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Bajrang Dal man's murder: tremor from a deep communal faultline

Ramakrishna Upadhya | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 6:30 IST

The murder

  • Bajrang Dal activist Prashant Poojary killed in Karnataka
  • Poojary had closed a slaughterhouse run by one of the accused
  • Hindutva activists claim it\'s revenge for Dadri lynching

The echo

  • Dakshina Kannada has been a communal cauldron for 15 years
  • Along with Udupi, it has recorded 300 clashes in the past 2 years
  • Moral policing by both Hindu and Muslim groups is rampant

The murder of a Bajrang Dal activist has made Karnataka tense . The Hindutva groups are calling it "revenge" for the lynching of a Muslim in distant Dadri, UP, for allegedly eating beef.

Prashant Poojary, 29, was killed in Moodabidri, Dakshina Kannada, on 9 October, according to reports. Poojary had actively worked to close slaughterhouses in the district.

He was allegedly murdered by six people who came on motorcycles, wearing masks and wielding knives.

Ominous warning

It was on the cards, perhaps. Mohammed Akhlaq's lynching had found an echo in Dakshina Kannada, one of the state's most polarised districts, which has seen frequent clashes between Hindus and Muslims.

Now, tension is simmering again as the police were slow to react to Poojary's murder. They arrested four Muslim men - Mohammed Hanif, 36, Mohammed Ilyas, 27, Ibrahim Liyaqat, 26, and Abdul Rashid, 39 - on 18 October, the day the BJP had called a bandh in Moodabidri.

Two days later, the police arrested four more people - Mohammed Sharif, 42, Mustafa Kavoor, 28, Mohammed Mustafa, 25, and Kabeer, 28. They are still searching for three others.

Mangaluru police chief S Murugan has appealed for peace. About the murder, he said, "Prashant Poojary was actively involved with a pro-Hindu outfit. There have been some clashes of late and Prashant was attacked due to a communal grudge."

Karnataka DGP Omprakash said the police have identified 11 culprits so far and "they are members of the Popular Front of India", a pro-Muslim group.

Home Minister KJ George, who is under attack for inept handling of law and order, including the unresolved murder of Prof MM Kalburgi, assured that "the culprits will not be spared".

Although George cautioned that "Prashant's murder cannot be compared to the lynching in Dadri", many see a connection.

There were allegations about witnesses getting threatening calls from foreign numbers, including from Pakistan, that got the police worried.

Home Minister KJ George: 'Prashant's murder cannot be compared to the lynching in Dadri'

Then a key witness, Vaman Poojary, allegedly killed himself on 15 October. Though the police claim it was due to personal reasons, others allege it had to do with Poojary's murder.

The police said the prime accused, Hanif, and his associate Imtiaz worked at a slaughterhouse in Moodabidri, which was forcibly shuttered by Bajrang Dal activists, including Poojary, a few days ago.

According to Murugan, Hanif had previously been booked in a communal violence case at Handalu on 9 September and for alleged assault at Perumadu on 3 October.

Communal cauldron

Dakshina Kannada, where the BJP and allied Hindutva outfits have enjoyed strong support for decades, has turned into a communal cauldron over the past 15 years. They have been organising campaigns against cattle trafficking and forcing closure of illegal slaughterhouses, sometimes with the tacit backing of the police.

Moral policing is rampant, with both Hindu and Muslim groups attacking girls and boys seen talking or travelling with youth of the other faith.

Sometime ago, the employees of a private firm who had planned a 3-day trip together were assaulted because it was a "mixed group". They had to cancel the trip.

Polarisation is so complete that women and girls of one community wait in the blazing sun rather than get into transport owned or driven by someone from the other faith.

Moral policing is rampant in Dakshina Kannada. Both Hindu and Muslim groups attack 'mixed couples'

Dakshina Kannada and Udupi have recorded over 300 communal clashes over the past two years, nearly 100 of which were related to moral policing.

In Karnataka, communal incidents recorded a jump after the BJP government came to power in 2008. In 2012, Hindu activists barged into a bar in Mangalore and manhandled women. In another instance, goons raided a private party at a resort and roughed up boys and girls for "behaving indecently."

Most recently, a picture showing a college student lying across the laps of five girl classmates and all of them having a good laugh went viral, promting Hindu outfits to demand action against the boy, who happened to be Muslim. The college suspended the students, only to reverse the decision in view of public criticism.

It's not just Hindu groups that indulge in vigilantism. An outfit called the Muslim Defence Force recently sent out WhatsApp messages warning young girls against indulging in "un-Islamic activities" and told them to "unfriend" Hindus on Facebook.

Sadly, this vicious cycle of distrust and violence in the name of religion doesn't seem to be ending anytime soon.

First published: 22 October 2015, 11:48 IST
Ramakrishna Upadhya @rkupadhya9

Ramkrishna Upadhya is a senior journalist based in Bangalore, currently working with TV9. Earlier, he was with Deccan Herald, The Telegraph and The Indian Express.