It’s the morning after Sri Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik has been banned by the local district commissioner from entering Dakshin Kannada district for a year. His followers in the district capital of Mangalore are gathering to plan a suitable response.
About 20 motorcycles and scooters and one car lie parked outside the town’s Arya Samaj mandir that they have chosen as their meeting point. On the courtyard and inside, groups of young men hang around. A small crowd gathers around us as soon as we enter. I ask for the only leader of the group who’s present in the town, a man named Arun Kumar Puttila, state convenor of the Sene.
Puttila is there. His followers motion to me to follow. He’s inside, a big, bearded, fierce-looking man sitting on a plastic chair in front of a photo of Swami Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj. He speaks no English or Hindi, and I speak no Kannada or Tulu, so we are soon smiling rather tight smiles at each other. Puttila decides to solve the problem by summoning a translator. He says something, and some of the young men milling around rush off.
They return with a man who speaks a few words of Hindi. We begin the interview but conversation is difficult. The situation is saved by the arrival of a cheerful young man in his early 20s who speaks perfect English. Puttila begins telling me about how they want Muthalik to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Udupi, and how the BJP is afraid it will lose if he does. “The district commissioner has done this on orders from the chief minister... there has never been any problem because of Muthalik in Dakshin Kannada,” he says. Our conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the local press brigade.
The group moves outside for photos and TV bytes; the caretaker of the Arya Samaj is not comfortable having their pictures taken on the premises. All pictures are taken with the cameras pointing away from the Samaj building.
After it’s over, Puttila and company return and we resume our interview. We talk at length about the circumstances that led to the pub attack and the pink chaddi campaign. “The Sene plans to auction the chaddis to raise funds, or give them away to orphanages, says Puttila. “We will also file a case of defamation. The pub is not Hindu culture...girls drinking and dancing half naked is not Hindu culture,” he adds. I enquire about the response from the local populace. “Local people support us,” he says. I ask why, and this time, the translator answers on his own. “80 per cent of the people here are poor,” he says. “10 per cent are rich and the rest are middle class. The 80 per cent have blessed us... poor people don’t go to pubs.” I ask if the problem is with pubs or with drinking, and this time he refers the question to Puttila, who answers that the Ram Sene is against drinking. “We are against men in villages drinking also,” he says. “We have been protesting in villages for two years now.”
When it’s over, and we get up to go, I stick out my hand to the nameless translator and give my name. He shakes my hand but does not tell me his name, so I ask. He refuses to divulge it. My curiosity is piqued and I stand around some more, chatting with him as the others leave. It’s only when he’s getting into the car with Puttila that he finally relents and tells me his name. “It’s Avil Samson,” he says. “I am a Roman Catholic... I was earlier in the Bajrang Dal.” He had joined the outfit after the Dal boys helped him when he needed blood urgently. He won’t let his photo be taken, but drives off after saying, “Now my parents know... soon I will get a position in the organisation.”