Politics

Communal Murders In Karnataka: Siddaramaiah Government Out To Save Accused As Victims’ Families Suffer

M Raghuram

Jan 27, 2018, 11:28 AM | Updated Jan 26, 2018, 08:33 PM IST

Karnataka Chief Minister S Siddaramaiah visiting Deepak Rao’s house; his cabinet colleague U T Khader, MLA Mohideen Bava and MLC Ivan D’Souza are seen.
Karnataka Chief Minister S Siddaramaiah visiting Deepak Rao’s house; his cabinet colleague U T Khader, MLA Mohideen Bava and MLC Ivan D’Souza are seen.
  • Twenty-two persons from the majority community have been murdered in communal clashes in the last few months in Karnataka.
  • Swarajya visited the families of some of the victims to learn about their plight in the wake of the unfortunate murders. Here’s the report:
  • Early this week, Director General of Police for Karnataka issued a circular to take back cases filed in the last five years against minorities involved in communal clashes, news agency ANI tweeted. The reported move is regrettable given the fact that 22 persons, all of them from the majority community, have been murdered in communal clashes in the last few months. Extremist elements connected with Popular Front of India (PFI) have been involved in the murders. At least half a dozen of the victims were in the prime of their youth, and whose family depended on them for livelihood.

    Barring the family of Deepak Rao, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Bajrang Dal activist who was murdered by a gang on 3 January this year, the families of most of the others are suffering. Police action against the assailants has been tardy. In Rao’s case, Dakshina Kannada district police said they have arrested 10 persons – all of them having PFI connections – for the murder.

    Rao was the sole breadwinner for his family with an aged mother and a speech-challenged brother. He worked as an assistant in a mobile shop owned by a person called Majid. Rao and Majid were very close, almost like they were from the same family. Rao learnt to speak Majid’s language fluently and mingled well with Muslims. PFI, influenced by forces across the border in Kerala’s Kasaragod district, saw him as a threat to its designs and got him murdered through its sympathisers and followers.

    Member of Mangaluru North legislative assembly Mohideen Bava offered financial help to Rao’s mother, Premalatha, but she rejected it. “My disabled son and I would rather die than taking help from you,” she declared. To her luck, funds started flowing in from her neighbours and other well-wishers. A sum of Rs 33 lakh collected for the family till now offers hope after Rao’s murder.

    Karnataka Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy at Deepak Rao’s house
    Karnataka Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy at Deepak Rao’s house

    Not all the victims have been as fortunate as Rao’s family. Swarajya visited a few families of the victims. Here is the plight of some of the others.

    Two years ago, Prashanth Poojary was killed in the wee hours of the morning at central Moodbidri town. Six persons on two motorcycles hacked him to death for his efforts opposing the slaughter of cows. Poojary identified his attackers – all of them active members of PFI – before he breathed his last, according to investigating officers.  After initial delays, allegedly attributed to pressure from the local Congress heavyweights, the police did a stupendous job, arresting all the suspects.

    Poojary’s father, Anand Poojary, never thought he would have to face such a tough situation in life after his son’s murder. Life has been unkind as the father is tottering to make ends meet. He is old and feeble. His wife is a homemaker and both have been forced to fend for themselves now, with the flower shop next to the Samaj Mandir in the town.

    “Life has become hard. The flower business has been affected and the family needs a perennial income. We have no other source of income. Many flower suppliers from Chennarayapatna, Kunigal and Hassan have backed out after we defaulted on payment. My wife and I are short of money even for our medicines”, says the senior Poojary.

    “From the beginning, we did not have anything but the flower shop. We are also not skilled in any other trade. Prashanth had not prepared for any other exigency. So, we are leading a life of penury,” he adds.

    Anand’s single-room house has undergone some changes in the past with some additions here and there to improve the living conditions. The work is incomplete, obviously due to shortage of money after the son’s murder. The family tried its hand at some small petty businesses, “but we lost money”, says Anand.

    “Prashanth’s family is suffering. He did not deserve to die so brutally for being protector of cows. Is campaigning against cow slaughter a bad thing, that you get rewarded with death?” wonders Dhyanesh, a cousin.

    No one from the Congress, including the local Member of Legislative Assembly Abhayachandra and district in-charge minister B Ramanatha Rai, visited Poojary’s house after his murder, says Hindu Jagarana Vedike leader Satyajit Surathkal.

    ***

    On 4 July 2017, Sharath Madiwala, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker, was hacked to death by a group of 10 “unknown” assailants at his Udaya laundry on Buntwal Cross Road in Mangaluru. After 45 days, the police arrested two persons, including a PFI leader. The rest involved in the murder are at large.

