Bajrang Dal worker killing sets off clashes in Karnataka; 3 detained

Updated on Feb 22, 2022 04:58 AM IST

The Karnataka police on Monday detained three men from Bengaluru in connection with the murder, said Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra. He did not give out their names or religions.

Shivamogga: Arsonist throw stones during a procession as tension spreads in Karnataka's Shivamogga town over the murder of a member of right-wing outfit Bajrang Dal on Sunday night, in Shivamogga, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. (PTI Photo/Shailendra Bhojak)(PTI02_21_2022_000235A) (PTI)
Shivamogga: Arsonist throw stones during a procession as tension spreads in Karnataka's Shivamogga town over the murder of a member of right-wing outfit Bajrang Dal on Sunday night, in Shivamogga, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. (PTI Photo/Shailendra Bhojak)(PTI02_21_2022_000235A) (PTI)

The killing of a young Bajrang Dal worker in Shivamogga, around 250 km from Bengaluru triggered violent protests across the district, with both his family and some state and national Bharatiya Janata Party leaders labelling it a hate crime motivated by religious identity.

The Karnataka police on Monday detained three men from Bengaluru in connection with the murder, said Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra. He did not give out their names or religions. An unverified video of a critically injured Harsha, lying in a pool of blood was doing the rounds on Monday.

Harsha, 26, a tailor by profession, was killed by a group of unidentified men on Sunday night. Speaking to the media, Harsha’s sister said that her brother was victim of religious politics. “My younger brother is lying dead just because he used to chant ‘Jai Ram, Sri Ram’. Just because he called himself ‘Hindu Harsha’.”

The death has heightened communal tensions in the state -- already rocked by protests over the hijab. Last month, a Udupi college barred the entry of students in hijab, provoking state-wide protests, and counter-protests (by saffron scarf sporting students). The Karnataka High Court is currently hearing the case.

Police said violence broke out during the funeral procession of Harsha, which left a photo journalist, a policewoman, and a bystander injured. Several incidents of vandalism in which some business establishments owned by Muslims were targeted were also reported following the procession from at-least three localities in Shivamogga city.

Authorities deployed additional police forces, prohibited gatherings of over four people, and shut educational institutions amid tensions. Police said additional force was also summoned from the neighbouring districts.

Shivamogga is the constituency of former chief minister BS Yediyurappa, who resigned around the middle of last year to make way for current chief minister Basvaraj Bommai. Home Minister Araga Jnanendra and rural development minister KS Eshwarappa are also from Shivamogga.

Talking about the police investigation, the home minister said : “We’ve not yet received any final report related to arrests. We’ve taken some people into custody. Inquiry is going on. Very soon we’ll get information related to the murder.”

He added: “I met the parents and sisters of Harsha. They asked me for justice. I’ve assured them that we will bring the culprits to book.”

A senior officer of Bengaluru police told HT that the detentions were made from Jagjeevan Ram Nagar in West Bengaluru.

“We were in coordination with the Shivamogga police. Based on the information provided by them, we conducted some technical investigation and eventually detained these men. They have been handed over to Shivamogga police and their interrogation is currently underway,” added this person who asked not to be identified.

Shivamogga police said that Harsha’s assailants chased him in a car before attacking him. He was rushed to a hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.

While they did not ascribe any motives to the killing, some BJP leaders linked it to the ongoing hijab controvery in the state. Jnanendra, however, said the murder is unrelated to the hijab controversy. “It has happened for different reasons. Shivamogga is a sensitive city. The incident took place on the main road and the police are on high alert,” he said.

Harsha was actively involved in Bajrang Dal and VHP activities. In 2015, he allegedly put up a post abusing Muslims and a complaint had been lodged against him in the Doddapet police station. The family claimed that since then, he has been receiving death threats.

Shivamogga police said his rivalry with some Muslim groups went beyond the Facebook posts. He was involved in at least five cases of assault and attempt to murder. On December 3, 2020 following a communal skirmish, Harsha was accused by the police of being part of a mob that attacked Muslim traders in Shivamogga. Cases of assault have been pending against Harsha since 2017 in the Doddapet police station.

Jnanendra said a group of four to five people murdered Harsha. “The law-and-order situation is under control in Shivamogga. As a precautionary measure, schools and colleges in the city have been closed for two days.”

Shivamogga Police Superintendent BM Lakshmi Prasad said Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure has been imposed in the district as a precautionary measure to prevent gatherings. “We will take a call on tomorrow [Tuesday] after a review of the situation in the [Monday] evening. There were minor incidents last [Sunday] night. We have increased police deployment across the district,” he said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Arun Dev is an Assistant Editor with the Karnataka bureau of Hindustan Times. A journalist for over 10 years, he has written extensively on crime and politics.

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