Tirthahalli says she has been getting threats of rape and acid attacks for at least a year from fake identities on social media. She decided to seek help from the police after a man openly threatened her from his Facebook account telling her to stop writing for publications owned by Muslims. He also told her to stop criticizing Hindu traditions and Prime Minister Modi or he would teach her a lesson. The cold-blooded murder of Kannada scholar MM Kalburgi in Dharwad in August also worried her enough to make the complaint.
"There was always an undercurrent of intolerance but after the elections last year they are doing it openly because our Prime Minister is very much silent on all these things like Dadri and Dalit issues," Tirthahalli said.
Just a few days earlier, 23-year-old Dalit student Huchangi Prasad of Davangere was accosted by a group of men who threatened him for what they called his anti-Hindu writing. Prasad was summoned from his hostel in the middle of the night by a man unknown to him and told that his mother had suffered a heart attack and had been admitted to hospital in critical condition. On his way to the hospital, Prasad was stopped by a group of eight to ten men who seemed to take offence over the contents of a book Prasad had written a year ago.
In the book Odala Kicchu (Fire Within), Prasad questions Hindu religious practices and caste structures that allow the exploitation of Dalits. Prasad writes from experience. His parents work as daily wage workers in a small Karnataka village and he was a bonded child labourer himself.
“They beat me up badly. They asked me why I wrote against Hinduism and about caste,” Prasad said. “They smeared kumkum on my forehead. Then they took out a knife and threatened to cut off my fingers.” Prasad said he somehow pushed past his assailants even though he got cut on his hand, hid in the dark for about an hour before seeking help at a hospital and filing a complaint at the police station.
There have been earlier attempts to intimidate Prasad. The Hindu Jagrana Vedika and the Sri Ram Sene filed cases against the student and KS Bhagwan, chief guest at his book release function last year. Bhagwan, who is vocal against Hinduism’s caste-bedeviled systems, was threatened online by a Bajrang Dal activist just hours after Kalburgi’s murder.
A week before the attack on Prasad, an Australian tourist in Bengaluru was bullied for not covering a tattoo on his leg of the goddess Yellamma, patron saint of devadasis. BJP members in Bengaluru threatened to skin the tattoo off his leg before taking him to a police station where he was forced to give a written apology.
One week, four incidents
The October attacks are a sequel to a violent last week of September when at least four communal conflagrations occurred across the state. A Ganesh idol procession turned violent in Belagavi. Another one in Bagalkot escalated into a riot with vehicles and shops being torched and the police having to prohibit assembly of more than five people in Mudhol town. Allegations of cow slaughter triggered violence in Belagavi, Yadgir and Dharwad during the same week.
It’s not surprising then that Karnataka has the dubious distinction of being the south Indian state with the greatest communal tension. There were 321 incidents in the state between January 2011 and June 2015 injuring 939 people and killing 16, the Times of India reported from home ministry statistics. Of these, 36 eruptions occurred this year.
Non-government accounts peg the number of such incidents much higher. Take coastal Karnataka’s unenviable record of moral policing. The Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike (Karnataka Forum for Communal Harmony) has compiled a list of communal incidents in Dakshin Kannada district based on news reports in regional papers. It counted 173 incidents of communal disharmony in 2014 alone.
The Charlie Chaplin protest
Dakshin Kannada has a long history of skirmishes between Hindu groups and others but it was felt most after the BJP government came to power in Karnataka in 2008 and when groups like the Sri Rama Sene made their presence felt statewide and nationwide. Sometimes, the intolerance was on the flimsiest excuses. In March 2009, members of the BJP stopped filmmaker Hemant Hegde from putting up a 67-foot statue of Charlie Chaplin in Udupi while shooting for a film. They claimed that the statue of Chaplin, revered for his parody of Hitler in The Great Dictator, hurt Hindu sentiment because he was Christian.
In the face of intolerance, a few men and women are trying to resist. KS Bhagwan told Scroll that he wasn’t deterred by threats and would welcome any rational debate about religion. Prasad, too, is also determined not to be silenced. “They want to stop me but making me fear for my life but I am not going to be deterred from writing," he said. "There is a path that Babasaheb Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi, Gautama Buddha showed us and I am inspired by that.”
"I am not going to keep quiet. I am not going to allow anyone to question my dignity or exploit my name or curb my freedom of expression," said Tirthahalli.
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