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The Killing Fields: Communalism in Karnataka

07.09.1993 · Posted in Communal Violence, Human Rights, Minorities

THE KILLING FIELDS: Communalism in Karnataka

The Constitution of India (1950) guarantees both the freedom of speech and expression (Article 19 (1) (a) and the right to freedom of religion and religious worship (Article 25). Each of these fundamental rights are expressly made subject to public order; Article 19 (2) and Article 25 (1) i.e. they are subject to laws imposing reasonable restrictions on exercise of each of these rights to prevent violence and disorder.

Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees the right to life and liberty. Article of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) holds that every human being has the inherent right to life, protected by law and inviolable by arbitrary deprivation; Article 7 forbids torture or inhuman treatment; under Article 4, these Covenanted freedoms are non-derogable even ‘in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation’.

In India, these are the human rights under siege, the right to life and the right to faith. This holds good even in the case of Karnataka, the only State in the South that witnessed communal riots recently. Ganesh festivities always set the tone for the communal temperature to rise in this state as in Maharashtra. August ’90 had seen tension in almost all the districts in the wake of these festivities. These needed a fuse to burst into riots and this was provided by the Shilanya programme of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

It began in Ramanagaram in September, the pretext, a dispute between two individuals over a chit fund draw that lead to stabbing. Autorickshaws were burnt and since they belonged to one whose caste was the same as the local police officer, the latter lead the police force into the poorest locality of the town where the poor of the minority lived and assisted anti-social elements to set fire to homes. A few dalits who lived there fled leaving their homes to be damaged. This town is famous for its Silk filatures and owned mostly by some members of the minority. The workers are dalits, poor and exploited. A bid was made to set the dalits against the Muslims. The police played not a small role in setting one against the other. The prosperity of the owners of the Silk filatures is resented, hence the bid to destroy the economic base of this class. The loss is estimated to run into lakhs of rupees apart from loss of a few lives.

The riots in Channapatna broke out over the issue of teasing of a girl. Relations of the girl demanded that the culprit be handed over to them for instant justice which the police justly refused. Eighty houses and shops were set ablaze, fifteen out of seventeen died of burns. Nearby the village of N.M.K Doddi had its 39 houses burnt to ashes but fortunately their inmates were sheltered in nearby villages by members of the other community. Even to this day members of the minority dare not stir out of town to buy or sell things in the villages around.

Kolar and Tumkur witnessed violence too, outcome of processions carrying Ram Jyothis. The former town was fairly free but villages around fed on wild rumours spread by young men on motorcycles who worked in BHEL, were badly affected.

Hosadurga in Chitradurga district had its first taste of violence when a procession of Ram Jyothi insisted on going into a sensitive area and grew violent forcing the police to open fire. Davanagere was set for the storm to burst with Ganesh and Shilanya festivities. Prophet’s birthday was celebrated with great pomp and all communities participated in the procession. Though there was an understanding that all would be present to make the Ram Jyothi procession a success, this procession turned away from the route agreed upon and violently tried to barge into a sensitive area. Police opened fire killing eight and all agree that this use of force was in excess of what the situation demanded. Following this, petty shops of the poor were set on fire. The police retaliated by arresting mostly innocent people who had no role in the riots and foisted cases on them. Tarabala Jagatguru of Sirigere Brihanmath with the co-operation of all communities staged a peace march through the town which restored a sense of security in the minorities in particular.

Ram Jyothi processions had their toll in Coorg where workers of Congress (I) joined hands with the B.J.P. according to Sri Subbaiah, M.L.C. (Congress (I)) and trees two hundred years old, worth lakhs of rupees were cut down according to Dr. Pias, a well-known social activist. Mulbalgal in Kolar district saw shops burnt, goods worth lakhs lost and trees cut down which run to three crores or rupees. Among the badly affected towns were Hubli where 48-hour curfew was imposed, Kunigal and Chamarajnagar. Other towns that could be named were Shimoga, Kanakapura, Nagamangala. The most alarming feature were the disaffected villages where members of minorities were isolated and helpless. There are reports of migration into towns from villages because of the feeling of insecurity.

Members of Congress (I) and Janata Dal freely participated in Ram Jyothi processions displaying as much zeal as the VHP. When the leaders of Communist parties were interviewed, they confessed that their workers were communal for want of political education. Fed of economism, these workers were innocent of Marxist ideology. Leaders of Raitha Sangha claimed that they were combating communalism by educating their followers about the democratic process and this was borne out by the role they played in villages where they had their bases.

The VHP and its mentors, B.J.P. and R.S.S. have asserted dogmatically that matters of faith are above the Constitution and the rule of law, thus placing themselves outside the pale of law. They need to be treated as outlaws by the people and the State.

Human rights activists have a long haul ahead of them. Those who have faith in democracy and human values must educate the people that religion is being used cynically and unscrupulously for political gains and it is distracting the people from social and economic priorities. The juggernaut of fascism which has usurped the right to speak for the majority mows down the minorities like Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, dalits, tribals and the liberals in the majority community will not be spared either as it happened in Hitler’s Germany.

Those with faith in the democratic process and egalitarianism have to stem this fascist onslaught. This ardent appeal is to confront this genocidal frenzy by rallying round all forces of democracy to preserve this pluralism we are justly proud of. Human fraternity is indivisible and let us strive with all our might to keep it so. Human rights groups should ‘keep alight the hope of a new day dawning’, with the ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and unalterable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’.

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