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70 Eminent Personalities Urge Bommai to Stop Attacks on Minorities in Karnataka

Saurav Kumar |
An open letter to the chief minister stated that the traditions of tolerance and shared well-being are being torn apart.
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Sarva Janangada Shantiya Thota… Hindu Chraista Musalmaana/Paarasika Jainara udyaana – Jaya Bharata Jananiya Tanujate, Kuppalli Venkatappa Puttappa

In Karnataka’s state song, national poet Kuppalli Venkatappa Puttappa, popularly known as Kuvempu and considered the greatest Kannada poet of the 20th century, wished for a garden of peace for all communities where Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Parsis and the Jains can grow together. However, the state is vigorously junking its pluralistic character with increasing incidents of attacks, threats and hate speeches against religious minorities.

In view of the deteriorating communal situation in the state, 70 renowned personalities, including several from Karnataka, wrote an open letter to chief minister Basavaraj Bommai highlighting the rampant and frequent attacks on religious minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims, on January 26.

The signatories, including historian and author Ramachandra Guha, advocate Flavia Agnes, activist Bezwada Wilson, professor Janaki Nair and astrophysicist Prajwal Shashtri, lament the loss of harmony, peace and tolerance in Karnataka.

“In the last few months, the state has witnessed brutal killings in several districts, hate speeches, threats and attacks on places of worship belonging to religious minorities, honour killings, moral policing, misogynistic statements by legislators, and incidents of hostility and discord between religious groups,” the letter notes.

The latest in the spate of attacks across Karnataka was the murder of a 19-year-old Muslim man Sameer Subhansaab Shahpur allegedly by the Bajrang Dal in Huballi district on January 18 and the assault on a Dalit pastor Akshay Kumar Karaganvi and his family by a right-wing outfit in Belgavi on December 29 last year.

A report published by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka (PUCL-K), All India Lawyers Association for Justice, All India People’s Forum and Gaurilankeshnews.com last November identified, at least, 71 instances of communal discord attracting criminal charges in the state since January 2021.

A 75-page report on hate crimes against Christians in Karnataka titled ‘Criminalising Practice of Faith - A Report’ published by PUCL-K last December cites 39 violent instances between January and November 2021.

“We note with both sadness and alarm that the traditions of tolerance and shared well-being are being torn asunder. Instead, the state is losing its identity on multiple fronts. On the fiscal, administrative, and political fronts Karnataka is losing its federal strength,” the letter further states.
“Recent legislation such as the ‘cow protection’ and ‘anti-conversion’ Acts are against the economic and cultural rights of religious minorities. No longer are harmony, peace, and tolerance the hallmarks of the state.”

The letter also raises concern on the economic impact on Karnataka as a destination of business: “It also needs to be stressed that if the above issues are not addressed, even Karnataka’s reputation as a business destination is bound to be impacted negatively as all types of economic activity depend upon an atmosphere of social peace and harmony.”

Such incidents have increased since the last week of December. Six students were barred from attending classes for wearing hijab in Udupi, the principal of a school in Kolar was suspended after students offered namaz, a seer called for the demolition of Jamia Masjid in Srirangapatna, a government college in Chikkamagaluru banned hijab, VHP and Bajrang Dal put up posters in Mangaluru calling for the boycott of vendors of other faiths and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti members barged into a prayer room for Muslims located inside the restroom for porters at the Bengaluru Railway Station calling it “a threat to the national security”.

In response to the public outcry against such attacks, Bommai called for the protection of rights of minorities and promised appropriate action against wrongdoers. However, the profiling of churches, priests and pastors and the passage of the Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, commonly referred to as the anti-conversion Bill, bely his public commitment to the education, employment and empowerment of minorities.

Bommai’s recent defence of right-wing vigilante groups indulging in moral policing and dismissing it as inevitable “action and reaction” was another proof of the state’s double standards. As home minister, he had backed the police for registering a false case of sedition against a school in Bidar and interrogating its students in January 2020. He was mum when Bengaluru (South) MP Tejaswi Surya called for Hindu seers to set “annual targets” to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism.

