By Rabia Shireen / The Wire
Bengaluru: On Sunday, February 20, Bajrang Dal member Harsha Hindu was murdered in Karnataka’s Shivamogga.
The 26-year-old had had a criminal record. Eight men have been arrested, out of whom six have been sent to jail while two are being questioned, according to police sources.
On the same night of his murder, Hindu rightwing supporters allegedly vandalised and set fire to at least four vehicles belonging to Muslims. The next day, when his funeral procession passed through Muslim majority localities, crowds allegedly attacked Muslims’ houses.
The alleged victims have said that when they were being attacked, police did not come to their rescue on time. “They came only after everything was burned to ashes,” one of them told The Wire.
A 21-year-old resident of Segehatti locality, said, “We have lost our life’s earnings. My two motorcycles were parked in front of the house. They were set on fire. It was purchased with money earned from hard work. Who is going to compensate us for our losses?”
Many in the Segehatti area have left their houses temporarily and are living with family elsewhere. Muslims have said that no measures are being taken yet to ensure their security.
Nalbandwadi is a locality in the town with nearly three dozen Muslim families – comprising mostly labourers, auto mechanics, and salesmen. All Muslim households were targeted on Sunday night, say locals.
Many have thus left town, some even leaving behind their mobile phones in hurry, says a 24-year-old local, who added that women were transported out in ambulances to ensure their safety.
“RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] goons pelted stones and tried to break through our doors. They attacked every Muslim house in the area,” the 24-year-old man said, requesting anonymity.
“The mob attacked our locality in front of the police. They called us “Muslim goondas” and said we’ve murdered Harsha. They attacked our homes, and set fire vehicles and madrasas in the dead of the night,” he said.
He added that there had been no attention from the media even though “the whole of Shivamogga knew what happened”.
“The media is not showing our plight. They’re only focusing on Harsha’s death. Who will show the loss of Muslims? Someone murdered him and now they’re taking revenge on innocent people,” he said.
The 21-year-old of Segehatti, quoted earlier, said, “All these years, nothing like this ever happened, but suddenly nearly 1,000 men barged into our area like this. All of us are scared. We’re all in shock over what happened here.”
Another local, also requesting anonymity, said to The Wire that he has sustained significant financial losses. “My vehicle has been burnt, our washing machine is gone and all the window panes in our house are broken. My motorcycle, which was set on fire, was near the house, so our house also caught fire,” he said.
“I don’t even have a mobile phone now, it fell down and broke while the Bajrang Dal men were chasing us,” he added.
This violence allegedly took place despite Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure being clamped on the area.
Eyewitnesses said that on that night, the mob destroyed anything which came on their way to the cremation ground. Restaurants, ATMs, pharmacies, small vends and fruit stalls were all damaged.
The 21-year-old man said, “In the night, about 200-300 men came and during the day several hundreds of them came. Nobody could go out of the house. No physical harm was done to us. But they burnt and damaged everything, causing a lot of financial loss. Police have not taken any action against them.”
Speaking to The Wire, Shimoga district president of the Social Democratic Party of India Imran Ahmed said, “[BJP minister K.S.] Eshwarappa is just trying to distract everyone. As you know, the Opposition Congress is protesting against the BJP minister in the state assembly and demanding his resignation over his remarks on the saffron flag.”
Ahmed alleged the violence was pre-planned, state-sponsored and had police support. “Although Section 144 was imposed, nearly a thousand people from the Sangh Parivar went and vandalised Muslim areas.”
“Eshwarappa gave provoking speeches. How can he call Muslims’ ‘goondas‘?” he added.
While reacting to the Bajrang Dal member’s death, the Karnataka Panchayat Raj and Rural Development minister said on February 21, “He was killed by Muslim goons.”
Ahmed said they have filed complaints against BJP leaders for inciting violence and against rightwing group members for causing destruction. “However, our complaint is pending. The police are saying that the FIR can’t be filed with Eshwarappa’s name in it. We’ve filed about 20 complaints. We also went to the localities which saw violence with our advocates and surveyed the extent of destruction. We are making a report on it,” he said.
Upon being told that BJP has been claiming that the Popular Front of India and SDPI have a role in the youth’s murder, he said, “According to the reports, most of those arrested in Harsha’s murder have criminal background and we have no relation with them. Whenever any incidents happen anywhere, BJP always puts the blame on SDPI and PFI to secure themselves. It’s a false accusation.”
In the past few months, Karnataka has witnessed an increasing numbers of hate crimes against Dalits, Muslims and Christians. In several districts, violence on minorities have been reported, along with moral policing, hate speeches and attacks on places of worship belonging to religious minorities.
According to a report published last November by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka (PUCL-K), All India Lawyers Association for Justice, All India People’s Forum and Gaurilankeshnews.com, nearly 71 instances of communal discord attracting criminal charges was recorded in Dakshina Kannada alone between January and August 2021.
Talking to The Wire, Shimoga Deputy Superintendent of Police Prashant Munnoli said, “We got the leads and the accused were known initially, so we captured them. The case is almost closed, I guess. However, the reason for his murder is not known yet. The accused are not telling us why they did it. We only know the mode of how they did it. I’m not investigating this case.”
He claimed that police are filling cases wherever violence has been reported and that more than 20 cases have been registered.
When asked if police were indeed not filing cases with Eshwarappa’s name in it, Munnoli said, “If we’re not filing then how did we register more than 20 cases?”
When asked about claims of eyewitnesses that police did not stop rioters, he said, “I cannot tell you anything about it. I’m not a unit officer and thus unable to explain.”
The murder and violence came in the backdrop of the ongoing hijab ban row in Karnataka with several leaders of the ruling BJP having linked the case with the said issue.
Indian Express has reported quoting police sources that Harsha Hindu was involved in as many as five cases of assault and attempts to murder in incidents with communal overtones.
Superintendent of Police Laxmi Prasad said there were two cases against the deceased, including that of rioting. “There were two cases against the victim – a rioting case and a matter of hurting religious sentiments in 2016-17,” he was quoted as saying.
With the district witnessing violence and arson, Section 144 restrictions have now been extended till Friday, February 25. Educational institutions will remain shut during this time.
This article first appeared on thewire.in