After evading arrest for 20 years, he returned to Ullal to serve the local deity

Who could ever think that a local deity could have gotten a man arrested? And that too, a man who had been absconding for 20 years after being named in a communally-motivated murder?

In all likelihood, as Udaya (42) headed for work around 7 a.m. on Saturday, he did not expect the police waiting for him.

On June 21, 1993, during the communal riots that gripped Ullal , Udaya and Sukesh, both 22 years of age then, allegedly stabbed trader Mohammad Hanif in Someshwar-Uchila. Mr. Hanif succumbed to his injuries two months later, and the assault case turned into a murder case. Though Sukesh had been arrested — subsequently convicted and jailed for a year — after the incident, Udaya had absconded without a trace. Innumerable attempts to trace him were in vain, and the case file was passed on from one inspector to the other at the station.

Sources in the station said this case was deemed “important” – as it was communal in nature – and propped up frequently in review during meetings at various levels.

There was no trace of him, until, a few days ago, the police received information that he had rented a house in Ullal. “Five months ago he returned to Ullal. He had a job in Manjeshwar in Kerala, and never took a bus from here. He walked along the railway tracks for four kilometres, and then took a bus from Someshwara,” said a police official. When he left as usual for work on Saturday, the police were waiting for him. “He knew what he was being arrested for. He just surrendered,” said the officer who arrested Udaya.

Questioning revealed why the accused, who had previously settled down in Mumbai — his marriage bore him a son studying in Standard VIII — and later to Kerala decided to come back to Ullal. An officer explains: Udaya’s family had built a small temple for a local deity, and tradition demanded that each member is allocated a role in the upkeep of the temple. While others got cleaning or puja duties, Udaya was given the responsibility of lighting the lamp daily. “His belief was that if he fails to accept the responsibility, the deity will curse him with misfortune. And so he returned,” said a police officer, grinning at the irony of the belief.

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