September 2006 
Year 12    No.118

Cover Story

Bloody harvest


Karnataka is fast emerging as Hindutva’s new hate laboratory


We the people of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada, districts on the west coast of Karnataka, boast highly of our accomplishments as highly literate districts, topping in the pass percentage and rank lists of every level of examination conducted in the state, as leaders in the banking and hotel sectors, and more. Now we have one more feather in our caps: we are the districts with the highest rate of violence against minorities, courtesy the sangh parivar. In fact, statistical jargon like the ‘highest rate’ does not provide a complete picture, so let us simplify it – there is one such incident of violence almost every day.

The sangh parivar has had strong roots in these districts ever since the inception of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, RSS, in the 1900s (Gandhians of the ’40s will recall that RSS supporters distributed sweets in Mangalore on hearing of the Mahatma’s assassination in 1948). But the sangh’s political and social reach was still marginal. The rot really set in during the 1990s in the wake of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Riding high on the Ram Janmabhoomi wave, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reaped its bloody harvest in Karnataka as a whole.

This is evident from state election results. The party’s vote share throughout the state was 4.7 per cent in 1984 and 2.55 per cent in the 1989 elections. In 1991 this rose to 28.78 per cent. In the 2004 elections the BJP became the single largest party in Karnataka, winning 79 Assembly seats and 18 Lok Sabha seats in the state. At present the sangh parivar’s tentacles have a hold on every section of the people, cutting across caste and class barriers. Hindutva’s canards have now become common sense and the violence driven by it is gaining passive acceptance as violence against perceived enemies of Hindus.

What should horrify anyone striving for harmony anywhere in the country is the fact that this region has been vibrantly multicultural and multilingual, multi-religious and multi-tradition for centuries. That however is little consolation for the nightmares experienced by the districts’ minorities, day in and day out. The violence perpetrated by Hindutva brigades in these two districts is sustained by issues that the sangh parivar has been striving to bring centre stage in India’s social and political life to gain the hegemony necessary to convert India into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. We present here some samples of Hindutva violence and the kind of support – active as well as tacit – it receives from the state and from civil society.

AIDS: A campaign with a difference

Asodu is a village in Kundapur taluka of Udupi district. On March 30, 2002 an annual fair was held on the occasion of ‘Gende Seve’ (ritual fire walking) at the village’s Nandikeshwar temple. As per tradition this went on through the night and continued the next day, amidst hundreds of people who had gathered here from neighbouring villages. During this time a rumour was circulated that a Muslim stallholder was spreading AIDS by pricking young girls with an infected needle. Jamedar Altaf, who ran the stall along with two other youth, Abdul Sattar and Tahir, and an old man, Karim saheb, were beaten up and then handed over to the police present there. All materials from the stall, including the suspect needles, were seized. People who had allegedly been pricked by the youth stated in their complaint that "they were pricked by a poisonous needle in an attempt to kill". So the police charged the men under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) with attempt to murder.

Later, blood tests of both the complainants and the accused as well as tests of the so-called infected needles were conducted at the Kundapur government hospital, KMC hospital in Manipal and the National AIDS Research Institute in Pune. All the test results came back negative. According to the wound certificate issued by the Kundapur government hospital, of the six people who had been pricked by the needle, two had no wounds at all, two had faint scabs of dried blood and two persons had very slight swellings or lumps. Following this verification, the accused were then booked under Section 324 of the IPC (attempt to harm using a sharp weapon) and were released after the court granted them bail. The old man, Karim saheb, was admitted to hospital; he took ill while under custody thanks to the trauma he had suffered.

Although the due course of law had been promptly followed in the needle pricking incident, 25 houses belonging to Muslims were attacked in Kundapur at around 8 p.m. on the night of March 31. On a fact-finding visit to Kundapur two days later, we saw that apart from the walls and the roofs everything in the houses had been burnt and destroyed. The little money or jewellery they had in their homes had all been looted. A young girl was wailing frantically that she could not attend her Class X board examinations the next day because all her books had been destroyed in the attack. The residents had lost every item of their belongings and were suddenly faced with impending destitution. Worse still, they were wounded by the fact that the people who attacked them had been neighbours and old acquaintances.

