession. The next morning, all the newspapers on the coast reported that Muslims had objected to a symbol of communal amity and had stalled the procession!

In Ullal: Beasts in uniform

In Bajpe the police were silent witnesses to bestiality. In Ullal, on the outskirts of Mangalore, they were themselves the beasts. On the afternoon of the bandh called by the Sri Rama Sene (a sangh parivar outfit) on Friday, October 6, three Hindu shops on the Ullal approach road were set on fire. There was also stoning and rioting in nearby Masthikatte and Subhash Nagara. The police concluded that perhaps Muslims in Ullal were the culprits. Perhaps. Nevertheless, police personnel on duty veiled their faces like terrorists and gatecrashed Muslim houses in Ullal.

The Ullal police have not informed anyone in Ullal why their houses were attacked and looted, and why Muslims alone were arrested. Instead, those who sought information were rashly beaten up. The police attack in Ullal took place at around 6.15 p.m. on Friday, October 6, just as Muslims were scheduled to end their Ramzan fast and when most Muslim men were away at the masjid. The police chose to attack Muslim homes at precisely that time. They surrounded the houses, broke down back doors to force entry and robbed cellphones, gold and cash – TVs, DVD players, computers, showcases, cupboards, wall clocks, doors, windows and cooking stoves, which they could not carry, were smashed. All the young boys and men at home were arrested. Women, children, the aged, the physically challenged, were all beaten up. Nearly 70 Muslims in Ullal – most of them boys – were arrested and taken to Mangalore. On October 8 they were falsely charged in criminal cases and moved to Bellary jail, over 400 kilometres from Mangalore. Muslims in Ullal still do not know what crimes they are accused of. The police did not even bother to find out the names of the persons they were arresting so those arrested include people visiting these houses, their iftaar guests, too. The police had arranged for those arrested to be transported to Mangalore in two buses and since six seats were still vacant after the initial round-up, they picked up another six people, bystanders, at random. Senior police officers in Mangalore are yet to explain why these arrests were made and name the specific provision of the exact criminal law that was applied.

In Bunder: Midnight incursion

Bunder, in popular parlance, is a "Muslim area". But Hindus live here too, in substantial numbers – Many wholesale shops in this commercial centre of old Mangalore are owned by Hindus. However, thanks to persistent and pernicious propaganda, it is now considered a communally sensitive area.

At midnight on Sunday, October 8, the police broke into Muslim houses in Bunder, threatened residents, mouthed obscenities against Bearys (a vibrant Muslim community which speaks the Beary language and is concentrated mainly in coastal Karnataka) and arrested the males. There have been communal disturbances in Bunder before but the police had never broken into Muslim houses, less so at midnight. More importantly, this time around, Bunder had not witnessed any incidents of communal violence; it remained completely peaceful. As in Ullal, Bunder’s Muslims also do not know why the police stormed their houses at midnight and arrested their men. Although the police certainly have the authority to suspect, detain and enquire, surely this must be done in accordance with legal procedure? Yet, when it comes to Muslims no procedures are ever observed. For a number of years now, when the Hindutva brigade has repeatedly encroached upon the civil rights of Muslims the police have not intervened. This time, however, the two worked together in tandem against the Muslims.

The following instances provide some measure of the aberrant, unilateral police offensive in Bunder. Tauseeman, in Bunder, is a very old household. Six Muslim joint families, about 40 family members, live in Tauseeman. Most of the men are hut-shop owners, street vendors or drivers. One or two work overseas in the Gulf countries. At midnight on October 8, as Tauseeman’s residents slept, there were knocks on the door. Since a curfew had been in operation for two days, the occupants were too afraid to respond. The police then broke down the doors to barge into the house, manhandled and beat up women and arrested Mohammed Imran (18), a jeep driver, and Abdul Rasheed (20), a tempo driver. When their mother, Zohra, asked why the youth were being arrested, she was informed that they were only being taken in for routine enquiries and would then be released. However, the young men were not taken to Bunder police station but to distant Barke police station where they were beaten up in custody. Two days later they were shifted to far-off Hassan jail; they have been falsely accused in cases of temple stoning and rioting. The youth were, however, offered a chance to go. They were asked to sign a statement – incriminating the Mangalore mayor, K. Ashraf, in instances of rioting at various locations in Mangalore – in exchange for their freedom!