Social activist and advocate professor Hari Ram points to the rapid erosion of Karnataka’s cohesive history. “The state’s cultural history celebrates the plurality of cultures and religious tolerance. Basavanna, Akkamahadevi, Kanakadasa, Purandaradasa and Shishunala Sharifa have been our icons. While the BJP government is tarnishing our social achievements by sponsoring hate speech, vigilante acts and assault against religious minorities. The government is employing a two-dimensional approach to divide society on caste and religious lines,” he says.

The letter concludes with a request to Bommai to “initiate a period of social harmony, just legislations, and democratic functioning of the state machinery”.

List of signatories:

Professor Vinod Gaur (former secretary, department of Science and technology, geophysicist)
Flavia Agnes (lawyer and author), Mumbai
Professor Janaki Nair (historian)
Professor Vidyanand Nanjundiah (scientist)
Professor Sharadchandra Lele (ecologist)
Ramachandra Guha (historian and commentator)
Professor Rameswari Varma (economist and theatre personality, Mysuru)
KP Suresha (poet, essayist and translator)
Professor Mahesh Shah (scientist)
Purushottama Bilimale (writer, literary critic, New Delhi)
Professor Prajval Shastri (astrophysicist)
Professor Satish Deshpande (sociologist, New Delhi)
Almitra Patel (environmentalist)
Yellappa Reddy (forester and environmentalist)
Aroon Raman (writer and industrialist)
Rammanohar Reddy (Editor, The India Forum)
Professor Renee Borges (ecologist)
Balan Nambiar (artist)
Ammu Joseph (journalist, writer)
Dileep Kamat (community organiser)
Professor Tejaswini Niranjana (writer and academic)
SG Vasudev (artist)
Professor Govind Rao (economist)
Harish Narasappa (advocate)
Major General SG Vombatkere (VSM, eetired)
Nagesh Hegde (environmentalist and journalist)
Professor Subramony Mahadevan (scientist)
Professor Mary E John (independent scholar)
Vivek Shanbhag (writer)
Professor Sharath Ananthamurthy (physicist)
Professor VK Natraj (economist and educationist)
Bezwada Wilson (human rights specialist)
Pushpamala N. (artist)
Professor Mohan Rao (independent researcher, community medicine)
Professor Satyajit Mayor (scientist)
Professor Madan Rao (physicist)
Asad Hajeehoy (stained glass artist)
Professor Sriram Ramaswamy (scientist)
Professor Shrikant Shastry (scientist)
Professor A.R.Vasavi (social anthropologist)
Kirtana Kumar (theatre artist)
Laxmi Murthy (journalist)
Ayisha Abraham(visual artist)
Maitri Gopalakrishna (mental health practitioner)
Ravikumar Kashi (visual artist, writer, educator
SP Rajaguru (professor/astrophysicist)
Rohan D’Souza (educationist)
PR Vishwanath (scientist/science communicator)
Procheta Mallik (scientist and educator)
Dr Deepak Malghan (chemical engineer and ecological economist)
DCV Mallik (astronomer)
Yashodara K (educator)
Chitra Balakrishnan (legal activist)
Dr Prateek Raj (economic historian)
Professor Hema Swaminathan (economist)
Aparna Desraj Urs (a concerned citizen)
Sandhya Rao (writer)
Madhu Bhushan (women’s rights activist and researcher)
Sonali Sathaye (anthropologist)
Kaustubh Rau (teacher)
Pravabati Chingangbam (physicist)
Dahlia Mani (sociologist, family business and entrepreneurship)
Sushmita Usha Devarajan (intercultural dialogue specialist, coach and mediator)
Nirupama Sarma (activist and researcher)
Dr Mohan Adhyam (retired professor and urologist
Pushpa S. (social and political activist)
PRS Mani (social and political activist)
Aasha Ramesh (women’s rights activist and researcher)
Vidya Dinker (human rights activist)
Ashok Maridas (Samvidhanada Haadiyalli)
Colonel (Retd) TS Mundi Retd (concerned citizen)
Prem Chandavarkar (architect and independent researcher)
Kathyayini Chamaraj (freelance journalist)
Proteep Mallik (teacher)
Shaheen Shasa (activist and concerned citizen)

The writer is an independent journalist.

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