Freedom of hate speech

War cries Swami Ramananda of Kolya Math addressing the Dharma Raksha Manch meeting in Madikeri
War cries Swami Ramananda of Kolya Math addressing the Dharma Raksha Manch meeting in Madikeri
Photo: S Radhakrishna

IT HAS been less than a year since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in Karnataka on its own, marking the party’s much-touted first consolidation in south India. Since the May 2008 victory, the state has been routinely making headlines at an unprecedented rate for incidents of communal violence — not, perhaps, unexpected in the buildup to this year’s Lok Sabha polls.

What is worrying, however, is the active and increasing role played by quasi-political religious outfits functioning with the support of members of the state government at the highest levels. The most recent such formation is the Dharma Raksha Manch, launched in Mumbai on January 29, 2009 by the rightwing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Bringing together influential Hindu holy men and religious leaders, the Manch aims to restore “the centrality of the Hindu religion to the fabric of the Indian nation and society” and to reclaim India as a Hindu country.

If the rhetoric fails to raise alarm, the events that followed a Manch meeting last month definitely do. Mangalore, the scene of the Sri Rama Sene attack on women pub goers in January, was the venue for the gathering, with the Manch morphed into the Dharma Raksha Vedike, the minor twist to the name being intended to suit the southern Indian audience. Among the politicians present were Karnataka’s Home Minister, VS Acharya; BJP state unit president DV Sadananda Gowda; MLAs Yogish Bhat and Raghupati Bhat; and the BJP candidate for the Mangalore Lok Sabha constituency, Nalin Kumar Kateel. Termed a samajotsava, or a social festival, the gathering saw a turnout of over a lakh people.

Hours after the meeting concluded and its participants dispersed, violence erupted in at least six places across Dakshina Kannada district, of which Mangalore is part, and in neighbouring Udupi. Windshields were broken and passersby attacked. One of the most serious incidents was an attack on seven boys, six Muslims and a Hindu, returning by car from a cricket tournament in Kaup in Udupi.

According to a victim, they were stopped on their way by a police constable who asked if there were any women travelling with them and, finding there were none, advised them to hurry to safety. Minutes later, the boys were mobbed by a group of saffron activists who, on seeing an Islamic religious sticker on the car’s windshield, smashed it and attacked its passengers. The lone Hindu was not spared. He was punished for calling Muslims his friends.

In another incident, a van carrying members of a Muslim marriage party in the Kaup highway in Udupi was stoned, leaving some of the women passengers seriously injured. The group fled to the safety of a nearby mosque with the mob in pursuit. The arrival of police aggravated the situation. Witnesses claim police fired teargas shells not at the crowd outside the mosque but the people inside. Shockingly 27 Muslims who had sought shelter inside the mosque were arrested and charged with serious offences including attempt to murder. “They fired without the slightest consideration for people. And that too only in the direction of Muslims,” says Hameed Abdul Qadar, the president of the Jama Masjid.


Damage Metre

Attack on six Muslims returning from a cricket match in Udipi

Stoning of a van carrying a Muslim marriage party in Udipi

Arrest of 27 Muslims in Udipi who were charged with serious offences

Attack on three Muslim boys for talking to Hindu girls in Puttur

Attempts to burn down a madrasa in Udipi