The recent murder of a 24-year-old Muslim man Arbaz Mullah, orchestrated by a Hindutva group, on September 28, and murder of a Hindu man who was in a relationship with a Muslim woman, have put the spotlight on north Karnataka’s growing communal problem.
OCTOBER 29, 2021
By Arun Dev
With more than 100 communal incidents reported every year in the coastal Karnataka region, religious politics has always been a main issue in the elections. However, over the past decade, northern districts of the state, too, have started to report such cases, said police report.
The recent murder of a 24-year-old Muslim man Arbaz Mullah, allegedly orchestrated by a Hindutva group, on September 28, and murder of a Hindu man who was in a relationship with a Muslim woman in Vijayapura district on October 24, have put the spotlight on north Karnataka’s growing communal problem. However, a local activist claimed that while the murder brought attention to the problem, communal tensions in the region have been brewing for years now, but went unnoticed.
On April 22, a pastor, Sanjay Bhandari, had come to Belagavi to visit his sister-in-law after they arrived in the city for a medical check-up for his wife. While they were having tea at home, a mob of 50-60 men came there while some of them barged into the house.
They accused him of indulging religious conversion and ignored the pleas of his wife’s family, paraded him around the city. They beat him and asked him to chant ‘Jai Sri Ram’, as per police compliant. These incidents that often go under the media’s radar have been reported in the region for a while, claim activists. A city-based lawyer said that the number of communal incidents in Belagavi district in north Karnataka has been on the rise for years now. “A decade earlier, the conflict in the district was over language. The Marathi and Kannada-speaking population in the district were at loggerhead over whether Belagavi should go to Maharashtra or not. Over these, the groups that were active on his issue moved to Hindutva politics. Now compared to coastal Karnataka these groups are well organized. But the biggest concern is the fact that their activities will be as well coordinated as the coastal region,” he said.
“The coastal region is infamous for the moral policing and communal incident, but the biggest concern for us the syndicates like that emerging from north Karnataka. The region now has an illegal arms market. As of now, several right-wing group members are on watch after the discovery of this syndicate,” said a senior police officer, who didn’t want to be named.
A fact-finding report on the murder of Arbaz by a citizen’s team that visited Belagavi too reported that the radicalization of society along religious lines has been a key factor in the rise of the BJP in the district. “The handiwork of the RSS over the last two decades, outfits like the Bajrang Dal, Sanatan Sanstha, Sri Ram Sene, and Sri Ram Sene (Hindustan) now compete with each other in showcasing their allegiance to the tenets of Hindutva,” read the report.
R Mohanraj, an activist based in Belagavi, said that the biggest concern in recent years has been complacency from the government. “We did have communal tensions in this region in the past but there was a fear of the law. The police during those times cracked down on such elements as well. But in the past years, there is certain impunity these groups are enjoying since police are not actively stopping these groups,” he said.
Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai on October 13 had even stoked a controversy with his statements that appeared to justify incidents of moral policing and communal disharmony in the state.
“There are several sentiments in the society. Those emotions should not be affected and such should be the behaviour. When such emotions are hurt there is likely to be an action and reaction,” Bommai told reporters.
Another activist said that the chief minister’s statement was an open admission of what has been happening behind the scene for several years.
“There are clear instructions from the government not to act against Hindutva group. Unless there is an internal squabble within these organizations or if cases get media attention, you wouldn’t hear about police taking action,” said the activist.
According to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that probed the murder of journalist turned activist Gauri Lankesh had said as many as 22 Karnataka youths got training in the use of firearms so they could carry out assassinations of intellectuals. Parashuram Waghmore, who pulled the trigger on Lankesh was one among them.
The SIT investigation on the conspiracy found that the syndicate that murdered Lankesh was recruiting young men from various right-wing organizations, who had a tussle with the law in the past. Waghmore was recruited from Sri Rama Sene.
The investigation also unearthed a link between the murders of four rationalists – MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dhabolkar, and Lankesh. During the initial days of the investigation, the SIT found a connection between the murders of Lankesh and professor Kalburgi, who was killed on August 30, 2015. The four bullet slugs and cartridges recovered from Lankesh’s house matched with the slugs and cartridges of the Kalburgi murder case. The forensic labs found that both bullets were fired from the same gun.
The Maharashtra SIT, which is probing the murder of another rationalist, Govind Pansare, also found that the same was used in Lankesh and Pansare murders. The link between the murders of Lankesh and Narendra Dhabolkar, another Maharashtra-based rationalist, murdered on August 20, 2013, emerged during the later stages of the investigation. It was found that 50-year-old Rajesh Bangera, a second division assistant in the Education Department, who was the 10th person arrested by Karnataka SIT, provided weapons training to the killers of Dhabolkar and Lankesh in Belagavi.