At least 30 people were injured and property worth lakhs destroyed in clashes between Hindus and Muslims near Mangaluru in Karnataka where over 25,000 Hindutva activists converged for a meeting, as leaders of both communities blamed each other on Saturday for the violence.
The clashes occurred on Friday night in multiple locations in Belthangady and Puttur talukas when people were returning after attending the Virat Hindu Hridaya Sangama, an event where Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Praveen Togadia and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat allegedly delivered inflammatory speeches.
Conflicting versions emerged from the violence-hit neighbourhoods about what triggered the clashes in which a mosque was attacked and shops set on fire.
A shop set afire in Belthangady, coastal Karnataka. (HT photo)
“Our activists were returning peacefully from the event when they were ambushed by local Muslims,” Sharan Pumpwell, South Karnataka convenor of the Bajrang Dal said. “The ruling (Congress) party and extremist outfits are behind this conspiracy.”
Muslim organisations such as the Popular Front of India (PFI), which have called for a district-wide strike on Sunday, said the whole region was tense since Friday morning after Hindutva activists started arriving by the thousands for the meeting.
Ashram Bakhavi, the priest at Jumma Masjid at Karaya village in Uppinangady, Puttur. Photo: Sudipto Mondal
"Inflammatory speeches were made by Togadia and Bhat at the gathering," PFI convenor Mohammed Mustafa said. "Provoked by their speeches, their supporters attacked ordinary Muslims."
He said more than 300 Bajrang Dal activists attacked a mosque in Puttur, injuring the Imam and several students at the madarsa in the mosque.
Pumpwell accepted that his men forced their way into the mosque, although he said they were attacked first. He also pointed to a cluster of shops that were allegedly set ablaze by PFI activists at Belthangady.
This father and son were attacked when they were returning home near Belthangady. Photo: Sudipto Mondal
Police officials said they were investigating the case and had registered a case of rioting.
"It appears at the moment that both communities were involved," Western Range IGP Amrit Paul said. "Investigations are on. We have not booked any cases against the RSS leaders for provocative speeches. If somebody complains, we will register a case."