As the nation’s mood remained enraptured by the Gujarat elections last week, a storm was quietly brewing in Karnataka. The mysterious circumstances around the death of Paresh Mesta were dressed up with fake news and WhatsApp to stoke communal fires in election-bound Karnataka’s coastal region.
The news of Mesta’s death broke on Kannada news websites piloted by right-wing organisations. Stories began circulating that people poured boiling oil on his face, beat his private parts, strangled him to death, and finally drowned him in the lake. Prominent BJP leaders tweeted this too. However, none of these details of torture, strangulation, burns or damage to private organs were corroborated by the findings in the forensic report.
But in the era of fake news – including by reputed mainstream media organisations – Mesta’s death blazed over Uttara Kannada district like wildfire. The opposition BJP MPs and ministers called for a fierce protest, which then resulted in a communal riot. The motives were purely political.
Uttara Kannada’s BJP MP and Union Minister Ananth Kumar Hegde had every opportunity to call up the Director-General of Police or the South Division Inspector-General of Police to find out the truth, but refrained. Hegde, who has lately courted controversy for his remark “as long as there is Islam in the world, there will be terrorism”, instead said that he will not rest until Mesta gets justice, citing the fake news lead as evidence.
By the time the truth emerged, the damage was already done.
Mobs set fire to the official car of IGP (Western Range) Hemant Nimbalkar. The police had to put great effort to control a mob that went on a rampage, pelted stones on shops and prayer houses. Later, both Ananth Kumar Hegde and BJP MLA Vishweshwara Hegde Kageri were arrested and released on bail.
At the same time, hundreds of Hindu activists had been rounded up and held in Bellary and Dharwad jails. But herein lies the biggest coup de grace. Those behind bars now are not upper caste ‘Hegde’, but OBCs and Dalits like Naik, Devadiga, Mogaveera. Among the accused, are Harijan, Kharvi, and Devadiga – even though the the original call to riot was given by a Havyaka Brahmin, an upper caste in our social order.
After Mesta’s death, another fake news further stirred the hornet’s nest in Uttara Kannada last week.
BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje tweeted: “Jihadis tried to rape and murder a girl studying in 9th std near honnavar. Why is the govt silent about this incident? Arrest those who molested and injured this girl. Where are you CM@siddaramaiah?”
The police began an investigation. The girl in question was a resident of Honnavar taluk. She had to walk along the woods on her way to school. Every day on this route, a young man of the same caste would harass her. Hesitant to express this to her parents, the girl was disturbed and couldn’t write her exams well. Fearing failing her exams, she attempted to commit suicide by slitting her wrists, ultimately changing her mind and getting her wrist bandaged by her friend.
Only her friend knew that someone was harassing her en route to school, but allegations arose that a bearded Muslim man was harassing the girl. Meanwhile, the police investigated the case and released a detailed press note and revealed that she had inflicted the injuries on herself.
Despite the police note, the BJP and other Hindu groups nevertheless succeeded in sparking the rhetoric of predatory Muslims raping Hindu girls in the region.
But these communal incidents are not just designed for the upcoming assembly elections. Riots like these also have a reputation for systematically preventing economic and social equality among caste and religious communities.
Most of those convicted of communal rioting in Dakshina Kannada district are from the Billawa community (a lower caste). The same pattern and strategy is being executed in Uttara Kannada district successfully now.
Mogaveeras and Muslims work together in the laborious fishing business. But in coastal Karnataka’s recent communal violence, Mogaveeras have become the foot-soldiers of Hindutva. Hence, the Muslim community has been wary of going to the Mogaveera-dominated port, incurring huge loss.
Many of us fear that this may not stop here. Coastal Karnataka is a hotbed of communal politics. This may spread beyond Uttara Kannada district. #KhabarLive