Bhatkal in Karnataka began losing grip over its identity as a town around the time Mohammed Ahmed Zarar Siddibapa started gaining notoriety as dreaded Indian Mujahideen terrorist Yasin Bhatkal.
What did not help the town in coastal Uttara Kannada district was that other IM top guns, brothers Riyaz and Iqbal Shabantri, also became branded as Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal.
For Raza Manvi, a writer in this small prosperous town located 488 km northwest of Bangalore, the blame for such branding of terror suspects as Bhatkals lies solely with the police and the media.
Yasin Bhatkal's home town Bhatkal in Karnataka is a small but prosperous town, located 488 km northwest of Bangalore
“After Riyaz Shabantri, the police named several other terror suspects as Bhatkals and the media latched on,” he said. “It is a town and not the surname of terror suspects.”
Bhatkal MLA Mankala Subba Vaidya too is upset at the “terror tag” casually used for the town. “A few youth may be involved in terror cases, but giving the town such branding is unacceptable.”
According to census data, besides the predominant population of Muslims and Hindus (almost 50-50), Bhatkal also has Christians, Buddhists and Jains.
Barring a few minor clashes in 1974, ’78 and ’88, the town had an easygoing pace and free interaction among the people of different communities.
A clash in 1991 during the Lok Sabha polls began changing the picture. Communal clashes erupted in 1993.
A police official who did not want to be named said, “The town remained tense for nearly six months, during which 17 people were killed, three were reported missing and property worth Rs 12 crore was destroyed.”
Tension rose alarmingly in April 1996 after the then local MLA Dr U Chittaranjan was murdered, leading to a police crackdown.
Seven years later, Yasin Bhatkal was among the seven young men who sat together in the town and decided to form the Indian Mujahideen, according to investigators.
Muslims in Bhatkal are primarily known to be either Nawayaths or Dahknis. The Nawayaths trace their origins to Arab countries and believe their ancestors came to the seashore town in the 8th century. The Dakhnis are referred to as original inhabitants.
The Nawayaths are largely seen as a business class, with interests in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh,West Bengal, Maharashtra. Many Nawayaths also have business interests, mainly textiles, in Arab countries.
Yasin Bhatkal's house in Bhatkal, Karnataka
(Photo credit: Hindustan Times/Naveen Ammembala)