Vigilante attacks with communal hues

On August 24 in the evening, a 28-year-old manager of an upmarket retail store in the coastal city of Mangaluru in Karnataka was dragged out of his car, stripped, tied to a pole and beaten up in the heart of the city in full public glare. The reason: he was found with a woman colleague from another religious community.

“We have been waiting for you for the last four days,” an assaulter is heard telling the manager after pulling him out of the car in the attack that was caught on camera and went viral on the internet. The city police have arrested 13 persons for the assault that includes six persons associated with Bajrang Dal and one with Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

While the woman colleague he was with later filed a complaint that the man was sexually harassing her, the man’s family alleged that the girl was “coerced” to file a complaint. And that she had actually sought monetary help from him.

A long history

Whatever the truth, the incident has brought back to focus a long history of brazen “vigilante attacks” by right-wing groups in the coastal city and the Dakshina Kannada region.

Many of these attacks have targeted inter-communal relationships. There have also been notorious incidents like the attack on a pub in 2009 by members belonging to the fringe group Sri Rama Sene.  Girls and boys were dragged out of a pub and attacked in public view. These incidents reflected intolerance to women drinking and fringe groups forcibly enforcing their moral code.

Another instance was the attack on a homestay where a group of boys and girls were partying in 2012 by the Hindu Jagarana Vedike.

While such major incidents have received media attention once in a few years, several cases of couples being caught by groups and warned or assaulted have been reported regularly. In some cases couples or groups, irrespective of their religion, have been attacked when women were found smoking or were in a live-in relationship.

Even educational institutions in the region have started monitoring activities of students. Boys and girls from different communities are "punished" for interacting with each other.

Students say that the atmosphere is certainly one of “fear”, created to prevent interactions between students of different communities and genders. Even simple parties can lead to trouble as photos of the celebrations go viral, said a student who did  not want to be named.

Earlier this week, a college in Sullia town – around 100 km from Mangaluru – debarred a boy and girl for 15 days for being “friends despite belonging to different communities”. College authorities admitted that they had little choice but to take action as some student groups began protesting.

Suresh Bhat Bakrabail, the District President of Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum has been chronicling incidents of communal and vigilante nature since 2006. He sees these events in tandem with the communal polarisation in the city which has often been described as a “Hindutva lab” in the State and has a sizeable population of affluent Muslims and Christians.

He believes that the incidents are a “continuation of the campaign against beef traders and eaters, the so-called ‘love jihadists’ and Christians who allegedly indulge in religious conversion.”

At the same time, the city has witnessed a steady increase in retaliatory attacks of a similar nature by Muslim groups, formed to counter Hindutva groups, said State President of Democratic Youth Federation of India, Muneer Katipalla.

Added Mr. Bakrabail: “Sangh Parivar outfits had a monopoly till 2012, until Muslim groups started to rise. In 2013, out of 39 cases of assaults on couples from different communities, at least 16 involved Muslim vigilante groups.”

While 30 such cases have been reported in 2014, another 33 incidents have occurred in the first eight months of 2015 alone.

Consequently, Deputy Commissioner of Dakshina Kannada A.B. Ibrahim says these vigilante attacks have brought a “bad name” to the district where nearly one lakh students from different parts of the country come to   study professional courses.

Mangaluru Police Commissioner S. Murugan and Dakshina Kannada Superintendent of Police Sharanappa S.D. contend that they have been proactive in taking action when these attacks are reported.

Immoral goondaism

“Action taken by us in one case has prevented likely occurrence of ten more,” claimed Mr. Murugan. The top policemen prefer the term “immoral goondaism” rather than the widely used term “moral policing.”

At a deeper level, such assaults have led to loss of fraternity among communities, activist K. Phaniraj feels. The day-to-day interaction with members from other communities has been curbed, leading to an ever-widening gap. “A sense of liberalism as wished by B.R. Ambedkar is lost in this milieu,” he says.

English Professor from University College Mangaluru, H. Pattabhiram Somayaji, argues that among the reasons for increase in such incidents has been the youngsters’ detachment from history of this coastal region, which is known for cultural diversity, given the large presence of Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities.

Advocate and student activist Dinakar Shetty also points to the worrying fact that youths involved in these attacks are “fresh faces” with no awareness of the legal consequences of such acts. “They just go ahead with attacks believing their leaders that they have to be in prison for only three months. They do not understand sections pressed by the prosecution, which, if proved, will have serious consequences,” says Mr. Shetty. Interestingly, he himself was made an accused in the pub attack case for making statements in support of those involved in the attack. “Rarely do the men behind such attacks get caught,” he adds.

But the fear of the next incident – attack on a religious place or an assault on a couple or on students who are 

partying – is a constant reality in the coastal city.

Students say that the  atmosphere is one of “fear”, created to prevent interactions between students of different communities. Even simple parties can lead to trouble.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 11:49:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/karnataka-vigilante-attacks-with-communal-hues/article7594298.ece

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