As the AIDS rumour spread throughout Kundapur taluka, Muslim houses in Kundapur town and neighbouring villages were also attacked. Even a week after the incident communal tension still simmered in the area. According to victims, the mobs that attacked them shouted slogans like "Bolo Bharat Mata ki Jai (Say Long Live India)"and "Jai Bajrangbali (Long Live Hanuman)". It was evident that these people belonged to the sangh parivar; the BJP had a strong base in the constituency and had won the local Assembly seat in the last two elections.

Local newspapers played a major role in keeping the flare of violence burning. The leading Kannada daily, Udayavani, reported that the attacks were a result of people’s fear and their anger against Muslims. It did not even attempt or think it necessary to tell readers that AIDS cannot be spread in the manner the rumour suggested. And this is a paper that brings out a weekly supplement on health! These are newspapers that bank on communal hatred in their keen support of Hindutva ideology. A few months later, after people had forgotten about the incident and there was now enough data to question the veracity of the rumour, an utterly dishonest report in Udayavani’s local edition said: "People still live in the grip of fear following the needle pricking incident. The number of people attending temple fairs has reduced considerably." This is a newspaper that reports each and every event organised by the sangh parivar with grandiose and activist zeal. Almost every day a report in the newspaper will tell of how Muslims are involved in illegal cattle slaughter, the circulation of counterfeit currency or assaulting ‘Hindu’ women sexually. For Udayavani, Hindutva’s storm troopers are moral brigades that protect this society. It would not attempt to consider, even briefly, that the violence perpetrated by the sangh parivar was a gross violation of the rule of law and a wonton flouting of democratic norms.

The disregard shown by most people in Kundapur, their indifference to the attacks, only demonstrates how deeply rooted the Hindutva ideology is. Most of those whom we spoke to did not regret the attacks on Muslims. We met two girls who were among the six people who had filed the initial complaint in the so-called AIDS case. Mamta and Lata were both Class IX students. Mamta’s father is a small-scale farmer in Asodu, their house is very near the Nandikeshwar temple. We visited them a year after the incident took place. Mamta was in good health. We asked her mother, Lalita Shedti, if it wasn’t wrong to attack Muslims and loot their houses. She had no such misgivings, "Only then will they learn." But what had the Muslims in Kundapur done to provoke this, how were they connected to the people who had used the needle? "When anything happens to one of them, they get together."

Elsewhere, when we asked the same questions of a tea vendor in Koteshwara, near Kundapur, he said, "What are Muslim terrorists doing in Kashmir?" When we asked him how that had any bearing on the people of Kundapur he replied, "If we hit here, it will hurt them there." And it was not just Mamta’s mother or the man in the tea stall, most people whom we talked to seemed to be of the same opinion. When we posed similar questions to others they countered, "What do you have to say about the attack on Akshardham temple, what about Godhra, the attack on Parliament, Kashmir…" These were questions repeatedly put back to us.

We also visited Lata’s house. Lata’s parents, both daily wage labourers, had a more humane response to events and even condemned the violence. As Lata’s mother said, "There are good people and bad people in all castes. Innocent people should not be targeted because of somebody else’s mistake." An upper caste villager, well respected in Asodu, one who had even contributed for the refurbishment of Nandikeshwar temple, concurred. "All Muslims are not bad; not all Hindus are good. If people were aware of this, such an incident would not have occurred."

A year after the Asodu incident, although the due process of law had been promptly followed and the accused had faced a court trial according to the law of the land, the BJP organised a rally in Kundapur to ‘protest the inaction against the accused in the Asodu incident and the harassment caused to Hindus by arrests of innocents’. Yediyurappa, Ramchandregowda, VS Acharya and other top leaders of the BJP state unit addressed the gathering. They openly targeted the Muslim community and also condemned the police for arresting a few people involved in the violence. Not a word was said about the attacks on Muslims that followed the needle pricking incident.

We met Altaf, the stallholder and prime accused in the needle pricking case. We were naturally curious to find out whether he had really pricked people with a needle and if so, why. Altaf freely admitted that he had done so saying, "I did not target anybody. I had a stall there. I never went and pricked anybody outside my stall. Some people who visit the stalls just keep looking at the items on display, obstructing business. Some of them even steal things from the stalls. At every fair we lose about Rs 200-300 worth of goods this way. To prevent this and drive people out of the stall we use the needle to prick them. Other stallholders also do the same thing. In fact, some vendors even use big sticks to ward off obstructing crowds." We believe he was telling the truth. Two college girls from Kundapur later told us that this was not a new phenomenon. "To keep harassing guys away, girls also use the same technique in theatres and buses."

