Santhosh Thammaiah’s writings against government improprieties landed him in trouble, and the arrest is just an act of vengeance.
Just when the flavour of a right wing literary festival was still lingering in the air, a sudden burst of communal vengeance was reported from the hilly district of Kodagu in Karnataka. The Gonikoppal police arrested journalist Santhosh Thammaiah, a columnist with Hosa Digantha and the editor of Aseema. Thammaiah was not arrested for his writings but for a part of a speech he had made during an event protesting Tipu Jayanti celebrations in Gonikoppal, organised by Prajna Kaveri Kodagu under the banner Tippuvina Karala Mukhagala Anavarana (unmasking Tipu’s darker faces) on 5 November (Monday).
Askar K A, a resident of Gonikoppal, had registered a police complaint alleging that the speech made by Thammaiah was inflammatory, and it was an attempt at accosting Muslim minority and foment discord between Muslims and Hindus. The complaint also brought in the issue of Muslim migration into Kodagu from Kerala, stating that they are being targeted. The complaint had quoted a local newspaper report in Kannada, which attributed the following statement to Thammaiah – “due to the faulty ideologies of Prophet Mohammad, Tipu had carried out actions of terror over the other religions during his time”. This had allegedly hurt the Muslim sentiments and portrayed Islam in bad light.
Following the complaint, the Gonikoppal Police arrested Thammaiah from the home of his in-laws at Madhugiri in Tumakuru district in a midnight raid and brought him to Kodagu on Tuesday and charged him under section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings and insulting religious beliefs).
The arrest was carried out in a brutal manner and police treated him like a criminal. “After the event, Thammaiah had come to be with his wife’s family for Deepavali in Madhugiri. He did not try to escape the law or go underground but still the police arrested him like a criminal, this is not the way intellectuals and writers should be treated, but we are seeing it happen before our eyes,” said a neighbour of Thammaiah’s in-laws.
The arrest of the journalist has shocked Kodagu district. “This is the second incident related to Tipu Jayanti that has brought dishonour to our district. In 2015, two people died in events related to Tipu Jayanti, one of them was a VHP leader and it appears that the Kodavas were seeing a murder angle there, but the police are hell-bent on making it seem like an accidental death,” says Chakkera Manu Somaiah, sahasanchalak of Kodagu district Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh unit.
Speaking to Swarajya, Kodagu district Superintendent of Police Dr Suman Pennekar said: “all normal procedures of arrest have been followed. It is true that he was arrested in the night, but that was only for operational purposes, there was no special objective behind that.”
The Kodavas are incensed about the state government targeting Kodavas and Kodagu. When Kuttappa, a VHP member, had died in the 2015 riots in Kodagu during the Tipu Jayanti celebrations, the Siddaramaiah government was accused of asking the state police to make it look like an accidental death. This story is circulating even now in Kodagu, and elsewhere in the state. The Codava National Council activists point out that the government in Karnataka and their brothers-in-arms government in Kerala were sending Muslims into Kodagu to populate the hills so that the Kodavas are kept in check. Codava National Council chief Nachappa Codava told Swarajya that after the recent floods and mudslide, the Karnataka government and the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala had allowed thousands of Muslims including Rohingyas to enter Kodagu and usurp the relief material. Arresting Thammaiah was another act aimed at hurting the Kodavas.
In another incident, the government had buckled under pressure from the Left parties and their fringe groups and allowed illegal workers from Bangladesh to populate the Diddally forest areas. Those forest officials who had taken action to remove the illegal migrants were removed unceremoniously. The Kodavas now allege that the Congress-Left combine was trying to change the demography of Kodagu to help its cause. Kodagu Bharatiya Janata Party leaders argue that Thammaiah was speaking and writing against these improprieties often which had put the government on the back foot and it has hence plotted to book Thammaiah in such a frivolous case.
Thammaiah wrote columns for Kannada daily Hosa Digantha, published from multiple centres including Hubballi, Mangaluru and Bengaluru. He is also the editor of Aseema, a right wing newspaper.