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Communalism in coastal Karnataka

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Sri Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik speaking to the media.
Sri Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik speaking to the media.

Govind D. Belgaumkar

Hatred based on religion is not limited to organised groups of fundamentalists but has spread across the social canvas

I will not need a single minority vote to win, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate in Karnataka’s Uttara Kannada constituency, Anant Kumar Hegde, had said in March. The statement reflected the aggressive brand of majority politics for which coastal Karnataka is known.

The sitting MP escaped with a warning from the Election Commission of India against saying such things. But the citizens, and the minorities in particular, have been bearing the brunt of communal violence and moral policing by Hindutva fringe groups. The January 24 pub attack in Mangalore was just one of a series of acts of moral policing in the region.

To make matters worse, fundamentalists from the Islamic and Christian fold, have begun to follow suit. While they are no match for their Hindutva counterparts, Islamist organisations such as the Karnataka Forum Dignity and a Christian group, the Social Action Committee, are involved in violently curtailing interaction between boys and girls belonging to different communities.

Vigilante groups

An act of moral policing in Puttur in Dakshina Kannada district brought Hindu and Muslim vigilante groups face to face on March 17 leading to a communal flare-up. Communal violence rocked Bhatkal, and Mundagod in Uttara Kannada district and Kaup in Udupi district after elections to the Lok Sabha were announced. The region witnessed a series of attacks on churches since September 2008 in protest against alleged conversions by evangelical groups. There is now a heightened sense of alienation among Christians, who were earlier not targeted by communal forces.

Hatred based on religion is not limited to organised groups of fundamentalists. It has spread across the social canvas and enveloped large sections of the police, bureaucracy and media. It is not difficult to find voters on the street who say religion will be a factor while voting. Everyone seems to have a story about friends breaking up because of religion.

The same evening when over one lakh frenzied people turned up for the Hindu Samajothsava on March 15 at Mangalore, communal violence flared at Kaup in Udupi district, landing many in hospital. A Hindu youth among a group of cricketers had to show his sacred thread and his pierced ears to save his life from a group returning from the Samajothsava.

Mute witnesses

Policemen are often accused of being mute witnesses to the gross violation of law. There are instances of police failing to register complaints, let alone conducting a fair probe. Gripped by fear psychosis, Christians and Muslims seem to be seeking relief in religion-based extremism.

“A majority of Muslims and Christians have become communal,” declares Umar U.H., vice-president of the Komu Sauharda Vedike (Communal Harmony Forum). The situation is heading from bad to worse, he says.

For once, Muslims and Christians in the region plan on asserting themselves politically in this election. Their religious leaders are encouraging them to register as voters cast their votes for “secular” forces. They may rally behind the Congress en masse.

Many Hindus have expressed their disgust over the Hindutva moral policing. The belief of RSS leader Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat that all Hindus will support the BJP will be severely tested.

Between the 2008 and 2004 Assembly elections, the party’s support base eroded by about three percentage points in the three districts of coastal Karnataka (down to 40.71 from 43.56 per cent).

The Sangh Parivar obviously wants to arrest this trend in the region. Mr. Bhat promised return of peace to the region if the BJP is elected as in Gujarat.

On the other hand, “a vote against the BJP would lead to disintegration of the country,” he cautions.

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