Above the law

Written by G. Rajashekhar,H. Pattabhirama Somayaji,Harshad Vorkady | Published on: December 1, 2006
Police terror in Mangalore

Chief minister of Karnataka, HD Kumaraswamy was brazen in his defence of the police’s style of violence management in Mangalore. "Were they to dream of such violence?" he asked defiantly. The answer is unequivocal. In coastal Karnataka the police could certainly have predicted the occurrence of communal violence at any time without having to resort to dreams: alertness on duty alone would have been enough to prevent the mayhem. Lack of alertness was not however the sole problem. In fact, during the Mangalore violence of October 2006 the police were either lost in daydreams in the face of daylight looting and atrocity or were themselves inflicting nightmares on sleeping Muslims in the dead of night.

During the Sharada tableau procession in Bajpe on October 3, Muslim shops were looted in the presence of hundreds of police personnel, including the superintendent of police (SP) and the district commissioner (DC). On BC Road in Bantwal taluk, five shops in Vasudeva Plaza and six other nearby shops on the highway, less than 100 metres from the police station – all Muslim owned – were systematically looted for a full hour in broad daylight in the presence of the police. And in Bunder, Mangalore city, Goodina Bali in Bantwal and Ullal on the outskirts of Mangalore, the police themselves broke down the back doors of hundreds of Muslim houses, looted what they could, destroyed what they could not carry, mouthed vile invectives against Muslims and arrested the men who were then framed on criminal charges and shifted to far-off Bellary jail (a well-known criminal confinement centre). Family members do not know why, like wild beasts, the police broke into their houses, nor do they know why their men were arrested.

Until we visited these areas and ourselves witnessed the destruction and looting, we were completely unaware about what had occurred. The press and the media have always suppressed news of violence against Muslims in the coastal belt but this time around they completely suppressed reports of police atrocities as well. Even non-BJP parties maintained a studied silence about it. This is a new development in the bloody history of coastal Karnataka’s communal violence. The administration, the police and the media have never worked so unanimously in such perfect tandem.

Conversely, from what we saw in the violence affected areas, in most cases where the Muslims had also taken to destruction – as they have, this time – this was done in response to the violence inflicted on them and was sporadic and non-systematic.


In Bajpe: "Communal Amity", Hindutva style

The violence in Mangalore during the first week of October 2006 in fact erupted in Bajpe, on the outskirts of Mangalore city. Mangalore airport, now international, lies in Bajpe. On October 3, a Sharada procession was scheduled to traverse Bajpe’s main road where the Bajpe masjid also stands. Some Muslims spoke to the police about their objection to one of the tableaux in the procession. They submitted a written complaint to that effect and the police then requested procession organisers to remove the concerned tableau. Krishna Palemar, the Bharatiya Janata Party MLA (BJP member of the legislative assembly) who was present at the spot, also requested the organisers to oblige. Nevertheless, the requests went unheeded. The procession organisers did not even comply with a modified request – that at the very least the concerned tableau need not pass directly in front of the masjid. The police then stopped the procession whereupon the organisers, in defiance, chose to place the Sharada idol in the middle of the road.

What was the controversial tableau all about? Organisers and others claimed the tableau depicted Bappa Beary of Bappanadu in devotional posture before the goddess, Sharada Mata (Durga), insisting that it contained nothing that could be construed as an insult to Muslims. According to the popular legend that the tableau invokes, long ago, a rich Muslim merchant, Bappa Beary’s boat stopped while on a river voyage, in waters that had turned to blood. The goddess, Durga Parameshwari, then revealed herself to the merchant in a dream. Bappa Beary became a devotee of the goddess and built a temple for her worship. The area where