Is Karnataka following the Gujarat mode of development?
Between 1998 and 2000, communal incidents were reported every six months, every month between 2000 and 2004, and from 2004 on, we find that incidents occur every week."
The invariable plot for violence, he adds, is about a boy from a Muslim or Christian community ‘found being friendly’ with a Hindu girl, which leads to the self-styled protectors of the Hindu faith ‘intervening’ to ‘free’ the girl. Except intervening here means thrashing the boy. "We should remember that there was a sustained campaign against the Muslim community in Gujarat before Godhra happened," says Phaniraj. Just prior to the Surathkal riots in 1998, a lot of pamphlets warning young Hindu women against going with Muslim boys were circulated.
"There is a state of utter and complete lawlessness in Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Bellary." H.D. Kumaraswamy Janata Dal (S) President
"One of them asked Hindu women to be cautious of Muslim men in footwear shops."
In fact, you would indeed think the Mangalore pub incident to be ‘trivial’ compared to earlier incidents in the region (See here) were it not for the staged replays of the event,
courtesy a local TV channel. On the very same day, Bajrang Dal men had barged into a private party and assaulted those present. And the man who instigated the pub attack, Prasad Attavar, had in 2007 assaulted a Muslim boy at the Ideal Ice-cream Parlour in the heart of Mangalore for talking to a Hindu girl. More ghastly, however, was the 2005 incident in a Puttur cinema when two men (one Muslim) and two Hindu women working in an areca processing factory had gone to see a movie. Around 150 Bajrang Dal activists barged in, dragged the four out and assaulted them before handing them over to the police. As recently as six months ago, a Muslim and Hindu couple living together were forced to return to their native Gadag by parivar activists. "Intrusion into private spaces has become common," says Phaniraj.
The girls who were assaulted by Mutalik’s Sena
Rajashekar rues that even people have become insensitive. "The pub incident is not a one-off criminal act as the CM and home minister are trying to project," he says. "It is part of a political programme. The fact that TV cameras were in position before the incident took place reminds me of the Walter Benjamin observation that ‘Fascism makes a spectacle of its ideology’. People are not shocked by what has happened. They simply watched it like any TV serial."
Father Prashant Madtha, former principal of St Aloysius College, Mangalore, attributes the frequent eruptions in the city to a clash of cultures. "Because of the various educational institutions in the area, Mangalore has witnessed an influx of people from across India. The locals feel threatened by the outsiders and feverishly protect their culture from corruption."
Amidst all this are fears that the constabulary too has been communalised. But state DG and IG of police, R. Srikumar, dismisses the idea outright. "It is easy for people to pass value judgements," he says. "Let those who accuse us give us in writing the names of officers who have acted communally and we’ll investigate the charges."
The other worry is the media. "The local media here has coopted the language of the parivar," rues Phaniraj. "So, the common man has started accepting propaganda without questioning it." The general attitude of the Sangh to media non-compliance was evident in the case of B.V. Seetharam, the editor of the Mangalore-based newspaper Karavali Ale and a Sangh critic. Handcuffed and arrested in an alleged extortion case on January 6, he is still in prison.
The quality of public discourse too seems to have reached a nadir ever since the BJP has come to power.There seems to be no middle path. Following the church attacks, a mainstream Kannada newspaper ran a poisoned debate on the issue of conversions for over a month. The right-wing historian and novelist S.L. Bhyrappa, who opened the debate, claimed that "there was an alarming increase in conversions ever since Sonia Gandhi had come to power". He also endorsed a study which said that every day "5,000 people in India were converting to Christianity".
Besides the coastal districts, there has been an uneasy calm at other flashpoints like Baba Budangiri since 2004, where the Sangh parivar is hell-bent on converting the Sufi shrine with a rich tradition of religious syncretism into an exclusive Hindu pilgrimage centre. BJP leader H.N. Ananth Kumar had vowed to make it the ‘Ayodhya of Karnataka’. The Hubli Idgah Maidan issue had cropped up temporarily in September 2004 when Uma Bharati courted arrest and lost her chief ministership, but there has been little noise since then. The silence is eerie, however, and with a BJP government in power, pregnant.