Far more absurd is the arrest of Mohammed Riyaz (40). Riyaz has been running a business of his own in Saudi Arabia for the past 10 years. His wife and young child live in a rented house in Bunder. Riyaz has an intestinal ulcer; he had come home to Bunder for treatment a few days earlier and was to be operated on after the month of Ramzan was over. At midnight on Sunday, October 8, the police broke into his first floor house, arrested him and took him to Barke, not Bunder, police station. Riyaz was later shifted to Hassan jail. A week later, Riyaz was released on bail but now faced charges in a temple stoning and rioting case. When his wife went to the Bunder police station and the SP’s office on October 9 to find out why her husband had been arrested, she was abused and turned away – unable to even find out where her husband was.

Faizal’s arrest was equally preposterous. In Bunder on a personal errand, he couldn’t get home because of the curfew and had to spend the night in town. He was asleep at an acquaintance, Ibrahim’s house and when the police arrested Ibrahim’s son, Farook, they took Faizal along for company!

The Muslims we met in Bunder all asked: "Couldn’t the police conduct their enquiries during the day? With three continuous days of curfew, where would our children abscond to? Would they be asleep at home if they were involved in rioting elsewhere?"

The only consolation, if one can call it that, was that the police in Bunder didn’t loot and destroy Muslim houses as they did in Ullal.

In Goodina Bali: More of the same

Goodina Bali, near BC Road in Bantwal, also witnessed police atrocities. This however had a certain background. At around 7 p.m. on October 13, four mild explosions took place near BC Road bus stand, slightly damaging four nearby shop windows. Two people had been stabbed. To make matters worse, electricity in the area had failed at the time. The next morning, the press reported this under bold headlines as if it were part of a terrorist plot where it is tacitly understood that terrorism is the sole monopoly of Muslims, in the past and forever in the future.

"Soon" after this, at around 11.30 p.m., the police swung into sudden action. They broke into Muslim houses in nearby Goodina Bali and arrested all the men they could find – 20 in all. Women and children were beaten up. Goodina Bali has nearly 200 Muslim houses. Most of the people here work as beedi rollers. Some are coolies. All of them are extremely poor.

The same police had slept through the day on October 5, when the Bajrang Dal had forced a bandh on the district. From 11 a.m. onwards on October 5, right on the main road and less than 100 metres from the police station, 11 Muslim shops were systematically and uninterruptedly looted for about an hour in broad daylight. Muslim shops in the huge commercial complex, Vasudeva Plaza, and elsewhere – Sirajuddin’s "Mobile Care", Athiq-ur-Rehman’s "New Zenith Times", Ahmed Sherriff’s "New Dulhan Readymades", Mohammed Sherriff’s "Fashion Palace", Suleiman Saab’s "Mark Communications", Abdul Kareem’s "Action Footwear", Abdul Razak’s "Garment Shop", Haroon Rashid’s "Cell Times", Ahmed Sherriff’s "Shoe Shop" and Abdul Majid’s fruit stall were ransacked, looted thoroughly. A mob of 60-70 people had broken open the rolling shutters and looted not only watches, cellphones, electronic goods, ready-made clothes, gift items, shoes, etc, but also bulbs, tube lights and ceiling fan fittings, destroying the showcases, tables, chairs and other items it could not carry off. However, in the media this systematic and targeted looting and destruction was labelled a "communal riot".

Soon after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, Muslim houses and shops in several parts of coastal Karnataka were looted and in many places Muslim women were waylaid, harassed and insulted. Since then, in the various attacks on Muslims, specifically in Puttur (1997), Surathkal (1998-99), Kundapur (2002) and Adi Udupi (2005), and in many other assaults on Muslims and Protestant Christians, there was no communal tension, nor were two opposing groups engaged in rioting. The attacks were, in fact, systematic atrocities carried out on the minorities by the Hindutva brigade. It is now routine for the Hindutva brigade in coastal Karnataka to co-opt the media, level false and absurd charges against Muslims, raise an alarm that Hinduism is in danger and then attack Muslims with redoubled bestiality. In coastal Karnataka this is what a "communal riot" has come to mean.

At Bejai masjid: Murder of an imam

Close to the Mangalore KSRTC bus stand but in a little known corner of Bejai stands a masjid surrounded by Christian houses. On Friday, October 6, (during the district bandh forced by the Sri Rama Sene) the young imam, Abdul Gafoor Madani, was alone at the masjid after evening prayers. During the month of Ramzan the masjid is normally full of people but that evening they were all away at an iftaar gathering. A mob of about 15 persons jumped into the deserted masjid premises from the adjacent compound and stabbed Gafoor. The knife used was a special one, said to be available only in Gujarat: it opens up like a three-petalled blossom after penetration. Gafoor was murdered with one thrust to the lower abdomen.