    In connection with Madiwala’s murder, the Dakshina Kannada police made frequent trips to Kerala for investigation, but the state Home Ministry hid the information on the trips from the public. There was a delay in the announcement of the capture of culprits and the police was under immense pressure to not make public the names of the accused as they were all Muslims, says Rajesh Bhat, a close associate of Madiwala. But the developments have had little effect on Madiwala’s family, more importantly, his  father, Thaniyappa.

    Only a few summers ago, Thaniyappa handed over the family’s laundry business to Madiwala and it is now in tatters.

    “Sharath was diligently handling the business, especially politicians from all parties, including the Congress, used to get their whites ironed from his shop. Yet, when he was killed no one turned up. It pained me,” says the senior Madiwala. “Without Sharath, I am unsure of the business. Each time I enter the shop, I see my son brutally bruised lying there in the pool of blood. How can I earn my livelihood from the place where my son was murdered?” wonders Thaniyappa.

    The Madiwalas home, on the same road, looks like a typical lower middle class one that has not been tended to for years. “Even after 40 years of toil, I have not been able to earn enough money to keep my home in good condition. I would have done it in December but for my son's murder. He was the purpose of our life. My wife and I have nothing to look forward to now – poverty or no poverty, we do not care,” says a dejected Thaniyappa.

    ***

    Paresh Meshta, a 21-year-old young man from a traditional fisherman family, was helping his parents in fish trade at Honnavar port in Dakshina Kannada district. He discontinued his studies to help his family, which was facing financial difficulties. All that changed when he went missing in the first week of December 2017. A couple of days later, his body was found in a nearby temple pond. Allegations on his death pointed to Meshta being abducted by a group belonging to a particular community, burnt, castrated and then killed. His murder is linked to the recent communal tensions in Dakshina Kannada district, particularly as a victim from the side of the majority community.

    Meshta’s family lived in a single bedroom house at Tulasi Nagar facing the sea. The below poverty line family was just making its ends meet until Meshta was alive. Some 45 days after his death, the family is yet to overcome its loss. His elder brother is a security guard at a local bank and his younger sister has just graduated.

    “He was my right hand at such a young age. He had taken control of his life and helped our family in every way he could. Due to his diligence in the fish trade, I could make my daughter a graduate. I do not know if I can be the same man after he was snatched away from us,” says his father, Kamalakar.

    “My daughter wants to study further, but we do not have the resources,” regrets Meshta senior.

    ***

    “These murders are by a group of ruffians, goons and IS activists”, says Shobha Karandlaje, who represents Chikkamagaluru constituency in Udupi in the Lok Sabha.

    Rao’s mother, Premalatha, is candid about why she refused to accept aid from the local MLA. “I rejected the MLA’s help for the simple fact that his party is friendly with the Muslim outfit that killed my son”, she said.

    She has been a little lucky that police swung into action to immediately nab four PFI activists who allegedly murdered Rao. The police officers chased the car that ferried the alleged murderers and even fired a couple of rounds to immobilise the vehicle. Karnataka Chief Minister S Siddaramaiah visited Rao’s house and consoled the family, who extended just the basic courtesy to him.

    Rao’s cousin, Vinod, has now been entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of Premalatha and her son. Efforts are on to get the speech-challenged brother a job nearer to home.

    Almost all murders have been identical with the assailant escaping to Kerala soon after committing the heinous crime. Locals allege that the PFI is contracting out these killings from nearby Kasaragod district.

    In the case of Meshta, whose death is still a mystery, the Uttara Kannada district Congress chief said his death had nothing to do with Muslim fundamentalist activities. But locals argue that Meshta had no cause to be killed in a bizarre way.

    Victim Madiwala’s close associate, Rajesh Bhat, wonders why the Congress-ruled Karnataka government is afraid to make public the names of the culprits if they are Muslims. Government authorities often cite the bogey of communal flare-up if Muslim names are made public, complains Bhat, who asks why authorities waste no time to make public the names of Hindu assailants.

    Sudhir Prabhu, BJP Dakshina Kannada district spokesman, told Swarajya: “It is not just Hindus who are members of BJP but also Muslims. Curiously, Sangh Parivar has become the target of PFI activists. A Muslim, Zubair, was an active worker of ours for some years. PFI activists killed him, a fact vindicated during the investigations. That’s why we want the PFI banned for its anti-national activities.”

    PFI has been held responsible for the murders of Sangh Parivar members Harish Poojary in Kundapur in Udupi district and Raju of Mysuru.

    “The Siddaramaiah government is soft-pedalling the investigation of all communal murders in which members of BJP or the Sangh parivar have been killed. The Congress is tacitly supporting the divisive forces,” alleges Karandlaje.

    In these circumstances, the Siddaramaiah government’s move is fraught with danger. Letting such elements off the hook will wreak the nation’s peace. There is a limit to minority appeasement, but the Congress government seems to have crossed all limits!

    Raghuram hails from coastal Karnataka and writes on communal politics.


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