Mumbai: The Karnataka state police have been using different yardsticks to handle cases involving objectionable content generated in favour and against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). It took the Bengaluru police less than a few minutes to slap a case of sedition against a 19-year-old anti-CAA activist Amulya Leona Noronha and take her into custody for saying “Pakistan Zindabad” at a protest rally last week. But it has been over two days since the Sri Ram Sene, a right-wing militant group, declared a bounty of Rs 10 lakh for anyone who kills Noronha in an “encounter”. The police are still “figuring out” the appropriate action against the men who openly threatened violence.
On February 24, the Bellary district superintendent of police, C.K. Baba, told The Wire that his police had decided to file a non-cognizable complaint instead of an FIR against the accused. On February 25, Baba confirmed that the NC was converted into an FIR.
Soon after the video of Sri Ram Sene leader Sanjeev Marady giving death threats to Noronha had emerged, Baba had told The Wire, “We can’t initiate any action just like that. We need to take court permission to file an FIR. We will file an FIR once we receive a go-ahead from the court,” Baba said. He, however, did not elaborate on the reasons to seek the court’s permission to register an FIR in a case where an organisation has openly terrorised and indulged in issuing a death threat to a 19-year-old student. The law too doesn’t demand the procedure that the superintendent was claiming to follow in handling this criminal incident.
On February 25, talking to The Wire, Baba confirmed that an FIR was finally registered against Marady under Sections 505 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code for inciting a class or community against another and criminal intimidation respectively. The police have not arrested Marady so far.
In a video that has been circulated extensively across social media platforms, Sanjeev Marady, a Sri Ram Sene leader from Bellary district, is seen warning the police against releasing Noronha on bail. He says, “We request the government to not allow the student Amulya to be released on bail. She said Pakistan Zindabad… and should not be released. And if she is released, we announce a reward of Rs 10 lakh to whoever kills her in an encounter.” Marady, flanked by several other men, wearing a BJP scarf, made this statement, clearly wanting to kill a young woman. Even though other men are clearly seen in the video cheering as Marady gives murder threats to Noronha, the police have not named them in the FIR.
*We will encounter activist @AmulyaLeona if she is released on bail* #SriRamSene leader Sanjeev Maradi in #Ballari today.
My request to state govt is not to grant her bail. If she is released on bail. We will only encounter her. And will give reward of Rs. 10 lakh. pic.twitter.com/Vui0CPCcaq
— Imran Khan (@keypadguerilla) February 22, 2020
The Bellary police have not initiated any action against Marady or the Sri Ram Sene.
DSP Baba told The Wire that the police are looking into the videos and are in the process of “gathering” more videos. “We have heard that there is more than one video and we don’t want to take any hasty action,” Baba said.
When asked about what the police is doing to ensure that no violent attack happens against Noronha or her family, he said, “All I can say is we are looking into this.” Baba did not have an answer for the reasons for the delay in initiating police action.
Another Sri Ram Sene member, Siddalinga Swamy, has offered Rs 3 lakh as “bounty” for the tongues of three Kashmiri students in Hubballi who were arrested on charges of sedition. The statement was made in Gadag, during a programme commemorating Shivaji Jayanti. Siddalinga had said, “We will pay Rs 1 lakh for each tongue which is cut.” The police have not initiated any action against Swamy either.
Sri Ram Sene is a well-known right-wing militant group which originated in the southern districts of Karnataka and soon spread its roots to other parts of the state. The group operates in a similar fashion to the Bajarang Dal, another right-wing, Hindutva outfit and with an equally violent track record.
In 2009, Ram Sene made it to national headlines after it targeted young men and women for “violating the Indian tradition” by going to pubs in Mangaluru in Dakshina Kannada district and attacking them. After the attack, several organisations and political parties had demanded arrests of Sri Ram Sene activists and immediate steps to proscribe the organisation’s activities. Demands to ban the organisation were made too.
The state did not take any concrete action against the men, and in March 2018, all accused, including the organisation’s chief Pramod Muthalik, were acquitted of all charges.
Role of Karnataka police
As the protests against CAA and two other impending exercises, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR), continue to intensify across the country, cases have been registered against protesters in many places. The number of cases and instances of police violence have, however, been much worse in BJP-ruled states.
In December, the Mangaluru police had fired indiscriminately and lathi-charged Muslim men who had gathered to protest against the CAA. The police are accused of killing two bystanders and also injuring several other men.
Similarly, the Bidar police harassed kids as young as six years and arrested a young girl’s mother and her teacher after a complaint was registered by a right-wing man against an anti-CAA play at Shaheen educational institute. Children from the school, all belonging to the Muslim community, had performed a play on how the newly passed law may affect the community. The police stopped harassing the children only after the child rights commission intervened.
Several protesters in Bengaluru have been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code for unlawful assembly, provocation and even sedition. In Mysore, a student was booked for sedition for carrying a “Free Kashmir” placard during a protest against the violence unleashed on JNU students by the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists. In another incident, poet Siraj Bisaralli is facing sedition charges for using the podium of Anegundi Utsav, organised by the Koppal district administration, to recite his poem against the CAA and NRC.
The police have, however, taken a lenient stand against a school that engaged its students in a ‘drama re-enactment’ of the demolition of Babri Masjid.
In mid-December 2019, a group of over 100 minor students had re-enacted the demolition of the masjid for the annual day event at the Sri Rama Vidyakendra High School in Kalladka at Dakshina Karnataka. Young students, dressed in a white and saffron combination costume, rushed towards a poster of Babri Masjid and tore it down as the narrator announced, “Bolo Shri Ramchandra Ki… Jai. Bolo Bharat Mata ki… Jai.”
Following a complaint filed by a Popular Front of India (PFI) leader, Aboobacker Siddique, the police had registered a complaint against the school’s owner and RSS’s south-central region executive committee member Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat. But the police are yet to initiate any action against Bhat or other school employees.
Note: This article was updated after the police finally registered an FIR in the case on February 25.