14, Jan 2021 | CJP Team
A report titled Chronicle of Communal Incidents in Coastal Districts of Karnataka, compiled by Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum and People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), member Suresh B. Bhat, presents 47 instances of Hate Speech in 2020 as opposed to 12 in 2019.
The report that collates information from the Dakshina Kannada and Udupi Districts of Karnataka, reveals a total of 110 instances of communal attacks including hate speech, cattle vigilantism, moral policing by Hindutva groups and other unidentified individuals around alleged religious conversions. This statistic is up from 60 in the year 2019.
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The findings of the annual study are startling: Hate speech quadrupled, cattle vigilantism doubled in Karnataka in 2020!
Bhat, who is a member of Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum and People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), Mangaluru has also found 25 cases of cattle vigilantism in 2020 as opposed to 11 in 2019. The report also looks into instances of moral policing and allegations of religious conversions.
Hate Speech by the Majority community
The report gives an account of the offences that took place in the districts disturbing public peace and harmony. We, at CJP are diving deeper into the incidents and offenders who still roam scot free with no repercussions.
In January, Mangalore Today had reported on a group of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) members who had threatened to chop the hands and legs of former minister and Congress MLA U T Khader and other Muslims during a pro Citizenship Amendment rally. On January 30, 2020 the Police registered a case against all miscreants.
Muslim Justice Forum on Monday lodged a complaint at the Pandeshwar Police Station against the man identified as Madhugiri Modi aka Atul Kumar who uploaded a video making derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed on Facebook. A similar complaint of spreading hate on social media was registered by Kalander Partipady, secretary of Muslim Okkuta, Jayakar Acharya of Kujapadi in Kasba village in March, 2020.
There were several complaints lodged against people in Karnataka who carried out virulent campaigns against Muslims during the global pandemic putting the onus on them for the spread of the infection. On March 28, 2020, the Bantwal police registered a case against a lawyer Rajaram Nayak who was accused of posting communally provocative messages linking the Corona Virus to the minorities and thus attempting to cause divisiveness and spread hatred in society.
A lot of media outlets too, targeted the Muslim community spreading misinformation that attenddes of the Tablighi Jamaat were responsible for the virus, terming them as super spreaders. A case was also registered against the administrator of Facebook page ‘Troll Dacoit 2.0’ and Santhosh Suryavanshi for insulting the Holy Quran and equating it with corona virus on March 29.
Similarly, Rajesh, Nirmal and Rupesh of Indabettu and Gopala Moolya of Konjilabidu respectively, and Ranjan Poojary of Rantadka Vadakinakatte had FIR’s registered against them for their social media posts abusing the Muslim community, blaming them for the spread of Corona virus and thus attempting to create unrest in society.
In a judgment dated August 28, 2020 the Bombay High Court Bench of Justices MG Sewlikar and TV Nalawade observed that, “There was big propaganda in print media and electronic media against the foreigners who had come to Markaz Delhi and an attempt was made to create a picture that these foreigners were responsible for spreading covid-19 virus in India. There was virtually persecution against these foreigners. A political Government tries to find the scapegoat when there is pandemic or calamity and the circumstances show that there is probability that these foreigners were chosen to make them scapegoats.”
In this case (Crl. W.P No. 548 of 2020), the court called out the blatant communalism and the way the entire incident was handled by the government, the police and the media. It also noted that the Police had acted without application of mind as no record was available to make out a prima facie case against any accused person.
Some media sources had also reported on the incident of one Mohammad Dilshad from north India who hung himself to death in Himachal Pradesh’s Una district in April after allegedly facing social ostracism and boycott by some villagers, who suspected him to be suffering from Covid-19 despite testing negative for it. This is a blatant violation of Article 15(2) which encapsulates one of the fundamental rights of India’s constitution, explicitly prohibiting discrimination on grounds of religion, besides race, caste, sex or place of birth. It lays down that no citizen be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to ‘access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public’.
But with the rising Covid-19 cases, erroneously and mischievously linked to the Tablighi Jamaat gathering (March 12-13, 2020), India also saw a disturbing rise in cases of hate speech aimed at the entire Muslim community. For instance, the Wire had reported in early April in Ankanahalli village in Ramanagara district on the outskirts of Bengaluru in south Karnataka, an announcement was made to residents saying, “Listen, everyone! The gram panchayat is making this announcement. No sahibs (Muslims) should come into the village. No one should work for Muslims. If you do, you should pay a fine of Rs 500 to Rs 1,000.”
CJP had also filed a complaint against India Today’s show titled “Madrasa Hotpots: India Today Investigation” hosted by Rahul Kanwal on April 20, 2020 that aimed at spreading hatred against one particular community. The entire program was a sting operation conducted in a madrasa where minor children are housed. However, madrasas serve as hostels for poor, destitute and orphaned children which the channel conveniently skipped in the show. Instead, the show blatantly claimed that these children have been hidden in the madrasa and also drew a comparison between the much talked about Tablighi Jamaat case insinuating that the children are crammed up in rooms in madrasas and hence blaming Muslims for defying social distancing norms.
