Issue 23

Dividing Karnataka

Maya Sharma

Over the past few months, the targeting of minorities appears to have become more widespread and on a range of different issues. And the BJP state government does not seem to be coming down as hard as it should on such blatant discrimination. Far from it.

The sound in the video is sickening. It is the sound of water melons as they are smashed on the ground. The sound is repeated many times as the summer fruits are thrown violently to the earth, one by one, until the cart is empty and the ground is covered with red pulp. 

The video was taken outside a temple in Dharwad district of northern Karnataka on April 9.  The fruit cart belonged to a vendor, a Muslim, who has been selling fruit in that location for years. This year, however, fringe elements from the right wing decided that non-Hindus should not be a part of temple fairs or be allowed to sell goods near temples. The Dharwad episode was one of many incidents where Muslim vendors were sent packing from places where they had being selling their wares in peace for years. 

Anyone with a smartphone would have seen far more violent videos – whether they wanted to or not- in this era of WhatsApp forwards. But this video still hurt for so many reasons. 

The deliberate direct hitting at the livelihood of a fruit seller because of his religion. 

The fact that this was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of intimidation. 

The audacity with which this was done. 

It probably comes as no surprise to know that when those responsible for this vandalism were released on bail, they were welcomed by other members of their group. A watermelon was smashed to mark the occasion…

Welcome to Karnataka 2022.

It would be wrong to say that Karnataka is new to friction between communities. Like elsewhere in India, people have died in communal flare-ups – with the coastal belt of the state being particularly sensitive.

But over the past few months, the targeting of minorities appears to have become more widespread and on a range of different issues. And the BJP state government, under relatively new chief minister, Basavaraj Bommai, does not seem to be coming down as hard as it should on such blatant discrimination. Far from it. 

Ahead of Christmas last year, there was vandalism at churches and prayer halls – usually under the guise of opposition to what was described as ‘forced conversion.’ Christmas celebrations were stopped in a school in Mandya district. 

In January, the headmistress of a government school was suspended in Kolar district for allowing children to perform namaz in a classroom. 

This year, some girl students were not allowed to wear their hijabs into their classroom – and were confronted by fellow students wearing saffron shawls. The issue reached the High Court and even the Supreme Court with those who said ‘hijab is my right’ coming up against the prescribed ‘uniform’ in some educational institutions. 

Halal meat was also a target. Videos emerged of intimidation of people at butcher shops and restaurants that provided halal meat. The target this time was not only Muslims, but also Hindus who sold meat from animals slaughtered in the halal way. Hindus were asked not to buy such meat – especially for consumption on the day after the festival of Ugadi, a day when non-vegetarian food is a tradition among many Hindu families. 

The BJP’s National General Secretary from the state, CT Ravi tweeted

No more HALAL PRODUCTS for Hindus.

Let us fight unitedly against Economic JIHAD ! ! !

The volume of sound from loudspeakers was another issue that was raised. Notices were sent in April to mosques – and also temples and churches. But in the context of what was happening on other fronts, many saw this as another way to curb Muslims. 

After pressure on issues ranging from what they wear, what they eat, how they earn a living, how they pray – it is a situation of What Next for minority communities in the state. 

All these incidents did get  tremendous media attention. And made people question the image of progressive Karnataka and of capital Bengaluru – India’s own Silicon Valley. 

Biocon Chief, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw tweeted

Karnataka has always forged inclusive economic development and we must not allow such communal exclusion- If ITBT became communal it would destroy our global leadership.  @BSBommai please resolve this growing religious divide

Former chief minister, B S Yediyurappa, who stepped down last year to make way for his successor, Bommai, said that Muslims should be allowed to live with dignity and that Hindus and Muslims should live like children of the same mother. This statement made headlines – something that in itself showed the current mood. For a prominent BJP leader to come out and make a rather basic statement on communal harmony was something considered unusual enough to be prominently reported. 

But there is just about a year to go before state elections in Karnataka – and many observers believe this is all part of a plan to garner votes ahead of that. The state has usually banked on caste equations when it came to voting blocs. This time, there is more religion in the mix – which some see as a cynical attempt to win the votes of the majority community. 

But just as friction between communities is a historical fact in Karnataka, as it is across India, so is the other reality.  Of people from different faiths living together as neighbours and friends. In peace. 

In the middle of all this, in April, the magnificent Chennakeshava temple at Belur in Hassan district started its chariot festival in the traditional way that it has followed for centuries. And that included the reading of verses from the Quran.

Maya Sharma is a journalist who has been working out of Karnataka for over 30 years as a television reporter, anchor and documentary filmmaker. She is Senior Consulting Editor with NDTV and is also a  Visiting Professor at the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media. Maya writes, loves animals, travelling, stories and chocolate. She has reported on gender issues, crime, civic issues, business, sports and environmental issues – with a special focus on wildlife and animal welfare. 

Picture Credits: Human Rights Watch

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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