Abdul Gafoor Madani (23) was appointed imam at Bejai only a year ago. He belongs to Goonadka, in Sullia taluk, on the district border. A few minutes before he was killed, Gafoor had telephoned his mother in Goonadka to tell her that though there was rioting in Mangalore there were no disturbances around Bejai. Gafoor is well known and liked in his hometown, Sullia. Friends from Sullia told us that people of all castes and faiths were saddened by the young imam’s murder. And this is why there was no communal violence in Sullia this time even though it is a Hindutva stronghold.

One for the road: The murder of B. Ibrahim

B. Ibrahim of Boliyaru, near Bantwal, a thirty-year-old father of one, was a clothes merchant in Goa. His family, his father, mother, younger sister and brother, live in Boliyaru. Ibrahim’s murder during the recent violence in Mangalore is eerily reminiscent of the many absurd tragedies that dot the stories of Saadat Hasan Manto.

Ashraf, a close relative of B. Ibrahim, was to leave for Dubai on Saturday, October 7, 2006. A mill coolie in Mangalore, Ashraf was leaving to take up a similar position in Dubai. He had a ticket booked for 9 o’clock that night. Since curfew had been imposed and no vehicles were plying, Ashraf rented an ambulance from Somayaji Clinic on BC Road, Bantwal, and left for Mangalore airport. There were seven people in the ambulance, including Ibrahim. At Punchame, outside Mangalore, their vehicle was stopped by a group of nine persons armed with talwars and iron rods, who had followed the ambulance on three motorcycles. "Who is the one leaving for Dubai?" the mob demanded, and set upon Ashraf and the others with their weapons. They then poured petrol on and set fire to the ambulance. The attackers fled when they saw a jeep approaching. Although seriously injured, most of those in the ambulance somehow managed to jump off and flee. But Ibrahim, who had been hit on the head, died on the spot.

The injured got themselves admitted to Unity hospital, Mangalore, where we spoke to Ashraf about the incident. We also asked him whether he was a member of any Muslim communal outfit, to which he replied, "I am not even a member of the masjid jamaat. Being a coolie, I cannot afford to pay the jamaat subscription."

Near the emergency ward

The brutal attack on 70-year-old Ahmed Masliyar also recalls the sometimes bizarre anecdotes of Saadat Hasan Manto.

Masliyar is a native of Beluvayi in Moodabidri taluk. For the past eight years he has been imam of the masjid in Mangalore’s Yenepoya Medical College Hospital building. After evening prayers, at around 7.10 p.m. on October 6, Masliyar was alone in the masjid at the basement level when five or six talwar-wielding youth broke into the mosque. Masliyar was hit on the head with talwars several times. Just as the mob was about to ram a sword into his stomach, Masliyar covered the area with his hands to block the thrust. This saved his life. His right palm bears a deep gash from the blade; the wounds on his head bear several stitches. After the attackers had left, a profusely bleeding Masliyar struggled up the stairs to the emergency ward on the ground floor on his own. That was the only saving grace – being stabbed so close to the hospital!

We met Ahmed Masliyar; we asked him whether he knew who his attackers were and whether he had managed to see them clearly. He seemed quite composed, "I don’t know who those boys are. I was sure that I would die. Why should a dying man see who his killers are?"

Faisal Nagara, Veera Nagara:

Veera Nagara and Faisal Nagara are localities situated on the outer edge of Mangalore city by the banks of the Nethravathi river, in a contiguous area formerly called Kodange. While Muslims are a majority in Faisal Nagara, a substantial number of Hindus live there too. In Veera Nagara, Hindus are a majority but there are quite a few Christian households. The two Nagaras are not distinguishable from one another in any significant way. Yet, while reporting on the October violence, the media in this coastal region presented the two Nagaras as if they were in fact two separate countries.

On October 6, Friday evening, Muslim youth stoned some houses belonging to Hindus in Faisal Nagara. The mob broke into four Hindu houses and caused some damage there. In one place, a middle-aged man and his son were beaten up. We visited the house but saw no signs of systematic destruction. The same evening, the police forcibly shifted 30 Hindu families out of Faisal Nagara to a camp set up at a school in adjacent Veera Nagara. While doing so the police warned residents that if they stayed back in Faisal Nagara it would be at their own risk; the police would not be responsible for any danger to their lives.

