G. RAJASHEKHAR & H. PATTABHIRAMA SOMAYAJI
The violence in Mangalore during the first week of October
could not be termed ‘riots’ in the usual sense and a few observations are
necessary before examining media reportage of recent events. Coastal
Karnataka has the highest literacy rate in the state. Newspapers here have
not only a very wide circulation, they are also very influential. This is
similarly true of other media. Two newspapers with the widest circulation
in the coastal belt, Udayavani and Vijaya Karnataka, have
successfully planted, at the common sense level itself, a perception in
its readers that Muslims and Christians are "members of other religions".
However, such discrimination does not have any basis in reality. Muslims
and Christians are an indistinguishable part of life in coastal Karnataka.
Their language, food habits, dress – none of these aspects distinguish
them from others in the region. Languages like Beary, Catholic Konkani and
Protestant Kannada, for example. In most cases, their names alone indicate
their religious affiliations. Nevertheless, all the newspapers in the
region routinely refer to them as "members of the other religion". The
expression "members of the other religion" is an ideological construct: it
proclaims that Hinduism is the central religion of India. The Indian
Constitution does not give such centrality to the religion of the
majority. Nor do people in their daily lives observe it.
The immediate cause of the recent violence in Mangalore
was that cows were being transported to a slaughterhouse. Over the past
five years cow transport and beef-eating have frequently resulted in
violence in coastal Karnataka. Prominent among such incidents is the
stripping naked case in Adi Udupi last year (see Communalism Combat,
September 2006). On the night of Sunday, March 13, 2005, along the
highway (NH 17), the youth of a communal outfit called Hindu Yuva Sena
stripped naked Hajabba (65) and his son Hasanabba (28) and beat them up,
chasing them around for four interminable hours. A crowd of around 400
people watched this as if it were a sports event. (A few attempted to stop
the violence but to no avail.) The fact that the father and son duo were
transporting cows (in a Maruti Omni) was the reason for this brutality.
They had bought the cows in the same Adi Udupi area from an acquaintance
who was a cow selling agent. Buying cows for slaughter was, in fact,
Hajabba and Hasanabba’s profession.
Many similar incidents had occurred in coastal Karnataka
previously but no one had taken any note of them before. The Adi Udupi
incident was, however, reported along with photographs of the stripped
Hajabba and Hasanabba by Kannada Prabha (a Kannada daily of the
Indian Express group). The legislature also debated the incident.
Several rallies condemning the Adi Udupi incident were held in coastal
Karnataka. One such massive protest rally was held in Udupi on March 19,
2005. While reporting the event, the region’s mainstream Kannada daily,
Udayavani resorted to calumny. The protest procession and rally
comprised nearly 10,000 people, some of whom were carrying flags bearing a
crescent and a star on a green background. On March 20, 2005, Udayavani
printed a photograph of the flag with the bold caption – a lie – that it
was the Pakistani flag being waved. The paper lied further, saying that
processionists in the rally shouted ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ slogans. The
Pakistani flag is in fact quite different and has a vertical white stripe
on the left. The flags carried by some people during the rally were those
often found flying atop madrassas and masjids. Komu Souharda Vedike
(Communal Harmony Forum) then held a protest meet outside the Udayavani
head office against its treachery. The superintendent of police and the
district commissioner clarified that the flags held by the protesters were
not Pakistan flags and that no ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ slogans were shouted.
(Where was the need for such a clarification anyway? Thousands had
witnessed the procession as it passed through the main streets of Udupi at
On the next day (March 21), Udayavani expressed its
regrets on the front page. However, its treachery had already yielded
fruit. The Adi Udupi incident had been an embarrassment to the sangh
parivar. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Udupi’s BJP leaders
were quick to distance themselves from events and issued statements to
that effect. But once Udayavani had printed this treacherous
report, the sangh parivar pounced on the opportunity and organised massive
processions and rallies against Muslims throughout the district. In the
procession and rally held at Udupi, vicious obscenities were shouted
against Muslims. Many Muslim shops, on the procession’s path and
elsewhere, were stoned. Udayavani did not report this.
