A Muslim barber refused to shut shop “as per custom”, triggering a riot by indignant members of the Hindu community at Nelliyadi village, 70 km from Mangalore, in Karnataka on Tuesday. Though the violence was brought under control a few hours after it erupted around 4 pm, dozens of people were injured and property worth lakhs destroyed in the melee.
Bajrang Dal leader Ravi Ballya told HT that the trouble started when the barber, Salman, refused to “respect local sentiments” and keep his shop shut on Tuesdays. “It is well-known that Hindus don’t cut their hair on Tuesdays. Salman was initially a nice boy. He used to respect our wishes and close his shop then. But in the last few weeks, he stopped doing that because some PFI (Popular Front of India) leaders filled his head with poison,” Ballya said.
Thukrappa Shetty, the local Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader, had a similar story to tell. “Uday Kumar, the leader of the barbers’ association, went to Salman’s shop and politely asked him to shut shop. But Salman and some others abused him instead. It was a clear provocation. What happened next was a spontaneous reaction from local Hindus who had been hurt by their behaviour.”
According to Superintendent of Police Dr SD Sharanappa, a large mob led by Ballya then attacked Salman’s shop as well as other Muslim-owned establishments in the Nelliyadi Jumma Masjid complex. In retaliation, another mob led by the PFI simultaneously indulged in arson and vandalism.
Kempi Mustafa, the head of the local masjid, said this was not the first time Kumar and Ballya had stoked communal tension in the area. Alleging that both are accused in criminal cases, he said this was just the latest in a string of incidents aimed at disrupting the communal harmony of coastal Karnataka.
Though available on the phone, Ballya was reported absconding by the police.
Meanwhile, the situation continued to be tense in at least four villages near Nelliyadi – Kokkada, Patrame, Golithottu and Ballya. The police have so far arrested nine men from both communities, and imposed curfew in the area.
The coastal region of Karnataka has witnessed at least 153 incidents of communal violence since January this year.