Altaf is still very young. Terrified to leave his house now, he has stopped putting up his stall at the fairs. He says he is not alone, Muslims stallholders don’t put up their stalls at fairs in and around the Kundapur taluka any more, they are too afraid. Some months after the Asodu incident, terrorists attacked the Akshardham temple in Gujarat. Bajrang Dal activists then spread the rumour that terrorists would attack the Sringeri Sharadamba temple during its annual celebrations. Muslim vendors who have been putting up stalls on such occasions for years were forcibly prevented by the Bajrang Dal to do business that year.

In another incident, two Dalit girls who worked at a small Muslim owned factory happened to fall ill. The factory owner served his workers snacks supplied by a hotel belonging to a Hindu Brahmin. Bajrang Dal activists circulated the rumour that the Muslim owner had attempted to kill his Hindu employees by poisoning them. On this occasion it was the fortunate and timely intervention by local Dalit activists that prevented another cycle of violence against Muslims.

A petty shop located on the Kundapur-Udupi national highway was burnt down overnight in the aftermath of the so-called AIDS incident. The owner, a Muslim, was clueless about the reason behind the attack or its perpetrators. When we asked him why his shop might have been attacked he said, "It is a bad time for Muslims." Muslims have long been silent spectators to the growing incidence of violence against their community.

"Heart of a heartless world": the sangh parivar’s myth of ‘conversion’

In addition to their vicious campaigns and violence against Muslims, the BJP and the sangh parivar have also made Christians a target of their hate campaign in Karnataka. According to the sangh parivar’s ‘nationalist’ ideology, like Muslims, the Christians are also ‘aliens’ to this land, for their ‘religious origins’ and their ‘holy centres’ lie outside India. Hence India is neither their ‘sacred place’ nor their ‘fatherland’. This, as we know, is the fascist concept of ‘nationality’ that is the ideological soul of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ as propagated by the works of Savarkar, Hedgewar and Gowalkar – the founders of the RSS.

Muslims constitute about 15 per cent of India’s population and they are a visible community. Through their persistent propaganda about Muslims in India having a higher growth rate, the sangh parivar has been somewhat successful in fostering a growing insecurity in the minds of Hindus. But the same tactics prove futile against Christians, as they constitute a mere two per cent of the population. The sangh parivar has thus been using the weapon of ‘conversion’ against Christians, accusing them of converting Hindus to Christianity by force and allurement. The BJP has through concerted campaigns been trying to legitimise its pernicious idea that the very act of conversion is a heinous matter. But a little probing into our own history reveals otherwise. Dr Ambedkar himself converted to Buddhism, taking thousands of Harijan Hindus along with him. He did this to overcome the disparity and injustice in the Hindu religion towards the Panchamas. Can such conversion be a heinous act?

By the same coin, belief in Buddhism and Jainism can also be viewed as an act of conversion from Hinduism by Harijans. The sangh parivar adopts tactful strategies to counter this by saying that since both Buddha and Mahavir were Hindus, this conversion was harmless. On the other hand, conversion to Islam or Christianity is intolerable. The BJP ideal of equating a nationality with a single religious affiliation in fact denies a primary truth: that the entire world consists of more than 200 countries most of whose people follow one of four major religions viz. Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Udupi is an important pilgrimage centre for a particular sect of Hindu Brahmins. Apart from a famous Krishna temple, the district also houses ancient mosques and churches. Topographically, these religious centres are located very close to one another yet the area witnessed little communal tension in either the pre- or post-independence eras. The region’s Christians participated actively in the struggle against British rule. But now the BJP has started fomenting communal tension by alleging that Christians are involved in the forcible conversion of Hindus. They argue that since these people were Hindus generations ago (i.e. before their conversion) they must convert back to Hinduism and purify themselves in order to serve the nation.

