VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED – Recently in Mangalore, Outlook
|The attack on a homestay in Mangalore clearly shows that Hindutva ideologues define the moral and cultural boundaries in coastal Karnataka.
BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT
Naveen Soorinje, the journalist who was arrested in connection with the attack on a homestay, being taken to a court in Mangalore in November 2012.
The visiting hours at the Mangalore Sub-Jail are between 11-30 a.m, and 1 p.m. Visitors of undertrials gather around the imposing jail gate ahead of time as a guard usually checks the contents of their stainless steel lunch boxes before they are allowed inside. Soon, the motley group of relatives, friends and the odd journalist is led to either of the two wards where undertrials are lodged. A double-grilled window separates the visitor from the undertrial. Within minutes of reaching the enclosure, there is a cacophony of voices as the visitors jostle to find a convenient spot.
As this reporter heads for the window, a dishevelled Naveen Soorinje saunters in on the other side of it. The 28-year-old journalist has lost some weight since his arrest but he is upbeat. As is evident from his name, Soorinje is not a Muslim, but is lodged in the Muslim ward. “If I were in the Hindu ward, I would have been killed. There are many people there whom I’ve exposed through my work,” he says with a smile.
Soorinje, a journalist with Kasturi News, a 24-hour Kannada news channel, was arrested on November 7, 2012 when he was named in a charge sheet filed by the Mangalore police following the incidents that took place at Morning Mist Homestay. On July 28, 2012, a mob of 25 to 30 activists of the Hindu Jagran Vedike (HJV) led by 34-year-old Subhash Padil barged into the homestay and beat up a group of young men and women gathered there for a birthday party.
Videos of the attack, which are available online, show that the girls are manhandled, their dresses are ripped and they are slapped hard by HJV activists. A young man is stripped of his shirt and dragged by his hair across the room and pounded by a group of attackers.
The videos, which were played on loop on local and national news channels for a couple of days, drew nationwide condemnation. The ugly scene the Hindu right-wing elements created was recorded by some local journalists.
There were two other journalists at the venue apart from Soorinje, Rajesh Srinivas of TV 9, a well-known Kannada news channel, and Sharan Raj of Sahaya TV, a local news channel reportedly close to the Hindu right-wing. According to Soorinje’s testimony, he received a tip-off about the raid and tried to contact the police as soon as he realised that an attack was under way. However, his presence had irked the police who, Soorinje said, wanted to teach him a lesson.
Subsequently, charges were filed against the attackers as well as Soorinje and Sharan Raj (it remains a mystery why charges were not filed against Srinivas). Raj is in the Hindu ward of the jail. Strangely, the attackers and the journalists were charged under the same sections of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) pertaining to rioting, criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly and outraging the modesty of a woman.
Subhash Padil is known to play the moral vigilante of the Hindutva forces in Mangalore city. He was one of the members of the group that attacked women in Amnesia Pub on January 24, 2009. He has had stints in the Bajrang Dal and the Sri Rama Sene.
“I have no remorse for what I did. Yes, I led the group that attacked the girls at the homestay but do you know what they were up to? They were drinking beer and you know what that leads to…,” Padil shouted from across the grilled window of the jail. He added: “How does a girl celebrate a birthday party? Do you go to a remote location with boys and drink beer? We don’t have any problem if you sit with your family and have a quiet dinner but going to parties and drinking and smoking…. Is that any way to celebrate a birthday? It is because of our actions that the girls at the homestay were saved from getting dishonoured. We have ensured that such immoral activities have come down in Mangalore.”
The attacks on Amnesia Pub and the home stay are just two of the many incidents that have taken place in the coastal Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka in the past few years.
It is clear from the fiery rhetoric of people like Padil that the moral and cultural boundaries in the area are defined by Hindutva ideologues and anyone who breaches that boundary is a target of their foot soldiers. Women especially should be very careful about stepping out of the confines of the cultural Hindu rashtra, and if a woman is “spoilt”, then the family is dishonoured. Getting “corrupted” by “modernity” and by befriending Muslim men (love jehad) is the easiest way in which Hindu women in Dakshina Kannada can overstep the Lakshman rekha drawn by the Sangh Parivar.
The police escort youth who were attacked by pro-Hindutva activists at a party at Padil on the outskirts of Mangalore in July 2012.