Nearly 150 people who were forcibly shifted out returned to their homes after spending three days at the camp. (The ‘camp’ was a high profile one, repeatedly broadcast and publicised by the media, frequently visited by dignitaries thereby reassuring the ‘Hindus’ elsewhere that they would be kept safe.) We talked to many of those who had been thus relocated. All of them categorically stated that they would not have left but for police pressure and that they perceived no threat to themselves either during the period of violence or thereafter. One woman asserted vehemently, "We went because the police pushed us into the vans!"

We also met three families who had refused to leave Faisal Nagara despite police pressure. Even after repeated queries, their answers did not waver. "We were not afraid. We had no fears then. None now. We have been living here for the past 40 years. Could we have survived this long if we were so afraid?"

And though this relocation of Hindus from Faisal Nagara to Veera Nagara only occurred because of police irresponsibility, it provided the media with a golden opportunity to fan communal hatred and tension. Ever hungry for such fodder, the media repeatedly showed images of "terrified Hindus" at the Veera Nagara camp.

A few other incidents that took place in Veera Nagara must be noted.

On October 6, "AK Stores", a shop in Veera Nagara belonging to Abdul Khader (of Faisal Nagara), was attacked. A mob of nearly 100 persons looted all the groceries in the shop and destroyed two refrigerators. Abdul Khader lodged a police complaint naming some of the looters but no one has been arrested. Instead, the same evening, an hour after the attack, the police barged into Khader’s house, arrested his second son, Pervez, and took him to Bellary jail. When Khader’s elder daughter-in-law, Fathima questioned the police, they shouted, "Why do you teach your children looting and destruction?" She countered, "It is our shop that was looted and you are arresting our children!" One policeman then tried to molest her but, fortunately, his colleagues stopped him. As she described the incident to us Fathima also told us of the many Muslim families who had left their homes for fear of the police. "Why is it that no TV channel shows any of this?" she asked.

Forty-year-old Basheer, who makes a living doing tyre resoling jobs, lives across the road from Khader’s house. Basheer’s wife is a schoolteacher. Basheer was in bed with jaundice at the time when the police broke down the door to his house and arrested him. When his pregnant wife pleaded against the arrest, she was beaten up. Basheer was taken to Kankanady police station. Fortunately for him, on the following day the sub-inspector at the police station was somehow convinced that Basheer was indeed suffering from jaundice and they let him go.

Of the many Hindus forcibly shifted to the Veera Nagara camp, four families have still not returned to their houses in Faisal Nagara. Two of these families now live in a rented house in Veera Nagara while one family lives in Naguri. When we spoke to them, they told us categorically, "We won’t return to Faisal Nagara. We are afraid of the Bearys." As they went on to tell us the names of their sons, we understood why they were so afraid. These were the names of people whom the Muslim victims we met in hospital had identified as their attackers.

We also spoke to a middle-aged Hindu victim who had been admitted to a reputed hospital in Mangalore. Both his legs were fractured and doctors had carried out rod implants in his limbs. There were deep gashes in his back and stomach. He is a poor man; formerly a tailor, illness had rendered him incapable of work. Utterly miserable, he told us, "I recently married off my daughter and incurred a huge debt because of that. And now I am faced with this." His son, who was also wounded by the Muslim mob when they attacked his house in Faisal Nagara, figures in the list of those accused for attacks on Muslims.

Two incidents, two possibilities

Fifty-five-year-old Hasanabba belongs to Maanur village of Bantwal taluk in Dakshina Kannada district. Maanur lies six kilometres from the Mangalore-Bangalore highway. Of the nearly 20 households in the village, five belong to Muslims.

Hasanabba is a beedi contractor for many brands, including the famous "Ganesh Beedi". A well-to-do man with business operations in Mangalore and Davanagere, Hasanabba employs nearly 120 people from the neighbourhood in his beedi factory, all of them non-Muslim women. Thanks to his business contacts, Hasanabba has also provided employment to many youth in Davanagere. Born and brought up in Maanur, Hasanabba’s ancestors settled here over 100 years ago. Maanur has no proper public transport; even private vehicles, auto rickshaws or taxis, do not ply there. When needy villagers call in times of emergency, Hasanabba always takes them – the aged, the sick, pregnant women – to distant hospitals in his vehicle, free of charge. The people of Maanur held Hasanabba in high regard.