On September 12, 2004, a Sunday prayer was in progress at the congregation of a Protestant sect called ‘New Life’ in Udupi. Being a Protestant meeting there was no idol worship, nor any such ritual ceremonies. Unlike Catholic churches, these centres do not display pictures or statues of Christ; the church is thus a mere auditorium or a hall for worship. That Sunday mass there were about 100 people present, including women and children, when a group of people from the Hindu Yuva Sena (as reported by the media), around 15 to 20 in number, barged into the meeting and proceeded to destroy the sound system and chairs. They left after the meeting had dispersed.

An evening newspaper published from Mangalore, Karavali Ale, described the incident as an "attack on a conversion centre" in banner headlines on the front page. Other newspapers carried similar reports stating that conversion activities by Christians had come to light in Udupi and such acts must be stopped immediately to maintain peace and tranquillity. The reports flaunted copies of the Bible in Kannada as evidence! Is it a crime to have Kannada Bibles? The Kannada Bible is centuries old. Its appearance marked the beginning of the spread of literacy and the era of modern publishing. The first Kannada-English dictionary, the first Kannada newspaper, the establishment of modern schools and allopathic hospitals, were all pioneering works by Christian missionaries in this region. The social beneficiaries of these philanthropic activities by Christian missionaries are, to a large extent, the Hindu upper castes. Now the ancient Bible has become a symbol of conversion in the region. And thus the sangh parivar manipulates a situation to its advantage to marginalise other religions.

Incidents of this kind have occurred in several places across the Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts. At some places huts belonging to Dalits have been destroyed, photographs of Christ have been burnt and Hindutva activists have attacked prayer meetings, all on the pretext of stopping forcible conversions.

In 2003, a New Life prayer meeting at Alangaru near Karkala in Dakshina Kannada was attacked by a group of 50 Bajrang Dal workers who alleged that two girls from nearby Ajjekaru village had been lured to the meeting for conversion. We met the pastor of the congregation and asked him whether the girls had attended prayers there. He readily acknowledged this, adding that if anyone came to the prayer meetings voluntarily seeking peace of mind he could not turn them away. A mischievous curiosity prompted us to press on, would he convert them if they volunteered? He said there was no such thing as a conversion ritual in his sect. As they believe solely in the Old Testament, they don’t worship the holy cross or statues of Jesus, Mary and so on, no holy water nor baptism. No one who comes to prayer is asked to forego the religious customs or practices they follow. What then constitutes the identity of your sect, we persisted. His answer was simple: congregating at a location and praying together, reciting verses of the Old Testament or New Songs in praise of the lord. It is a comradeship rooted in abstract devotion.

We also met Pankaj Kumar Takoor, additional superintendent of police of the jurisdiction at the time, to ask whether any complaints of coercive conversion had been registered in police stations of the area over the past two or three years. He not only confirmed that no such cases had been registered but also added that if conversion is willingly effected by an individual it is not an offence under the existing law. He told us he had said the same thing to BJP leaders who had come to him urging preventive action against Protestant prayer meetings.

It was now more than apparent that the Hindutva brigade had been adopting terror tactics to prevent Hindus from attending such prayer meetings even when they did so of their own free will. We wanted to find out why these Hindus had chosen to attend a Protestant prayer meeting. At Ajjekaru village we met the two girls (young women, actually, for they were both over 18) who were the focus of the Alangaru incident. We spoke to the younger of the two, Sandhya, and her mother Sumati.

Both young women had passed their SSLC (secondary school leaving certificate) examinations after which they dropped out of school to help support the family. Both are daily wagers at a local cashew nut factory. They belong to the Billava caste, which is at the bottom of the caste ladder. Their father has abandoned his financial responsibilities to the family and the two girls and their mother now struggle to make ends meet. Yes, they go to Alangaru prayer meetings by choice. But why?

Sumati had three daughters. The eldest, Vidya, a business management graduate, was diagnosed with cancer. They tried modern medicine for as long as they could afford it but Vidya’s condition worsened. Somebody then advised them to undertake a pilgrimage to Potta, a famous ‘faith healing centre’ in Kerala. The visit to Potta seemed to lift Vidya’s spirits although her condition did not really improve. She died about six months before the Alangaru incident took place.

