On March 1, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians, along with members of the other Sangh Parivar organisations such as the Sri Rama Sene (SRS), made a concerted effort to bulldoze their way into a 14th century-era dargah (Sufi shrine) located in the town of Aland in Kalaburagi district. Aland is about 45 kilometres from Kalaburagi, the divisional headquarters of the Kalyana Karnataka (formerly known as Hyderabad-Karnataka) region. The shrine houses the tomb of Hazrat Shaikh Alauddin Ansari, popularly known as “Ladle Mashaikh”, who received the patronage of the rulers of the Bahmani dynasty that ruled the Deccan during the 14th and 15th centuries.
While the original tomb that shelters the grave of the saint has been rebuilt, a twin-minaret outer gateway dating back to the 16th century rule of the Bijapur Adil Shahi Sultanate is at the entrance to the shrine complex. The monuments in the dargah come under the purview of Karnataka’s Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage. Like Sufi shrines all over Karnataka, the dargah of Ladle Mashaikh is a symbol of communal harmony as Muslims and Hindus of all castes patronise the shrine.
There is also a pestle-sized, cylindrical-shaped stone purported to be a ‘shivalinga’ within the sprawling compound of the dargah, which is spread across 47 acres of land. This shivalinga, known as the Raghava Chaitanya shivalinga, is buried at the base of the grave of another 14th century Sufi saint, Hazrat Ahmed Mohiuddin alias Mardana-e-Ghaib, and is some 50 metres from the tomb of Shaik Alauddin Ansari. This site is also visited by some worshippers who come to the dargah. The area containing this grave and the shivalinga, which measures around 700 square feet, has been the source of dispute in the past between the dargah committee and the Raghava Chaitanya Seva Mandali (RCSM). Local courts in Kalaburagi dismissed the RCSM’s petitions on two separate occasions in 1993 and 2017. The issue was thought to have been settled, but simmering tension around the site of the shivalinga was developed into a full-fledged conflict when somebody threw faecal matter on the shivalinga in November last year. Subhash Guttedar, BJP Member of the Legislative Assembly from Aland, raised the issue in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly.
Siddalinga Swami, the head of the Karuneshwar Mutt located in Jewargi taluk of Kalaburagi district, addressed a press conference in Kalaburagi in early February. The controversial priest affiliated to the SRS said he would lead a procession to the dargah on March 1, coinciding with Mahashivaratri, to perform religious rituals to ‘purify’ the shivalinga. At the same press conference, Siddalinga Swami also demanded that the State government give permission to build a temple to protect the shivalinga.
Anticipating disturbances leading up to March 1, which also coincided with the Islamic holy day of Shab-e-Meraj, the Kalaburagi district administration imposed Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code in Aland taluk. The administration also disallowed the entry of Siddalinga Swamy and Pramod Muthali, a known right-wing provocateur and head of the SRS, into Aland taluk. Violating the prohibitory order, a mob of Hindu right-wing activists led by senior politicians of the BJP congregated at the bus stop in Aland and began marching towards the dargah on the morning on March 1. Among those who led the mob were Union Minister and Bidar MP Bhagwanth Khuba, the MLAs from the district—Guttedar, Rajkumar Patil Telkur and Basavaraj Mattimadu—and Malikayya Gutteda, State vice-president of the BJP.
According to members of the dargah committee who spoke to Frontline on the condition of anonymity, as the procession advanced towards the dargah, a rumour spread among the Muslim population of Aland—a significant number of whom claim descent from the brothers of Hazrat Shaikh Alauddin Ansari—that the Hindu mob was intent on destroying the dargah. This was sufficient provocation for a large Muslim mob to gather at the entrance of the Sufi shrine to ‘defend’ the tomb of the saint. Members of this group were also incensed that the local police had allowed the Hindu right-wing activists to gather in spite of the prohibitory order. By this time, the district administration had convinced the Hindu mob to disperse while allowing 10 members of the group to proceed to the dargah. As this group was emerging from the dargah after the completion of religious rituals at the shivalinga, there were minor incidents of stone-pelting by the Muslim group, which damaged the vehicles of officials.
In a statement published in The Hindu on March 1, Deputy Commissioner of Kalaburagi Yeshwanth Gurukar said: “The district administration has managed to bring the situation under control. We allowed 20 people inside the dargah—10 from each community. The rituals went off peacefully. Some miscreants pelted stones on three vehicles, including mine.”
On the early morning of March 2, between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., the district police swept through the houses of the Muslim population of Aland arresting 177 people, including juveniles and women who were subsequently sent to five separate district jails all over north Karnataka. Seven separate first information reports (FIRs) were filed against these 177 individuals under various sections of the IPC (including Sections 120B, 143, 147, 148, 149, 153A, 307, 332, 333, 341, 353, 384, 427, 504, 506) while no action was taken against the Hindu mob that had provoked the entire affair. Two of the FIRs were registered against “unknown persons”, which meant that any person who was part of the mob could be arrested in the future on the basis of further investigation. A member of the dargah committee said: “The arrests were random and some of the persons named in the FIRs are not even present in Aland: one is working in Saudi Arabia, one boy is working in Hyderabad while another is dead!”
The 177 individuals have been released in batches over the past month. But the events of March 1 have left deep scars among the Muslims of Aland, who bore the brunt of the consequences that followed after the Hindu procession led by senior BJP politicians was allowed to violate the district administration’s prohibitory orders. Visiting Aland at the end of March, a few weeks after these events, one felt a palpable sense of unease among the residents; there were only a few worshippers at the dargah. A semblance of normalcy has been restored, but there is an apprehension that this fragile peace can be disturbed at any moment by the Hindu right wing’s claims on the shivalinga site.
Speaking to Frontline , senior Kalaburagi-based journalist and political columnist Sanathkumar Belagali said: “Even if communal riots took place in other parts of Karnataka, this region [Kalyana Karnataka] remained unaffected, but the BJP plans to disrupt the harmonious atmosphere of this part of the State as well to make political gains by raising the issue of the Aland dargah. The Aland issue began after RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] chief Mohan Bhagwat visited Kalaburagi in January this year. More than Muslims, it is Hindus—Lingayats, Dalits and members of other castes—who visit the shrine. The BJP is attempting to make the dargah into a controversial space like Bababudangiri.” He was referring to the Sri Guru Dattatreya Bababudan Swamy Dargah in Chikkamaggaluru ( (“A battlefront in the south” Frontline , March 02, 2018.)
Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed