On 21st December, I had gone to meet the commissioner, S Murugan, with a couple of other members of my group. We told him that the screening of the film Dilwale had been withdrawn under threats from the Bajrang Dal goons. It was already over a day since the screening of the movie had stopped. Nearly 20-odd Bajrang Dal goons had stormed the theatre to stop the screening on the day of its release.
In one theatre, violent protests continued despite the presence of the police. These goons had arrived midway through the screening and wanted the exhibitors to immediately stop the movie. The exhibitors pleaded to them promising that they will do so after that show. These goons ‘obliged’ but tore down the poster bearing the show timings on their way back. It was extraordinary that the police did not stop them. There was no reaction.
After this incident, most film exhibitors did not have the confidence to put the film back on screen. I told the Commissioner that this is where he needed to enforce the rule of the law so that the screening could commence again.Puneet Kottari with Togadia
He told us that the multiplex owners had voluntarily withdrawn the movie and he couldn’t force them to put the movie back on the screen. This was untrue because several friends of mine had booked the tickets and had to get them cancelled. I had also spoken to the exhibitors to know the reason for the sudden cancellation and they said they were helpless. They used the word ‘helpless’ because they did not want to ruin their long-term business prospects in the city.
They said they did not have confidence in the police. I told the commissioner that restoring confidence was something he and his forces had to do. The commissioner told me, ‘then let them (cinema owners) complain.’Puneet Kottari, one of the 22 accused
The cinema owners had already told me that they were too shaken by the experience of Bajrang Dal goons’ audacity to not just stop the screening of Dilwale but also tear down the poster in the presence of the police and, therefore, didn’t think complaining would yield any desirable results.
They also said to me that they did not want to take on the Bajrang Dal because they wanted to do long-term business here. This is what they had specifically told me, which is what I communicated to the commissioner. Because we were forcing him to act and perhaps he had no other excuses to hide behind, he said to me if he could take my complaint as an FIR. I said if this will help the situation and bring down the ‘immoral’ policing in Mangalore, then why not? That’s how the first FIR was filed against the convener of the Bajrang Dal in Mangalore, Sharan Pumpwell and others.
No sooner did the Bajrang Dal members come to know about this FIR, they began to bombard me with harassing messages on Facebook. The first post by the co-convener of the Bajrang Dal saying how I had the temerity of questioning them asked his followers to share the post widely. That provoked host of comments from other individuals affiliated to Bajrang Dal and other like-minded groups. The threats used by them were of rape, acid attacks and murder. That really crossed the lines in many ways. So, I just picked up some of these posts and complained after I saw no action had been taken against them for two days. I’m glad that the police arrested one Bajrang Dal member two days ago.
Offence and Facebook URL of the perpetrators
Pumpwell is no longer posting those threatening posts from his account, but the harassing posts are now being posted from his bhakts’ Facebook pages. One such Facebook page is called Veera Kesari. But they’ve become little more cautious with abusive postings following my complaint.
Mangalore is increasingly becoming a fertile ground for these goons to practice their bigotry. First it was Sri Ram Sene. Now we have Bajrang Dal, ABVP (student wing of the Sangh Parivar), VHP and Hindu Jagran Vedike. There have been quite a few cases of immoral policing, where Hindu Jagran Vedike was very active. For example, it was the goons from the Hindu Jagran Vedike, who were responsible for the Mangalore Homestay attack of 2012.
Not to forget this year’s incident, when Bajrang Dal goons tied a Muslim man and beat him for travelling with a Hindu girl in his car. In fact, that had happened right in the heart of the city. When I went to meet the commissioner on Dilwale issue, I reminded him how I had push him twice to take action on that issue. Perhaps that’s the reason why when I went to meet him on Dilwale issue, he realised that I wasn’t going to leave him thereby being forced to lodge the complaint.
Having said that, the upsurge of communal forces in Mangalore isn’t a sudden phenomenon. It’s been there for years. We had rather naively thought that these people were being supported by the state government because of Karnataka being ruled by the BJP. We felt that that was the reason why they were so bold and once the power equation changes, things would dramatically change.
But, within the first year of the Congress government, we realised that there was no let up in the incidents of immoral policing. I don’t call it moral policing, but it’s immoral policing for me. Our new terminology is gaining acceptance and the city SP too has started referring to the acts of these goons as immoral policing. The commissioner is relatively slow on the uptake.
We would like the Congress government of Karnataka to come down on these elements like a ton of bricks. We held protests when Rahul Gandhi visited Karnataka. We told him to do something against immoral policing.
I wouldn’t say there has been rise in such communally charged acts by Hindu fanatics under the Congress, but there hasn’t been any fall either. So obviously, the Congress government has not been doing anything. It doesn’t have the policy, it doesn’t have the idea and it doesn’t have the political will.
They are going soft on these goons, sometimes even assisting them. This despite the public knowledge that half of Mangalore police force is communal. The state government needs to have a policy for Dakshin Kannada and Mangalore on how to handle this menace. That is what is missing now.
What’s more, the state government is planning to drop 13 charges including two related to Mangalore against Muthalik. This is ridiculous to say the least. The funniest thing is that Muthalik himself expressed surprise about this. It was too good to believe for him. So, it’s not just the state going soft on goons but actually supporting them. The policy followed by Congress in Karnataka is tantamount to majority appeasement and that’s unfortunate.
We were hoping that after the home minister changes, there will be some improvements, but we haven’t seen any tangible impact yet.
The government must come up with an actionable plan to deal with these goons because the problem can’t just be brushed under the carpet. These goons have become used to dictating both public and private lives of people. We the people have to reclaim our everyday lives because right now if you have a Muslim friend, you need to be careful to not be seen with him or her. You cannot have an ice cream with them, you cannot travel in the bus and talk to them etc etc. The increasing divide in the society for the fear of being targeted has to go. And that’s really a state issue.
Many people ask me if the latest episode has left me traumatised. Its not easy to traumatise me and these Hindu religious fanatics must remember that. But of course it’s not comfortable when you have these people spewing venom. You also wonder what kind of society you live in. Debating and arguing is fine but when you open a rabid attack, then there’s something wrong with you.
Since, this time the Bajrang Dal goons have really crossed the line, I’ve filed an FIR against 22 people. One has been arrested and I won’t rest until all of them are sent behind bars just to make sure they realise that some rule of law is kicking in Mangalore and there will be no place for hatemongers and bigots in a civilised society in future.
Vidya Dinker is a Mangalore-based social avtivist.