People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 43

October 22, 2006

Mangalore ‘Riots’


Nalini Taneja


COMMUNALISM in Karnataka has been projected in the media as isolated acts of violence around specific issues, rather than in terms of the larger picture. The campaign by the Sangh Parivar to turn Bababudangiri into a site exclusively for Hindus has got some coverage, but that is about all. In recent days there have been reports on the communal tension in Mangalore, which has left two Muslims dead, and several seriously injured. 


It has been noted that “both communities” have been active in creating communal tension and then the recent violent incidents. Again (as in the case of the Israeli attack on Lebanon), a recent date is arbitrarily decided to take note of when the recent violence ‘began’. Obviously then what happened in Mangalore from October 4-7, 2006 appears like a “riot” caused by communal frenzy on the part of two warring communities, occasioned by the event of transportation of some cows for slaughter. 


The suspected cow slaughter led to a call for bandh, which turned violent as Bajrang Dal activists roamed the town, terrorising people, forcing the closure of all shops and attacking Muslim establishments. Muslim youth retaliated the next day, also attacking shops and business establishments. The day after, an ambulance was intercepted, and its occupants were stabbed, one of whom died on the way to hospital. Both sides blamed the fundamentalists of the other religious group. Looked at in the context of just those four days, the incidents appear to be a ‘riot’ indeed. 


In actual fact, Mangalore has been on a slow boil for sometime now, and violence could have erupted here at any point of time, as some discerning reports show. For that matter they could have erupted similarly in any other town. 


Before the recent round of rioting between October 4 and 7, there have been hundreds of minor provocative actions in the district, caused in the main by distinct campaigns undertaken by the Sangh Parivar in various parts of the state following the demolition of Babri masjid. 


Mangalore played a key role in the BJP's emergence as the single largest party in the 2004 polls and its current presence in a ruling coalition with the Janata Dal Secular. The 2004 elections saw the BJP make a virtual sweep of the 11 legislative assembly seats from the district. (Johnson TA, The Indian Express, October 17). 


The appeal issued by the Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike (Karnataka Forum for Communal Harmony), a coalition of 200 organisations working to stem the tide of communalism in Karnataka also clearly states: “Ananth Kumar, the BJP MP from Karnataka, had declared in 2002 that the Bababudangiri was the Ayodhya of the South. Against the backdrop of the Gujarat riots in 2002, the implicit reference was to transform Karnataka into Gujarat. That today has received a boost in Mangalore and Dakshin Kannada district and is beginning to turn into a horrendous reality. Clear targeting of the Muslim community through physical attacks, looting of their shops, stoning mosques, restaurants and businesses owned by Muslims was in evidence throughout. Though curfew was imposed, the police refused to intervene in several instances, and when they did, Muslims were specifically arrested. 


The home minister of the state, M P Prakash, brushed aside the incidents by saying that communal voices exist within the police forces as well and there was little that the government could do about it. What adds to the alarm is that the recent spate of violence follows years of communal tension created by the Sangh Parivar in the entire coastal belt. Under the excuse of upholding the ban on cow slaughter, the Sangh Parivar have repeatedly taken the law into their hands over the years. They have attacked Muslims, stripped them, paraded them naked, beaten them up, harassed women and looted their shops - all in the name of religion. Despite this history of communal tension that existed in the district, the police and the state government have not taken any serious action. Though cases have been filed in police stations, hardly have any resulted in the convictions of the accused persons further endorsing the communal nature of the police.”


The appeal has been quoted in such detail to underline what has become the pattern and the norm.


The Sangh Parivar has been with impunity imposing this pattern and norm, which has today contributed to the creation of a well organised network and structure for the production of communal violence that can start its work and put a pause to it as and when it likes.


In the light of this complicity and this pattern one needs to term these violent incidents in words that describe their actual reality. Citizens’ reports of various communal killings through recent years, as well as the painstaking research of social scientists like Paul Brass, have shown these to be well organised affairs by the Sangh Parivar, preceded by hate campaigns against Muslims or Christians, as the case may be, and acts of continuous small provocations and skirmishes which prepare the ground for the larger productions of violence. This has been the case with Mangalore as well. 


Bajrang Dal and Hindu Sena have been running a parallel police system of their own, ostensibly to punish cow slaughter or conversions, and their forms of punishment include killings and stabbings, parading the so called offenders naked in public, forcing social boycotts and closure of business establishments at will—in fact seizing on any pretext available. In one instance they conjured up and promoted the rumour that Muslims had been injecting Hindus with infected needles at a village fair in order to cause an epidemic of AIDS among Hindus. There is a penetration of Hindutva propaganda into rural areas of the districts in Karnataka.


The State has to be recognised as complicit in this, as its institutional structures, the administration, the police, and local leaderships of the BJP, and sometimes the Congress, act in unison rather than contrary to the will of the rioters. The record of the Indian State in booking and punishing the guilty must also be recognised as complicity of the successive governments in emboldening the Hindutva forces. If we asked the question in 2002 as to what was L K Advani doing as home minister and Atal Behari Vajpayee as prime minister when Gujarat happened, should we not ask the same today of the UPA government?