Behind Hasanabba’s house is a madrassa attended by about 20 children. To the left lives Hasanabba’s relative, Imtiyaz. On the night of October 6, about 20 youth from Maanur disconnected the electricity supply in the neighbourhood and first attacked the madrassa. Well armed with petrol, kerosene, soda bottles, wooden sticks, iron rods and talwars, they broke the madrassa windows and threw crude petrol and kerosene bombs inside. The two teachers in the madrassa managed to save themselves by escaping through the back door.

Next, the mob set upon Imtiyaz’s house. They broke the doors and windows and then set fire to the brand new Indica car parked outside. We saw the burnt remnants of his car still lying there. Then the mob went to Hasanabba’s house where Hasanabba was fast asleep. They stood in the courtyard and called out to Hasanabba, "The imams of the madrassa are calling you. They want you to come." On hearing this, Hasanabba awoke. As soon as he opened the door, a stone came flying in and hit him on the head. Sensing danger, Hasanabba immediately shut the door. The mob then tried to break down the door but to no avail. They did however manage to break the windowpanes. A Maruti Omni car and a jeep parked in the courtyard were turned to scrap.

Watching all this from inside the house, a frightened Hasanabba telephoned his friend and lawyer, Ramesh Upadhya, and told him what had happened. Ramesh Upadhya, a BJP man, arrived there shortly. Shocked to see Upadhya there, the mob then fled the scene.

The next day the elders of the village all met Hasanabba and expressed their sympathies. Hasanabba pleaded with them, "I know all these boys. They are all from our village. They are your children. Please take them to the village temple, let them swear to your god that they won’t repeat this kind of thing in the future and let them pay a fine to god. That is enough for me; if they do that I won’t lodge a complaint with the police." None of the elders responded to his plea. So an unwilling Hasanabba lodged a complaint with the police, naming the culprits. He showed us a copy of the FIR (first information report) that was filed. But the culprits still roam at large in the village. The elders who met Hasanabba to express their sympathies seem to have no regrets about what had transpired.

Hasanabba’s family is terrified. The women, in particular, entreat him, "Let us leave this place. God will guide us elsewhere. Why should we die here?" But despite all that had happened, when we spoke to him Hasanabba still said, "I was born here. God willing, I shall die here."

The violence in Maanur is but a metaphor for the hatred and violence taking root in coastal Karnataka. But we saw a ray of hope at Perlagudde in Veera Nagara, Mangalore.

At the entrance to Veera Nagara and surrounded by Dalit homes lies a lone Muslim household. Khalid (30), a bachelor and a mason by profession, lives here with his two older sisters. His eldest sister was abandoned by her husband long ago. The younger of his two sisters is unwell; her husband, who lives with them, is also in poor health – in hospital. At around 3 p.m. on Friday, October 6, when Khalid was returning from the mosque after his noon prayers, three talwar-wielding men waylaid him, stabbed him and beat him up. When we met Khalid in hospital, he gave us the names of his attackers. He said that when he was bleeding profusely after the lethal attack, the police were everywhere and he begged them for help. But instead of helping Khalid, the police abused him and turned him away.

The next day, a group of five or six people surrounded Khalid’s house, stoned it and were about to set it on fire when Kalyani, an elderly woman aged 70, and other neighbours, all of them Dalits, braved the attacking group. Kalyani confronted them, "What has Khalid done to you? He and his family have done no one any harm. If you wish to set fire to his house, first set fire to our homes and then proceed further." The attackers tried to argue, "Muslims have indulged in violence there and elsewhere." Kalyani said, "Maybe. But nothing of the sort has happened either here or around here." Unable to do anything in the face of her resistance, the mob then left the neighbourhood.

Kalyani is extremely poor. She is not literate. As we were about to leave, in the courtyard of Khalid’s house Kalyani told us, "We have known Khalid and his family for so long. They have done no one any harm. If someone says we’ll set fire to his house, how can we sit quiet?"

Will this good sense prevail and come to the rescue of the many towns and villages in coastal Karnataka infected with communal hatred? That is the real challenge.

(G. Rajashekhar is a writer and activist. H. Pattabhirama Somayaji is a lecturer and activist. Both are active members of the Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum. Harshad Vorkady is a Kannada poet and journalist.)


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