"Hindu opposition" to beef-eating is a recent development.
It emerged in the aftermath of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Karnataka
does have a Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act but it does not categorically,
or even completely, ban cow slaughter. The Act provides for the slaughter
of cows that do not yield milk, do not bear calves and are older than 12
years as also the slaughter of oxen that are no longer useful. But
butchers need to procure licences from panchayats, municipalities and city
corporations. Slaughterhouses are required to maintain a standard of
cleanliness. Cattle to be slaughtered must be healthy. Such cattle should
be transported, without hurting them, in vehicles meant especially for
such transport. Such are the provisions of this Act. In other words, it is
an Act to which the description ‘the law is an ass’ fits perfectly! In
order to properly implement the Act, the police would need to know the
language of cows or, better still, cows would themselves have to testify
in law courts.
Be that as it may, given that the law exists, who is
responsible for implementing such laws – the police or the Bajrang Dal?
And if the transport of cows is a crime, why is selling them not a crime?
Do beef-eaters eat beef deliberately so as to hurt Hindus? Who gave the
Hindutva brigade the authority to determine who should eat what? The
dailies in coastal Karnataka brush aside all such questions and act on the
assumption that beef-eating is a most grievous crime. Thus vehicles
transporting cattle are stopped, the people in the vehicles are beaten up,
their belongings are looted; yet the dailies in coastal Karnataka refuse
to consider these actions crimes.
The chief cause of the Mangalore violence in October 2006
was the October 5 district bandh call issued by the Bajrang Dal
(protesting the purported transport of cows at Kudroli, Mangalore) and the
October 6 district bandh call issued by the Sri Rama Sene (protesting the
arrest of Hindutva leader Pramod Mutalik at Chikmagalur). Two people were
murdered during the violence and both those killed were Muslims. Both
murders were pre-planned. During the violence, which lasted for three or
four days, Muslims incurred severe economic losses. But the newspapers and
the media in coastal Karnataka did not highlight this. In fact, this time
round, all newspapers and media (except the Muslim-owned Vartha Bharati)
unanimously covered up the truth. This is a new development.
None of the newspapers or media (apart from Vartha
Bharati) carried a single sentence about the police atrocities at
Ullal, Bunder and Goodina Bali. This, too, is a new development.
Mangalore media persons cannot claim they knew nothing
about it – especially since Vartha Bharati in its October 9 and
October 12, 2006 issues had published detailed reports about police
atrocities in Mangalore.
The fact that the press consciously resolved to suppress
the truth became evident later, at a press conference called by a
fact-finding team, and from the behaviour of a reporter who was watched
silently by – like Bhishma and Drona in the Mahabharata’s Kaurava Durbar –
fellow press persons.
As a result of such strong resolve, the press reported
instead the inconveniences faced by people during the curfew: in buying
milk, fruits and vegetables, rather than reporting on sangh parivar and
police atrocities against Muslims. Going a step further, The Times of
India (Mangalore edition) described the guidance police provided to
stranded commuters at the Mangalore railway station under the headline
"Friendly Policemen Win Hearts" (The Times of India, October 8,
2006, page 3).
The Hindu (Mangalore edition) admired the police for
being on duty for 22 continuous hours, without thought for food or drink,
during the curfew period. According to the paper, the police department
was now confronted with the singular Herculean task of supplying food to
the police personnel on duty during curfew hours (The Hindu,
October 8, 2006, page 3). On the same page, the paper carried another
detailed report praising the swiftness of the "Rapid Intervention (Police)
vehicles"! The press was far more loyal than the king! n
(G. Rajashekhar is a writer and activist. H. Pattabhirama
Somayaji is a lecturer and activist. Both are active members of the
Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum.)