Somehow the pilgrimage to Potta and the peace of mind that Vidya attained had a lasting impression on the mother and her two girls even as their financial and emotional ordeals continued. A family acquaintance mentioned the prayer meetings at Alangaru. They went to a meeting and found some mental solace there. The women then continued to attend prayers at Alangaru for the next few weeks when the Bajrang Dal incident occurred. We asked Sandhya whether they would still go to prayer after everything that had happened recently. Her response was unequivocal. "Yes, we will. We had problems and we are finding peace of mind through prayer. It is our own business. I said the same thing quite sternly to a Bajrang Dal activist who had come to threaten us." She was furious with press reports that said girls have shed Hindu customs and are brainwashed into getting converted. "No, nobody is forcing us to convert and no such thing goes on at prayer. We practice our customs and pray there for peace," she said as she showed us a copy of the Kannada Bible she kept at home.

People at prayer meetings in Udupi told us the same thing. Their ordeals seemed similar. And in India people often approach centres of different faiths seeking solace for problems in their daily lives without giving up the faith to which they were born. Many Sufi shrines and churches across the country have attracted people from varied faiths for centuries. To them, they embody the "heart of a heartless world". Now Hindutva wants to shatter that heart as well.

Punish the law-abiding, reward the lawbreakers: Travails of a meat vendor

Another major campaign on the BJP’s agenda is the one against cow slaughter. Contrary to what they aim to project, beef is consumed by not only Muslims and Christians but also by Adivasis and Dalits. Yet the BJP holds only Christians and Muslims responsible for gravely offending Hindu religious sentiments through cow slaughter. In adopting such agendas the BJP has been grossly violating constitutionally guaranteed laws and fundamental rights so as to pursue its designs to ignite Hindu sentiments against fellow beings.

Kasim saheb is a 55-year-old man from Nejaru village in Udupi district. The only profession he knows is the meat trade and his earnings from that feed his large family. Meat trading is a family legacy, being the sole source of livelihood for his father and his grandfather before him. Along with mutton and chicken, Kasim saheb also sells beef. He had a gram panchayat licence permitting this and was careful to adhere to the rules under the Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act 1964. Such legalities were of course immaterial to the local unit of the Hindu Yuva Sena who launched a campaign against Kasim saheb, registering a complaint against him with the gram panchayat.

We now know how these outfits register their complaints: Organise a fierce, slogan shouting mob and then threaten people to sign on the dotted line or face the consequences. The gram panchayat yielded to these terror tactics and cancelled the licence issued to Kasim saheb in 1988. When Kasim saheb petitioned the higher authorities, the health department made an inspection of his premises and reissued permission. But the gram panchayat refused to budge. So Kasim saheb lodged a complaint with the superintendent of police and district administration who promised to look into the matter. And yet the gram panchayat continued to refuse him permission on the grounds that his profession was "harming people’s sentiments".

Unwilling to be browbeaten by this injustice, Kasim saheb then organised a village petition, which about 550 villagers signed. The petitioners said they were all beef-eaters and they relied on Kasim saheb’s business, they had no complaints against him, and demanded that his business must immediately be given a licence. Most of the petition’s signatories were Hindus and many were Harijans who had no taboos about beef-eating. Who then were the few whose ‘sentiments were harmed’? The Brahmins in Kalyanapura panchayat are very small in number and such inequity could not be allowed for their sake alone.

The slaughter of cows for meat and the sale of such meat is not in itself a crime in many states of India, including Karnataka. The BJP campaign against it is neither in the interest of cows nor Hindu religious sentiments. Their sole motive is to generate communal unrest from time to time and keep the tension alive. The BJP even tried to persuade the former NDA government to enact a law against cow slaughter. The move failed following resistance from several quarters – its own allies, opposition parties and various state governments.

Under Karnataka’s Cow Slaughter Act, any cow that is 12 years and older, does not yield milk or is infertile can be slaughtered with due permission from the gram panchayat or the city municipality. These cows must be otherwise healthy and the slaughter must take place in sanitary conditions. The sangh parivar uses the loopholes in the law not for the cows’ well-being but mainly to jeopardise the livelihoods and lives of people like Kasim saheb.