In Amish Devgan v Union of India and Ors (W.P [Cri.] No. 160 of 2020) the Supreme Court has held that, “Persons of influence, keeping in view their reach, impact and authority they yield on the general public or the specific class to which they belong, owe a duty and have to be more responsible. A speech by ‘a person of influence’ such as a top government or executive functionary, opposition leader, political or social leader of following, or a credible anchor on a T.V. show carries a far more credibility and impact than a statement made by a common person on the street.”
The Bantwal police had booked a case against Yashu Gatty of Alady for posting on the social media communally provocative statements about the Muslim community on April 29, 2020. But this was the second such case against him as on April 12 a case had been registered against him for similar reasons at the same police station.
In July, the report reveals that some miscreants had issued a death threat to Dakshina Kannada Deputy Commissioner Sindhu B Rupesh on social media after she directed officials and police to initiate strict action against those who take the law into their own hands by assaulting illegal cattle transporters. “Ram Sena Abhimanigalu” WhatsApp group member had said, “She should be hacked to death.” Some others in the group said “We will not keep quiet if anyone tries to come in the way of our Hindutva and our god. We are ready to claim life and give up our life for it.”
In November, a local RSS leader Dr Kalladka Prabhaker Bhat said several areas including Ullal have already become “Pakistan”. Bhat’s controversial remarks had gone viral on the social media. Social Democratic Party of India member Naufal Ullal had filed a case against Dr Bhat accusing him of inciting violence and spreading hatred in society. Ullal, ten kilometres from the city centre at Mangalore has often being targeted by right wing supremacists simply because it is a locality with a pre-dominantly minority population.
Iqbal Amemmar, a local leader of SDPI has lodged a complaint at the Bantwal Rural police station against one Bharat Kumdel for having made communally provocative speech at Bantwal on the day of Ram Janmabhumi program in July. Bharat Kumdel, joint convener of the Bajrang Dal in Puttur has also been accused of asking for the destruction of mosques at Kashi and Mathura on similar lines as the destruction of Babri mosque.
In a shameful incident, a beat police WhatsApp group from Vittal had reportedly been accused of carrying a message insulting the Muslim community in May. Dhananjay Putran has been accused of posting communally provocative message that also insulted the Muslim community on the ‘Beat Police No: 2 Group’.
Hate speech by the Minority community
One Abubakr Siddiq (48) of Kodi Ullal was arrested for allegedly sending provocative messages on social media regarding the December 19 violence that broke out in Mangalore during the anti-citizenship law protests. Anwar, a resident of Peruvayi village was arrested by the Vittal police ON January 6, 2020 on the charge of trying to disturb communal harmony. A case had already been booked against Niyaz for having called up, abused and issued death threats to an NRI (originally from Vamanjoor and presently working abroad).
In January, BJP leader Muhammed Asgarhad allegedly received a call from a man asking him to withdraw his Facebook post supporting the Citizenship Amendment Act of the Modi government. A person called Asghar from overseas and threateningly said, “As a Muslim what you have spoken in not correct. BJP will not even allow you to stay in India. Even then, you have joined with BJP and are speaking against the Muslims. If you speak like this in the district of Dakshina Kannada you will not be alive. This is last warning for you,” the caller said. However, it is not clear whether the caller belonged to the Muslim community.
On the charge of posting fake news and communally provocative messages on social media, the Vittal Police arrested Siddiq (27), Muhammed K (19), Hanif (25) and a 16-year-old boy. One Abdul Razak of Harady, had alleged that he was getting life threats from other districts and from abroad. after he had posted a message of greetings to the Ram Janmabhoomi program in August.
One Shivaraj, a resident of Jyoti Nagar in Kunjathbail had lodged a complaint in August with the police alleging that a certain program aired by a private TV channel has hurt the religious feelings of Hindus. In November, the Vittal police arrested one Rizwan Khan on the charge of denigrating Hindu religion and its gods through his posts on the social media.
In December, a few persons in the Tulu cinema industry were trolling unfounded facts about director Ismail Moodushedde’s upcoming Kannada movie ‘Mumbai to Bhatkal’ and causing communal hatred. Mr. Ismail told The Hindu that the perpetrators were falsely claiming that their movie, which is slated for release in February, promoted ‘Love jihad’. He accused the perpetrators of spreading false information about the actors in the film. “This is being done to prevent distributors from taking my film,” he said. However, again there is no clarity on which community the perpetrators belonged to.
The Report may be read here.
Social Media: A bane or boon?
