Mangaluru, Karnataka: Like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Mangaluru police also seem to be identifying protestors “by their clothes”. In a brazen display of communal mindset, the Mangaluru police, in at least six of the 24 First Information Reports (FIR) that were registered post the December 19 protest, have accused “unknown Muslim youths” of unlawful assembly, assault, damage to public property and sedition among other charges. While the FIR claims that over 2,000 protestors are “unknown”, the police have assumed them to be Muslim.
On December 19, a large number of people had gathered to protest against the recently passed Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) across Mangaluru city. The protest was held after taking the police’s permission. But one night before the protest, the Karnataka government decided to impose the prohibitory Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, disallowing large gatherings across the state. This caused chaos in the state and, particularly in Mangaluru.
The protest turned violent after the police decided to open fire, killing two unarmed bystanders and seriously injuring three others with bullets. Several others were also lathi-charged and are presently recuperating in hospitals. According to P.S. Harsha, commissioner of Mangaluru city police, 24 persons have been arrested (as of December 29) in connection with rioting and violence cases. The two persons killed in the police firing have also been named in the FIR.
The Wire has closely studied 15 of the 24 FIRs that it has managed to access from different police stations across Mangaluru city. From these reports, it is evident that the police have approached the incident with a clear bias and have mindlessly applied charges of attempt to murder, riot and sedition against “unknown”, yet “Muslim persons”.
Here are a few glaring biases seen in the complaints.
In one FIR registered by the Mangalore North police station by one M. Manohara Kini, a low-intensity explosives shopkeeper near the famous Zeenath Baksh Juma Masjid, a “Muslim youth gang” had attacked his shop and caused damages of over Rs 1 lakh. Kini’s complaint claims that his shop was shut when “a gang of Muslim men” attacked it. He said that since the district administration had imposed a curfew, he only visited his shop on December 21 and subsequently registered a complaint with the police.
From the FIR, it is clear that Kini did not see the attackers and discovered the ransacking of his shop some days later. The Wire contacted Kini and asked him how was he sure of the identity of those who allegedly damaged his shop. “Who else can indulge in such an act?” Kini asked this reporter. When he was asked if he suspected the involvement of any individual or group in the incident, Kini said, “Although I wasn’t around at the time of the crime, I am certain they were Muslim men.” The police have invoked several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for unlawful assembly, theft and trespassing.
Similarly, in another FIR registered by the same police station, 42-year-old jewellery shop owner Ravindra Nikkam claimed that around “50-60 Muslim youth” were seen attacking his relative’s jewellery shop, named Rajalakshmi Jewellers on Bhawani street in Mangaluru. Nikkam’s shop, Mahalakshmi Jewellers is adjacent to this shop and according to the FIR, the “mob of 50-60 Muslim men” were seen heading to his shop too. When The Wire contacted Nikkam, he claimed that he was able to identify the men as Muslims by looking at their “body language”.
When this reporter asked Nikkam if he could describe what this “body language” was and his reasons to think of it’s a “Muslims person’s body language”, Nikkam changed his response and said, “They spoke a few lines in Beary language and that is how I was certain about their Muslim identity.”
Beary is commonly, but not exclusively, spoken by the Muslims of Dakshina Kannada. Several Hindus, especially those who live near the Kerala border also speak the language. When confronted with this question, Nikkam further added, “Those men had all folded their pants in the peculiar way that the Muslims do.” When asked if he was able to look at all the men gathered and also look at their pants, Nikkam said, “I saw the pants of each individual. They were all folded.”
Such unfounded accusations have been registered in the FIRs by the police. While in these two cases, the complainants are private parties, even the Mangaluru police have adopted a similar, communal approach while filing FIRs.
In one FIR, again registered by the Mangaluru North police station, the complainant N. Mahesh, a policeman, stated that while he was on patrolling duty at 3:45 pm on December 19, a huge mob of around “1500-2000 Muslim men” surrounded his vehicle and attacked it with huge boulders, sticks and “soda bottles”. Mahesh, in his FIR, states that the vehicle was damaged in the attack and property worth Rs 1 lakh was destroyed. An FIR under several sections of the IPC and Karnataka Prevention of Destruction and Loss of Property Act have been applied against “1500-2000 Muslim men”. The Wire has tried to contact Mahesh, but he was not reachable.
Barring a few FIRs, the police have only mentioned unknown persons as accused in the violence. According to the police, and statements mentioned in several FIRs, the crowd that had gathered to oppose the CAA turned violent and even after several warnings, did not show any signs of halting the alleged violence. The police claim that they first fired a few rounds in the air and only then charged on the “unruly mob”. However, several videos that have since gone viral show the police aiming at protestors and gunning them down. Two persons were killed after they were allegedly shot from a close range.
The victims’ families and rights activists of Mangaluru have accused the police of handling the incident in a communal manner.
The Wire contacted commissioner Harsha to know how the police identified the religion of the protestors, even when their identity – by the police’s own submission – is unknown. “An FIR is just a basic document on the initial assessment of the complainant. In this case, it was Muslim organizations who had given the call for protests. That may be the basis of the initial assessment of those individual complainants.”
When asked if his department acted in a biased manner while dealing with a communally sensitive manner, Harsha defended his department. “The police department doesn’t carry a bias towards any caste, creed or religion. A detailed investigation, based on evidence, will establish the identities of the accused and appropriate legal action will follow.”
Among the 15 FIR copies accessed by The Wire, the police have applied attempt to murder (Section 307 of IPC) in five cases. In some FIRs, the names of the accused have been mentioned and in others, the police have accused unknown persons to be involved.
District medical officer Dr H.R. Rajeshwari Devi, who is also the superintendent of the district-run Wenlock Hospital, has claimed that not one of the 66 policemen treated at the hospital was “seriously injured”. However, commissioner Harsha contradicts this, saying 33 sustained “serious injuries”. In response to a questionnaire sent by The Wire, he said, “In all 33 policemen who sustained serious injuries have registered medicolegal cases. There are still a large number of them with minor injuries who have preferred outpatient treatment and their MLCs have not been registered.” He further added that the “nature of injuries vary from a most serious ankle fracture of DCP crime and traffic (official) to simple contusion injuries of stone-pelting”.
Medical officer Rajeshwari Devi told The Wire last week, “Since there wasn’t any serious injury, they [policemen] too were discharged soon after.” She added that out of the 66 injured, 64 were discharged soon after first aid and two others — one with contusions and another with laceration — were kept under 24 hours of observation.
The in-charge doctor’s assertion raises serious doubts about the police invoking Section 307 of the IPC in so many cases, even when the injuries were not serious.
The police have also filed at least two separate cases of sedition and provocation with intent to cause riots. In one case, the police have registered sedition charges against two officer bearers of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), Riyaz Farangipete and Sahul S.H. According to the FIR, registered by the Mangalore East police station, SDPI members had sent messages on the intervening night of December 18 and 19 with an intention to “disturb the city’s harmony and cause enmity between two communities”.
Farangipete, however, has denied these allegations. “Since SDPI did not issue a call for this protest, there is no question of any of us sending any messages,” Farangipete claimed. He alleged that the SDPI’s members have been targeted because they spoke up strongly against the Mangaluru police soon after the violence.
In another case of sedition, the police have named “unknown persons” for sending messages from an international number.