Notwithstanding the public support he received and in spite of a zilla parishad ruling in his favour, Kasim saheb is yet to get his licence back. This apart, he has also been forced to deal with the police since the sangh parivar frequently lodges complaints against him. On one such occasion when Hindutva outfits complained that he was slaughtering cows illegally the police asked him to go to the Udupi police station, about 10 km from his home, in the morning. He was made to sit at the police station and repeatedly asked just one question – Confess the truth. Each time he denied their accusations he was told to wait a few more hours until finally they let him go at around 10 p.m., long after the last bus to Nejaru had left. Kasim saheb has blood pressure and blood sugar problems, he had had nothing to eat since early that morning, yet he had no option but to walk the 10 km to his home.

On another occasion, the Udupi circle inspector (CI) raided his house one night only to find nothing out of the ordinary. Not satisfied, the CI told Kasim saheb, "Stop doing this business. Otherwise these outfits will lock you up in your house, blast a (gas) cylinder and burn the whole place down as they did in Gujarat."

Kasim saheb looks older than his years. He now makes his living selling chicken but he is still looking for a favourable order from the panchayat. Against this backdrop, his petition to the district collector tells a pitiful story " ...The people (of my village) have neither any objection to nor any intention to obstruct my business. But, sir, to carry out the profession lawfully I need a licence…"

The Hindu Yuva Sena, Bajrang Dal and other Hindutva organisations have been on a continuing rampage across Udupi and Dakshina Kannada. They now threaten and assault people involved in the cow trade. They stop vans that carry cows and manhandle the people in them, assault them physically and force them to flee. Although several people did come together to protest against this goondagiri (thuggery) at a rally in Mangalore, Hindutva’s siege continues unchecked.

Beating, looting and manipulating: Anything for Hindutva

The ‘Saree Palace’ in Mangalore is a cloth store that does reasonably good business. Although the owner of the store is a Muslim, most of the 20-25 people who worked there were Hindus. A few years earlier the owner had instituted the employee friendly practice of arranging an annual picnic for employees of the establishment. Employees and their families all enjoyed the yearly trip. In June 2005 the shop owner organised one such visit to Mysore, hiring a private bus for the trip. The bus left Mangalore at around 9.45 p.m. on the scheduled day.

At around 10 p.m., when the bus reached Pumpwell circle on the outskirts of Mangalore, a group of 50-100 Bajrang Dal activists stopped the bus by blocking its route and forcibly boarded the vehicle. The attackers were armed with lathis and swords. They alleged that the owner, who was in fact travelling with his family, was taking his women employees for ‘illegitimate pleasure-seeking’, his Hindu employees having succumbed to his wiles. They started looting the passengers of their valuables and belongings and attacking them with lathis and swords. It didn’t matter to this Hindutva ‘moral brigade’ that many of the women employees were accompanied by their husbands and children. During their looting spree, these keepers of moral virtue even snatched some women’s mangalsutras. The attack was very well orchestrated, the entire operation taking all of 30 minutes after which the attackers fled with the loot.

While this atrocity was taking place, the cameraman of a local cable TV channel, Namma Kudla ("Our Mangalore" in Tulu, the local vernacular), happened to pass that way, as his office was nearby. Once he saw what was happening his camera started whirring, journalistic instincts intact, as he began to film the attack from outside. Realising that their actions were being recorded, the attackers hounded the cameraman, snatched and smashed his video camera, looted his money, a gold chain and a mobile phone, and beat him black and blue. The mob also damaged the bus.

The next day all newspapers carried the story along with a photograph of the damaged bus. As usual, the general tone of the reports was a tacit acceptance of the attackers’ allegations. But one paper (mentioned earlier for its "committed" journalism in support of the sangh parivar), Udayavani – the paper with the largest mass readership – went one step ahead. If in other papers the name of the bus, ‘Sharada’, was clearly visible, it was missing in the photograph published by Udayavani although the picture had been shot from the same angle as the others. Why? The newspaper’s "committed" staff probably thought the name ‘Sharada’ would indicate that the owner of the bus was a Hindu. If that were to happen then the justification for the attack provided by the sangh parivar’s moral brigade – that the rich Muslim shop owner was taking Hindu women for ‘illegitimate pleasure- seeking’ – loses ground, as they had damaged a Hindu’s bus. So in order to validate the attackers’ intentions, the photograph was computer manipulated to hide the name ‘Sharada’ in the picture Udayavani published. What ingenious journalism!