Sample some of the incidents that have occurred in the recent past as reported in the local media:
On January 30, a fracas broke out between a mixed-sex group of young people who were smoking at Rock Cafe in Mangalore and members of the Bajrang Dal and the Durga Vahini. The police, who arrived with the Hindutva brigade, took the youngsters to the police station and summoned their parents. On December 19, 2012, a Muslim boy and a Hindu girl were assaulted by activists at the Shibaroor temple festival near Mangalore. On December 15, a four-member gang assaulted a Muslim boy who was speaking to a Hindu girl in Bajpe in Mangalore. On November 7, a couple of youngsters in Kundapur in Udupi district was targeted. It later turned out that they were siblings. On November 2, activists of a Hindutva group brought a young woman to the Puttur police station alleging that she was engaged in immoral activities with a boy from a different community.
In a report brought out by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties-Karnataka (PUCL-K) and the Forum Against Atrocities on Women, Mangalore (FAAWM) after the homestay attack, 300 major and minor moral policing events between 1998 and July 2012 in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts have been recorded.
Suresh Bhat Bakrabail of the Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum, who has catalogued every reported event of moral policing, said: “The situation for young people in Mangalore is extremely scary as the youth are not able to mix freely.”
Postgraduate students at the Mass Communication and Media Studies Centre of St. Aloysius College expressed their views in a discussion with this journalist. “We are careful not to go out of the campus with friends of the opposite sex. We usually meet in groups and ensure that we do not stay out late,” said a first-year male student who did not want to be named. A girl student added: “We are apprehensive and make sure that we do not attract attention when we go out.” All the students had minor incidents to report about how people they knew were warned about public behaviour by self-appointed moral guardians.
Separated from the hinterland by the Western Ghats, the coastal belt of Karnataka has developed its own distinct culture. Dakshina Kannada district was part of the Madras Presidency during the colonial years.
The two dominant castes of Karnataka, the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas, have a minuscule presence in the region. The Muslims living in the coastal district, known as Bearys, are distinct from their counterparts elsewhere in the State. There is a historic Catholic Christian presence along the coast. The numerically strong Hindu castes of the region include the Billavas, the Moggaveeras and the Bunts, while Brahmins also have a significant presence.
The dominant languages of the region are Tulu and Konkani although Kannada is spoken and understood widely. Interestingly, Dakshina Kannada has the highest literacy rate in Karnataka, marginally ahead of Bangalore.
When migration to countries around the Persian Gulf began in the late 1960s, the Bearys took advantage of the economic opportunities that unfolded, and the funds they repatriated caused a fundamental change in the caste-based economy of the region. Non-Muslim migrants to other parts of India also caused the coastal belt to be flush with funds. Mangalore’s communal polarisation started with the riots that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
Recognising the presence of important religious institutions and the changes in the economy, the Sangh Parivar constituents began to systematically work in the region from the 1980s, making it a Hindutva laboratory. Their efforts paid off when coastal Karnataka emerged as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral bastion in the 1990s.
Muslims, who constitute 22 per cent of the population in Dakshina Kannada, have also been influenced by the identity politics of Muslim groups from northern Kerala in the past decade, and there are reported incidents of Muslims doing counter moral policing. The area has emerged as a communal tinderbox with slow self-segregation among the communities as well. Distinct Hindu, Muslim and Christian residential areas are emerging.
The district was once known as the most progressive part of Karnataka, but Hindutva forces have overrun it now. Jagadish Shenava, an advocate and the district working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), articulates this aggression when he says: “We are very strong here and the situation has gone beyond normal. No Muslim boys and Hindu girls in the area can meet without causing a communal riot. Our next target is Manipal as it is the hub of illegal activities like pubbing.”
It is in this background that the role of the media needs to be examined. There are only a handful of Kannada newspapers such as Karavali Ale (Coastal Wave) and Vaartha Bharathi that are waging a relentless battle against the excesses of the Sangh Parivar. Employees of Karavali Ale were targeted recently after the newspaper published an article that linked a senior leader of the HJV with drug supply in the region.
The journalist community in the region, for the most part, has either been silent on or collaborated with the gradual communalisation of the region. Soorinje’s work has had an impact in the media. About his reportage of the homestay incident, he says: “The July 28 incident in Mangalore is not a stray incident. Such events occur here every week. If I had not shot the visuals, the police would not have accepted the fact that the assault had happened. This has been the case in many such incidents in the past.”
The journalist community in Bangalore rallied around Soorinje. Some journalists even went on a three-day hunger strike in January demanding his release. This forced the State Cabinet to withdraw all charges against Soorinje on January 31 but he continues to remain in jail. On February 6, a public interest petition was filed against the withdrawal of the cases against Soorinje, prolonging his incarceration.