332 moral policing incidents in two Karnataka districts since 2010: NGO
There have been 1,288 instances of communal violence including moral policing, cattle vigilantism, and hate speech in the state since 2010, according to Karnataka Communal Harmony.
On March 17, 2020, a group of Bajrang Dal men stopped a bus in Bantwal, near Mangaluru town. The men were in search of two Muslim men and a Hindu woman who were travelling together to attend a wedding in Bengaluru. Videos of the three were shot and shared on social media before the police arrived at the spot. Soon they were handed over to the police, who let them go after informing their families -- just to make sure everyone knew despite the three being adults.
This is among the 322 instances of moral policing by vigilantes in reported coastal Karnataka’s Dakshin Kannada and Udupi districts since 2010. It was in the former, a 23-year-old Muslim man was beaten up and stabbed by a group of men on Thursday.
“While the police keep no record of these instances, especially moral policing, we have been tracking these cases religiously. 322 are only the reported case and there could be many more unknown cases,” said Suresh Bhat Bakrabail of Karnataka Communal Harmony, a Mangaluru-based organisation that focuses on communal violence in the region, who is keeping a record of the instances of moral policing and communal violence in coastal Karnataka.
As per Karnataka Communal Harmony’s records, there have been 1,288 instances of communal violence including moral policing, cattle vigilantism, and hate speech in this period.
Bhat says in all cases there is a pattern. “Interfaith couples are always attacked by a group of people and never an individual. They are forced to call their parents and their videos are recorded. After these attacks, messages announcing a raid are sent out of social media. All the attacks are well-coordinated.”
According to Vidya Dinker, a Mangaluru based activist who has been fighting moral policing, “love jihad”, a term used by some Hindu groups to describe relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women, came to Mangaluru way before it became familiar across the country. “The Hindu-Muslim divide was often used (by political/religious outfits) to convince people there was an attempt to steal girls to convert them. This thought has been institutionalised over a period of time,” she said.
The biggest enabler for moral policing according to Dinker is the informant network. Informants, spread across the city provide tip-offs on interfaith couples across the city, and on their movements. “Hindu right-wing groups also have a strong following among auto-rickshaw drivers and employees of private bus operators in the city. They don’t do it for monetary reasons, but they believe in concepts like love jihad,” said Dinker.
Another group of informants are employees of security agencies (private security guards) across the city, some of whom are members of right-wing parties. The network is further strengthened by local merchants and anyone who is a right-wing sympathiser, Dinker added.
“Mobile numbers of local right-wing leaders are easily available in the city and right-wing organisations deploy their members at a handful of popular hang-outs in the city,” she said.
An activist in the city, who didn’t want to be named said that a security agency, Eshwari Manpower Solutions, which provides security to prominent commercial establishments in the city including malls, is run by a leader of the Bajarang Dal, Sharan Pumpwell.
“The security business and fear go hand in hand. Once Pumpwell’s firm is in charge of the establishment, there will not be an attack on the mall, like the pub attack that happened years ago. So, the fear created using these attacks are used to get business as well,” alleged the activist.
Pumpwell said that his business and politics are separate from each other. “I get business because of the business and rate I provide,” he said.
Talking about the instances of moral policing involving his group’s members, Pumpwell said: “We are only protecting our sisters from those who are trying to convert them in the name of love. You must have heard about how girls are sent to ISIS. We don’t want it to happen here. We don’t take the law into our hands. We simply hand them over (to the police); it is the police’s job to investigate.”
There are issues with that as well, said activists.
Dinker claims there have been instances of the police telling couples from different communities not to be seen in public together. “The sense of flawed morality and communalism remains within the police department itself. This is one of the reasons why many don’t file a police complaint. But the recent case (attack on Thursday) the girl stood her ground to get the complaint,” she said.
Shashi Kumar, Mangaluru police commissioner said that police take all cases of moral policing seriously. “In all cases, including the one reported recently, we have registered cases and arrested the culprits.”