Religious violence that has kept many parts of Karnataka, particularly the coastal region, on the edge for several years has now reared its head in the State capital.
Until the night of December 24, the only divisions that threatened to disrupt the peace in Bengaluru were those between Tamil and Kannada chauvinists over the sharing of river Cauvery’s waters. The city was considered too cosmopolitan to bother with the polemics of religious fanatics.
But all that changed when the residents of the Muslim majority Bhoopsandra slum in north Bengaluru went berserk. Dozens were injured when the police resorted to caning and fired tear gas shells. The situation continues to be tense and the entire area has been cordoned off with barricades.
As contesting narratives float around, the Muslims and Dalits of the area seem to point in one direction -- Baddi Venkatesh, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activist who came to head the local Hanuman temple four years ago. “Before he became the president, Hindu and Muslim festivals would be celebrated alongside each other and there would be no trouble,” says T Venkatesh, a Dalit whose family managed the temple for 30 years before Baddi Venkatesh took over.
“The local Muslims donated the land for the temple 45 years ago so that Dalits like us could have a place to pray,” T Venkatesh told Hindustan Times.
He alleged that on the night of 24th, Baddi Venkatesh and his men tried to disrupt the Milad-ul-Nabi celebrations of the Muslims. “The previous day, the RSS had organised a massive puja in the Hanuman temple. It was agreed that the Muslims would be allowed to observe their festival in peace the next day but they went back on their promise and played loud music to disrupt Eid,” T Venkatesh said, adding that many RSS activists from outside organise regular drills at the temple that provoke the local Muslims.
Speaking to HT, Baddi Venkatesh said that he has opened an RSS Shakha (branch) where drills are conducted. “These drills are only to discipline Hindus and teach them self defense,” he said. On the recent violence, he said that local Muslims had desecrated the temple and that’s what triggered the unrest.
While T Venkatesh and local Muslims accused the police of siding with the RSS, Baddi Venkatesh was all praise. “The local policemen are also devotees of the Hanuman temple. If it weren’t for their help, the temple might even get demolished. This area is like a mini Pakistan. No Hindu is safe here.”
Manohar Elavarthy, a social activist who was present during the violence, said, “The police will always swing with whichever side is powerful. It’s the job of the political establishment to show the way. A riot breaks out in the State capital, there are allegations of bias against the police and yet the home minister (G Parameshwara) doesn’t visit the area,” he said.
As 2015 entered its final lap, communal violence also broke out in Ramnagaram, Hospet and Mandya -- regions of the State that have not seen religious intolerance since 1991-92 when the entire country was swept up in the Ram Janmabhoomi agitations.
The only reason people knew Hospet was because it was at the centre of the illegal iron ore mining scam. But communal violence broke out on December 27 after Sangh activists claimed that a pro-Islamic State leaflet had been circulated. Most parts of the city had to be shut down after groups of Sangh activists allegedly went on a rampage even as Muslim groups claimed that the leaflet was fake.
In Ramnagaram, Mandya and other parts of South Karnataka a series of audacious attacks have been carried out against Christian evangelists over the last few weeks leading to and following Christmas. Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, Robin Christopher of the Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum alleges that “some unseen hands” are working in the background. “We will be meeting all the pastors who have been attacked on January 6. This kind of violence against a particular community is unprecedented for these parts of the State. It can’t be happening in a vacuum,” he said.
Meanwhile, there was no let up in the tensions in the more disturbed parts of Karnataka such as Mangalore and Udupi. The twin coastal districts saw 226 incidents of communal strife so far this year.
The 225th incident was the action of the Vishva Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal to forcibly stop the screening of Shah Rukh Khan starrer Dilwale. And the 226th incident was social activist Vidya Dinker being threatened with rape for lodging a complaint against these groups for disrupting the film’s screenings.
A major riot erupted in the communally sensitive Chikmagalur as well on December 24 as thousands of Sangh activists descended on the district for the annual Datta Jayanti celebrations. This annual pilgrimage is organised by the Sangh to stake claim of the disputed shrine of Baba Budan where both Hindus and Muslims pray as part of an ancient syncretic tradition.