When we met the victims in hospital, they categorically denied the attackers’ allegations. One woman exclaimed angrily, "If they care about the dignity of Hindu women, why did they snatch my mangalya (mangalsutra)!" Unfortunately, this anger did not reverberate in society at large and the event passed off as just another crime report in local papers.

Murder of a Hindu priest: A new episode in ‘cow protection’ politics

"Let the government issue an order that the Bajrang Dal is the sole law enforcing power in the country and that everybody should obey its commands! Then we’ll shut up and obey them! Who are these people to punish anyone?"

We met Ramesh Rao in his home three days after his father, Patali Krishnayya, was killed in a murderous assault by a mob of Bajrang Dal activists.

We have heard words like these before – words of anguish from a helpless soul – they are an all too familiar refrain from minority victims of Hindutva violence. But this time they came from a Hindu Brahmin. What did 70-year-old Krishnayya do to attract punishment by death from Hindutva’s storm troopers?

Krishnayya lived an honourable life, respected not only by people in his village, Kavadi, but also by people from Kavadi’s 10 neighbouring villages. Krishnayya was a traditional ‘Patali’ at the village Mahalingeshwara temple. (A Patali is a person designated to chant swasti – a special incantation in praise of god to be rhythmically chanted at definite stages of mantra recitation.) He was also a prosperous agriculturist, chairman of the local cooperative bank and chairman of the school committee at Kavadi Higher Primary School which was built under his leadership. But more than this, Krishnayya was a paternal figure whom people always went to when they were in difficulty, for Krishnayya would go the extra mile to lend a helping hand. He was at one with his surroundings and his community.

At around 10 p.m. on May 24, 2006, Krishnayya was attacked and then killed by a group of 10 Bajrang Dal activists – led by Kumara Swamy, head of Bajrang Dal’s Udupi district unit, and Krishna Shanbag, the head of Bajrang Dal’s local area committee – for pursuing an activity that is integral to social life in the coastal region: mediating in the sale of cows. This is such a common practice in coastal society that mediators in the sale of cows even have a traditional name – ‘Pairinavaru’. People who can no longer bear the financial burden of maintaining unproductive cattle, those who need money for weddings and other ceremonies, are often keen to sell off productive cattle for a good price. They approach the mediators who then help them to strike a good deal. In fact, cattle sale mediation is not just a profession; it shows shades of social service.

Krishnayya was only pursuing what he and society around him considered a helpful activity during hard times. But Hindutva politics does not respect such community moorings or practices that are quite at odds with their idea of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Bajrang Dalis, Kumara Swamy and Krishna Shanbag, whose attack would lead to Krishnayya’s death, were no strangers to him. In fact, they were among his caste brethren and family associates. They visited him regularly and attended religious ceremonies at his home. Krishnayya even helped them out with day-to-day problems. But their ideology left no room for community relations. Kumara Swamy and Krishna Shanbag were arrested for murder under Section 302 of the IPC but having managed to secure bail, they now roam free. Free to continue their earlier activities.

At Krishnayya’s house, we were shown the family album filled with pictures of Krishnayya striking poses with his cattle. (He was a champion ‘Kambla’ racer – a local sport in which the competitors drive their cattle in tracks through muddy fields). Pictures of Krishnayya, sporting his big moustache, next to his winning pair, holding the trophy he had won; Krishnayya feeding or petting his cattle. His family members hurried us through the album until we came to one picture in particular. Krishnayya’s grandson dressed as ‘Balagopala’ (baby Krishna) stood beside a calf in a scene, we were told, his grandfather had meticulously scripted.

In that house of mourning, the Kambla trophy occupied pride of place beside a garlanded portrait of Krishnayya. Just as we were about to leave, the telephone rang. Unaware of recent events, the caller wanted to know if Krishnayya could help them sell a cow, as they needed money urgently for a ceremony. The entire tableau seemed incredibly absurd. This is the absurdity of a society in the grip of full-scale Hindutva violence. n

(With translation assistance from Uvaraj and Sushmita.)

(G. Rajashekar is a well-known literary and cultural critic, and a social thinker. K. Phaniraj teaches civil engineering and is a cultural critic. Both work as coordinators of Souharda Vedike, a communal harmony and human rights forum based in Udupi. They have co-authored two books in Kannada on the growth of communalism and write regularly for the Kannada weekly, Lankesh.)


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