A high level of education hasn’t prevented this coastal town from becoming a hotbed of rabid and violent majoritarianism
When he was asked for a loan by a colleague he had known for a couple of months, 28-year-old Shakir decided to take his car to the ATM. His colleague Nandini (name changed) accompanied him. Two hours later, Shakir was accosted by a mob of 20-25, assaulted, stripped naked, tied to an electric pole and beaten. The perpetrators were from the radical Hindutva group Bajrang Dal. Around 50 to 60 people, according to conservative estimates, stood as silent spectators. Some captured the cruelty at display using latest mobile phones equipped with cameras that provide high-resolution images. No one came forward to help. The local police rescued him an hour later.
The incident happened on Monday evening in a busy, crowded area called Kulur in Mangaluru. By evening, Shakir had become a Whatsapp forward – some warning Muslims of the same consequences if did what he had done. In Mangaluru, even to be seen with a woman colleague who is not from one’s religious community is to live dangerously.
A day later, the woman who was beaten up along with Shakir called a press conference — where Bajrang Dal cadre distributed the press releases — to accuse her colleague of having “outraged her modesty”.
Sharan Pumpwell, the district president of the Bajrang Dal speaking to The Wire shot back with an often-heard defence; “Do not talk in terms of right and wrong. As a society, we must ask why this happened. Why are Hindus taking the extreme step? What is happening to Hindu girls in the hands of Muslim men?” he asked. He denied that the Bajrang Dal and its activists had anything to do with the violence—he called it a spontaneous outburst of anger by Hindus.
Owing to added pressure from media, the Mangaluru police was quick to arrest 13 men who are seen in a couple of videos that have emerged from the incident.
Disturbing public reaction
Whereas images of a stripped, petrified looking Shakir that occupied major news-sites all over the country was received with shock and dismay, the reaction in Mangaluru and Udupi has been disturbing to say the least. Local Whatsapp groups are filled with warnings, platitudes and even jokes about what was meted out to Shakir.
To those who know the region’s history, this public violence against a Muslim man is not surprising. There is indeed a long, bloody history to communal polarisation in the two districts going back to Ramjanmabhoomi movement and perhaps even further back. The shock value of such incidents is steadily diminishing. This lack of shock is visible on not only social media but also how mainstream news services treat such news. Consider for instance, that Udayavani, one of the largest newspapers in Karnataka, carried the report prominently. The paper which reports majority of such incidents with a pronounced slant (Non-Hindus are addressed by this paper as Anya Komu or ‘the other religion’ or ‘doosre kaum’) did not consider even blurring Shakir’s face in the photographs.
Over the last decade, attacks on young couples in ice cream parlours and partying youth in pubs by Hindutva groups have brought Mangaluru international infamy. Conservative Muslim groups too have got into the act. The sheer number of these incidents has baffled social scientists, political commentators and journalists as to how a region with one of the highest literacy rates in the country and a burgeoning middle-class society has come to legitimize such hooliganism.
As per a report compiled by Suresh Bhat Bakrabail, an activist with Komu Sauharda Vedike (Karnataka Forum for Communal Harmony), there have been 42 minor skirmishes, three major clashes between Hindu and Muslim youth, 31 cases of moral policing (six of which were carried out by Muslim groups) and eight serious attacks on cattle traders by Hindutva groups between January to August this year. The report is a compilation of news reports that have appeared in six major newspapers that are read in the region: Udayavani, Vijaya Karnataka, Vartha Bharathi, Karavali Ale, The Hindu and The Deccan Herald. According to Bakrabail, last year, over 39 cases of vigilantism, 22 of assault on alleged cattle-traffickers, eight of inflammatory speeches, nine assaults on the pretext of religious conversion and 81 minor skirmishes had been registered in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi. Mangaluru and other smaller towns in Dakshina Kannada district contributed to a majority of these cases. The general trend is of over aggression by young men from Hindutva groups who play vigilante whenever they see “transgressions” which could range from mixed religion friends or even colleagues together.
A particularly egregious incident that occurred in March this year is a good example: A bus with 38 students, in the company of a female and three male lecturers, was prevented from going on an excursion to Mysuru and Bengaluru. They were from the government first-grade college in Mudipu, in Bantwal taluk. It was a programme officially organized by the college, to enable the students to watch the legislative proceedings in Vidhan Soudha. As they were leaving, a group of activists, allegedly belonging to Sangh Parivar, objected to the female students belonging to the majority community going in a bus with boys from a minority community. There was a mild lathi charge by the police. Sensing trouble, the college authorities informed the parents and immediately cancelled the trip.
Analysts say some patterns are emerging: a siege mentality with deep insecurity about women of one’s community, over-religiosity, general intolerance towards the other, majoritarianism and an utter disregard for rule of law. That a Congress government in Bengaluru has been unable to put a stop to these affronts to decency says as much about the Congress party as it does about Mangalorean society.