The III Court of the Judicial Magistrate First Class (III JMFC) in its wisdom has acquitted all of those accused in the Mangaluru pub attack. This was despite the video clips of the ‘incident’ having done their rounds on social media and being flashed on television screens. Pramod Muthalik, the head of the Sri Ram Sene (SRS), the group behind the attack has termed the verdict as a ‘victory of justice’.
The Mangaluru pub attack was a case of moral policing by a radical Hindutva group. In January 2009, a large group of men from the SRS entered Amnesia, a pub in Mangaluru, began attacking all those inside and women in particular. The men had come prepared and had their own video teams to film the assault. This led to a widespread public outcry and a case was lodged against them. Nine years later they have walked free.
The verdict has evoked responses from Rajya Sabha MPs Renuka Chowdhury and Kanimozhi. Kanimozhi took a shot at the SRS saying that the same people who say Bharat Mata ki Jai are the same who beat up women. Chowdhury who was the Union Minister of Women and Child Development at the time said that ‘justice is not always done’, while expressing her respect for the judiciary. Soon after the incident had occurred in 2009, she sent a Joint Secretary to Mangaluru to enquire on the attack, despite an NCW probe also being conducted.
The accused have repeatedly sought to justify their actions stating reasons such as ‘drug use’, ‘prostitution’, and ‘protecting women from immorality’. Muthalik even went so far as to espouse the establishment of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Strangely enough, the NCW team headed by Nirmala Venkatesh did not probe the attack as much as they probed the security in the pub. She stated that they were unable to locate the girls who had been attacked and relied on statements from the accused that the girls were mostly from outside Karnataka.
According to reports, the police did not submit the video of the attack as evidence in Court. The only documents submitted were pertaining to the pub where the attack took place as well as a medical report of a male victim. The police also informed the Court that they were unable to locate any of the women victims of the attack. Therefore, due to a lack of evidence the Trial Court acquitted all of the accused. This raises further questions as to why the video was not submitted as evidence. If the police had obtained a copy of it after filing the first charge sheet, it was well within their power to file a supplementary charge sheet containing fresh evidence. The next question is where were the women victims? The police could have taken statements from witnesses present at the scene regarding the descriptions of the women attacked. Based on such descriptions, at least one could have been located.
On one hand, the women may prefer to hide their identities, particularly since they had been called prostitutes by the attackers. On the other hand, considering the rise of communal violence in Karnataka, it is likely that they were afraid and possibly even threatened to not testify. However, on the face of it, a shoddy investigation was conducted, and a shoddy case was fought. The Karnataka government has stated that they will review the acquittal order and are likely to appeal.