Most of these cases are still awaiting detailed investigation and trial, but a commonality in amplification of the incidents and their impact can be contributed to the real time spread of such spurious content on social media platforms. Amidst others, Facebook has gained a lot of traction as one of the giants overseeing the manipulating of content in India. Although the incidents collated in the report, gives very little clarity on the specific social media platform misused to spew hate, Facebook and WhatsApp (which is a platform also now owned by Facebook) are the ones that feature frequently and repeatedly. This can also be attributed to the fact that with its spread, depth and reach Facebook today enjoys 346.2 million Indian users and as of November 2020, WhatsApp was downloaded 58 million times.
After the Wall Street Journal’s report that exposed Facebook India for its wilful ignoring of its own corporate formulated hate-speech rules –bowing to the powerful right-wing narrative– it became clear why hate speech has continued to multiply on the platform despite such posts violating FB’s own guidelines on objectionable content and hate speech community standards.
A report from the University of Oxford titled, The Global Disinformation Order 2019: Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation, said that Facebook continues to be the global platform of choice for political parties and governments to spread disinformation and shape public opinion. The report analysed 70 countries including India to track the increasing number of governments and political parties around the world that are using social media propaganda to discredit political opponents, drown out opposing views, or undermine trust in the liberal international order. Despite there being other platforms, Facebook continues to dominate because of its global outreach and for structurally lending itself well to the spread of disinformation like users go there to read the news and share it with friends and family, and can easily set up groups or pages.
As part of CJP’S hate watch series, we have approached Facebook multiple times documenting such instances where it has been misused for organising crimes and violence in various regions of India. Where Facebook has taken actions with respect to some posts and accounts that have garnered public attention, there are countless such accounts mushrooming on the platform spreading misinformation along with offensive and inflammatory hate filled speech. If one account gets removed, another gets created. Facebook also lacks a mechanism that instantly prevents communal content online.
Print Media, an accomplice
Building up a perceived sense of resentment and eventually targeting of Muslims is not new to the State of Karnataka and, can in fact be tracked to the rise of the political fortunes of the supremacist right. As Communalism Combat analysed and recorded in the early 2000s, in Asodu, a village in Kundapur taluka of Udupi district on March 30, 2002 an annual fair was held on the occasion of ‘GendeSeve’ (ritual fire walking) at the village’s Nandikeshwar temple. As per tradition this went on through the night and continued the next day, amidst hundreds of people who had gathered here from neighbouring villages. During this time a rumour was circulated that a Muslim stallholder was spreading AIDS by pricking young girls with an infected needle. All four accused persons (Muslims) were beaten up and then handed over to the police present there. People who had allegedly been pricked by the youth stated in their complaint that “they were pricked by a poisonous needle in an attempt to kill”! Worse, the police charged the men under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code with attempt to murder. (See Communalism Combat, September 2006 Cover story: Bloody Harvest)
The test results of all four accused came back negative and the men were charged under Section 324 of the Indian Penal Code (attempt to harm using a sharp weapon) and were released after the court granted them bail. But following the needle pricking incident, 25 houses belonging to Muslims were attacked burnt and destroyed in the area. The little money or jewellery they had in their homes had all been looted. The residents had lost every item of their belongings and were suddenly faced with impending destitution. Worse still, they were seriously wounded by the fact that the people who attacked them had been neighbours and old acquaintances.
But as the AIDS rumour spread, local newspapers played a major role in keeping the flames of suspicion bordering on hate, burning. The leading Kannada daily, Udayavani, reported that the attacks were a result of people’s fear and their anger against Muslims. It did not even attempt or think it necessary to tell readers that AIDS cannot be spread in the manner that the rumour suggested. A few months later, after people had forgotten about the incident and there was now enough data to question the veracity of the rumour, an utterly dishonest report in Udayavani’s local edition said: “People still live in the grip of fear following the needle pricking incident. The number of people attending temple fairs has reduced considerably.”
The late Gauri Lankesh, a progressive activist and journalist who ran her own weekly called Gauri Lankesh Patrike had also opined way back in 2006, in a special article for Communalism Combat, that Vijaya Karnataka and Udayavani were the two main publications that had been indulging in such saffronisation of the reader’s mind. Vijaya Karnataka carried a news report regarding the recitation of Vande Mataram as its main story of the day. A line in the report read: Arjun Singh, who is at the forefront of appeasing the Muslim community, was present at the function to sing VandeMataram. She wrote, “To pass off opinions like ‘appeasement of Muslims’ as news is, by any yardstick, a new “standard” being set by such publications.
Besides hate speech, the report by Suresh Bhat, also reveals the surge in numbers of cattle vigilantism, moral policing by the Hindutva groups and individuals and alleged religious conversions in the impugned Districts of Karnataka. Clearly, the poison of hate speech and consequent blood-letting has spread deep into the veins of social life in coastal Karnataka.
(Background Report compiled by Adeeti Singh)