A mob of around 30 suspected Hindu Jagarana Vedike activists allegedly sexually assaulted a woman member of Mangalore City Corporation when she was canvassing for the Congress party on Sunday.
The Hindu Jagarana Vedike has denied that its members molested the woman.
The attack, which reportedly occurred in full public view and was purportedly also captured on mobile phones by the attackers, came to light late on Tuesday after the Congress corporator (name withheld) addressed a press conference.
She said the Hindutva activists first surrounded her and then made a 16-year-old-member of their gang assault her at Kodikere near Mangalore around 4pm.
In the video, the boy can be seen grabbing the victim and attempting to strip her even as his comrades laugh and shout pro-Hindutva slogans.
As he attacks her, the teenager is heard saying, “Don’t you find Hindu men attractive? Why do you like only Muslim men?”
The corporator is a Hindu. The slur was purportedly used in reference to her political proximity to some Muslim leaders of her party.
Videos of the attack have since been shared on WhatsApp, an instant messaging service for mobile phones.
The corporator said the attackers also threatened her that once Narendra Modi became the prime minister all people like her would be taught a lesson.
Modi is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate.
Asked about the attack, Satyajit Surathkal, south India convenor of the Hindu Jagarana Vedike (based in Mangalore) said, “Our boys were just talking to her. She suddenly started getting physically aggressive and some of our boys retaliated mildly. Nobody molested her.”
He added, “We don’t treat Hindu women like that. I have not seen the video everybody is talking about. I’m sure it is fake.”
The police registered an FIR in connection with the attack after Tuesday’s press conference. The corporator claimed the police had reached the spot on Sunday soon after the attack, but made no effort to chase away or arrest the people who molested her.
“The police merely prevented them from causing further damage.”
Mangalore police commissioner R Hitendra confirmed that many of the suspects had several other cases against them including murder and extortion.
Hitendra said, “We did not initially register a case because we did not receive a complaint. We have now provided her with an armed guard.”
He failed to explain why the police did not register a complaint on their own despite officials reaching the spot soon after the assault, when the attackers were allegedly still around.
The police are yet to arrest any of the suspects.
The corporator claimed senior police officials had advised her to stay away from the area for her own safety.
Mangalore has seen similar vigilante attacks in the past.
Suspected Sri Rama Sene activists had attacked girls in a pub in January 2009. In July 2012, suspected Hindu Jagarana Vedike activists had assaulted 13 students including six girls in a show of moral policing at a house in Mangalore. This is often referred to as the homestay attack case.
8 Hindu right-wing men held for Mangalore attack
The attack on the corporator, however, is the first known instance of a politician being targeted by the vigilantes.
‘Act or I will quit’
“They dared to attack me even though our government is in power. If no action is taken I will resign from my post,” the corporator said at the press conference she addressed with local Congress MLA Moideen Bawa.
Bawa appealed for “justice”. Soon after he made that appeal, people targeted him on the social media, seeking to know who he wants justice from when the Congress is in power in Karnataka.
Seven of the eight MLAs in Mangalore are from the Congress and three of them are cabinet ministers.
The incident has triggered resentment among a section of Congress workers in the district.
Vidya Dinker of the Forum Against Atrocities on Women said, “If the Congress cannot protect its own people despite being in power, what about ordinary women? There has been a huge increase in attacks on women by such groups after the Congress came to power.”
Incidentally, this forum was formed in the aftermath of the homestay attack.
Not the first time
The corporator said her attackers had been harassing her ever since she started campaigning for the corporation elections. The harassment continued when Bawa was nominated for the 2013 assembly elections. She claimed six months ago, the Hindutva activists had waylaid her car when her five-year-old daughter was with her.
“They don’t want any party but the BJP to enter their area. They also object when we take non-Hindus for campaigning,” she said.