Karnataka has been experiencing incidents of flagrant Islamophobia since the Hijab dispute began in January of this year. After mounting incidences of anti-Muslim Hindutva hostility reported practically daily from various areas throughout the state, Karnataka has been dubbed “the Uttar Pradesh of South India.”
Karnataka happens to have the second-largest Muslim population in Southern India, following Kerala, with Muslims accounting for over 13% of the population. Previously, Islamophobia was mostly centred in South coastal Karnataka, where a number of right-wing vigilante organisations operated, often illegally.
While the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other right-wing organisations have a stronghold in South coastal Karnataka, where communal violence was widespread during the 1970s and 1980s, communalism, most recently Islamophobia, has now become a daily occurrence across the state. The most recent controversy over Halal meat, which seems to be another issue branching from the Hijab row, is now causing incidents of violence across the state.
The past few months have shown that there is now a violent and bigoted throng that makes Karnataka an increasingly hostile state for Muslims to co-exist in, from the Hijab ban, ban on Halal meat, banning of Muslim merchants and performers in temples to several other direct and indirect attacks. This has also begun following a dramatic political shift, with previous chief minister and Lingayat leader Yediyurappa being asked to resign and being replaced by current Karnataka chief minister BS Bommai.
When it comes to hate crimes against Muslims in Karnataka, it’s difficult to dispute that the violence has a communal element. Starting with Muskaan Khan, an 18-year-old student who was denied entry to a Karnataka pre-university college because she was wearing a burqa. A horde of saffron-clad thugs began abusing her and shouting Jai Shree Ram.
Several Muslim students at Udupi’s Government Pre-University College for Girls got threats shortly after this. The college reportedly disclosed their phone numbers, addresses, and contact information of their parents.
In March, under the pretext of a sting operation, a reporter barged into the home of a hijabi student. The student, Aliya Assadi, filed a FIR under IPC section 448 against an Asianet Suvarna News reporter. Since the commencement of the high court hearings over the hijab issue, several more Muslim women have been followed and harassed by members of certain media outlets.
Police officers assaulted a Muslim group attempting to safeguard a dargah, which is also a state-protected monument. The BJP/RSS planned to “purify” a Shivalinga at the Hazrat Ladle Mashaikh Ansari Shareef dargah in Gulbarga’s Aland Taluk. Goons acted on a summons from Karuneshwar Mutt’s Siddalinga Swami to steal authority from the community and claim it was the home of a Shivalinga.
Hindutva goons broke into a government college in Mugtahalli, Chickmanglur, without permission on March 8th and demanded Hijab-wearing students to leave if they didn’t remove their headscarves.
Around the 24th of March, banners declaring that Muslims would not be allowed to set up shop at the annual fair of Bappanaadu Durgaparameshwari Temple in Mangaluru district, Karnataka, emerged around the temple.
The temple authorities, on the other hand, denied allowing any such banners and claimed that they were placed without their knowledge.
To spread hate speech online, a man created a fake account pretending to be a Muslim. After obtaining images of a random individual, Siddharoodha Srikant Nirale, a native of Bagalkot, built a fake profile on Facebook under the name Mushtaq Ali. He propagated hatred, made a number of communal statements after the death of Bajrang Dal activist Harsha in Shivamogga. He was detained by Bagalkot Police for threatening Karnataka BJP MLC D.S. Arun.
A cycle rally organised by BJP MP Tejaswi Surya on March 27th came to a halt just outside the Masjid E-Hussaini Makan and Shahbaz Shah Khalander Dargah in Kolar. They then proceeded to dance to loud music while waving saffron flags and shouting “Shivaji Maharaj ki jai.”
On the 28th of March, a member of the Hindu Jana Jagruti (HJJ), a right-wing organisation, has called for a statewide boycott of halal items. HJJ leader Mohan Gowda has urged Hindus to shun all halal items and consume only “Jhatka” meat. He said, “We will protect the country by boycotting the economy of the anti-nationals.”
A chicken business owner was allegedly beaten by right-wing goons in Bhadravathi city, Shivamogga District, on March 30th. The assailants wanted non-halal meat from the shop’s regular clients. When Syed Ansar, the store owner, refused to sell non-halal meat, the goons attacked him and his cousin Tausif.
Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra remarked on March 31st that those who do not respect the Constitution or the court’s decision should be given a lesson. The ‘Boycott halal food’ campaign, according to Jnanendra, is not about law and order, but about faith and sentiments, which “everyone knows.”
With countless more incidents of hostility against Muslims, Karnataka, once a state of harmony and peaceful coexistence, is turning into an environment which is unwelcoming and dangerous for non-Hindu groups. We have seemingly forgotten that India is a secular democracy. In the run up to the state elections, one can only hope that this is an election tactic for votes and not the actual ideology of the leaders of our country.